The very idea of attending a film festival is quite thrilling. The reality is terrifying. Indeed, the “idea” harkens to festivals in a now-hazy past—you know, way back in 2019. Ahh, the good old days, when nearly a million Toronto International Film Festival attendees would cue on a steamy late-summer evening before squeezing shoulder to shoulder into a massive movie palace. This year, that very image is an epidemiologist’s fever dream. The fact that there’s even a 2020 edition of TIFF and that it’s about to begin is a bit mind-blowing, and whether or not the festival will have a Hollywood ending a week and a half from now will depend upon some ingenuity and a fair amount of luck.
For the record, this year’s premium venues include spacious outdoor seating at the seaside Ontario Place, plus a humongous drive-in along Lake Ontario’s shoreline. As you might guess, nearly all this year’s attendees will be Canadians. Canada has closed its border to U.S. visitors (in case you haven’t heard). Simply put, Canada has been doing a tangibly better job than its neighbors to the south. Our germs (and lackadaisical behaviors) aren’t welcome. No politics there: That is a matter of fact.
All that said, your humble servant is very pleased to report that Boise Weekly has been blessed with securing press credentials for this year’s festival (TIFF has also dramatically scaled back the number of accredited media this year, so we’re doubly honored). So, thanks to some technical wizardry, I’ll be accessing the highly anticipated world premieres from afar.
So, here is my list of this year’s must-sees (not alphabetical, mind you, but in order of my level of enthusiasm):
One Night in Miami—Oscar and Emmy winner Regina King is behind the lens on this one, directing the true story of an underappreciated moment in history when Muhammad Ali (then known as Cassius Clay), met with Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown.
Ammonite—Anytime Saoirse Ronan or Kate Winslet are on screen, you know it has to swell. They’re together in a period piece directed by Francis Lee (God’s Own Country).
Nomadland—The last Frances McDormand-starrer I saw at TIFF was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Didn’t she win the Oscar for that? Her latest is helmed by one of the hottest young directors on the planet, Chloe Zhao, who is also behind the lens of next year’s big Marvel universe feature, Eternals.
I Am Greta—The most buzzed-about documentary of the festival comes from Swedish director Nathan Grossman. His subject? The amazing Greta Thunberg.
Falling—Written and directed by the always-compelling (and part-time Idahoan) Viggo Mortensen.
Concrete Cowboy—Idris Elba rides tall in the saddle as an urban cowboy. It’s based on the much-underrated novel Ghetto Cowboy, inspired by the real-life African American cowboys who ride on the streets of Philadelphia. Really! It is a century-long tradition, and how no one has made a movie about this until now is stunning.
David Byrne’s American Utopia—Before it hits HBO, Spike Lee’s take on Byrne’s box office Broadway smash premieres in Toronto.
The Father—Oscar-winners Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman co-star. Do you really need to know anything else?
The Disciple—Filmed in the Marathi language, this Indian film tells the story of a young man learning classical music from a demanding master. TIFF Artistic Director Cameron Bailey calls it “Whiplash in Mumbai.”
76 Days—Shot in Wuhan at the apex of the COVID-19 outbreak, Chinese director Hao Wu’s documentary may well become the most provocative film of 2020.
MLK/FBI—Based on newly declassified files, director Sam Pollard takes a deep dive into J. Edgar Hoover’s obsession with Dr. King.
A Suitable Boy—Netflix paid a hefty sum for the streaming rights to this much-anticipated mini-series adaptation of the 1993 global bestsellers. TIFF will screen all six episodes.
Wolfwalkers—After scoring Oscar nominations with their three previous efforts—The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea and The Breadwinner—Tomm Moore and Paul Young have chosen an unexpected backdrop for an animated feature: Oliver Cromwell’s brutal colonization of Ireland.
In 2019, TIFF screened more than 300 films. This year’s lineup includes about 50 titles. It’s truly a sign of the times. But a more significant signpost is the fact that nearly half of this year’s entries are directed, co-directed or created by women. To that end, I am honored to be among a select list of critics granted access—even from afar. Roll ‘em.