My Top 5 Must-See Films at TIFF 2019

With the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival kicking off tomorrow, I’ve compiled a list of the top 5 films that I personally cannot wait to see.

Marriage Story 

I begin my list with the film that is perhaps generating the greatest amount of buzz as awards season looms. Noah Baumbach, known for his distinctive filmography in the realm of independent arthouse, has been receiving overwhelming acclaim for his work on Marriage Story, which he wrote, produced and directed. Described by one critic as “a divorce horror story to put alongside Kramer vs. Kramer,” it’s apparent that Baumbach’s knack for painfully perceptive human narratives coupled with grounded humour is as good as it has ever been in his latest feature. And you can be sure that its immensely talented leads, Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, are more than capable of carrying Marriage Story’s significant emotional weight.

Jojo Rabbit 

Approaching a subject as touchy as Nazi Germany with a comedic twist is no easy task, but as Armando Iannucci proved with his 2017 film The Death of Stalin (which was also screened at TIFF), comedically portraying a brutal regime can indeed be done tastefully with the right approach. 

Where Iannucci achieved this with well-placed brashness, cynicism and on-the-nose wit, it seems Jojo Rabbit’s director Taika Waititi has opted for a more endearing, heartfelt approach, albeit with the darkness necessary for its comedy to work. And that’s the thing about Waititi; his brand of comedy really works, whether he’s tackling a vampire-themed mockumentary, or a Norse god-turned-superhero who can’t help but acknowledge his own objective absurdity. So, while a young boy in Nazi Germany with Adolf Hitler as an imaginary friend might sound incendiary, rest assured that if anyone can pull it off, it’s Taika Waititi.

The Goldfinch

I haven’t heard much in the way of reception for The Goldfinch yet, but if the talent both in front of and behind the camera is anything to go by, then it should be near the top of anyone’s list of must-see films at this year’s TIFF. Irish filmmaker John Crowley, best known for his work on the acclaimed Canadian co-production Brooklyn, directs a script by Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy screenwriter Peter Straughan, which already sets a strong impression, but with the addition of legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins The Goldfinch is practically guaranteed to be a visual feast. Round all this off with an immensely talented cast that includes Ansel Elgort, Nicole Kidman, Sarah Paulson and Jeffrey Wright, and you begin to wonder where The Goldfinch can go wrong.

Knives Out

While Rian Johnson is an immensely talented writer and director, he has also proven to be one of the most divisive of recent modern filmmaking. His direction on several episodes of Breaking Bad produced one of the greatest episodes in the history of television, “Ozymandias,” as well as the most polarizing episode of the show’s run for fans, “Fly.” His latest film Star Wars: The Last Jedi, meanwhile, managed to enrage fanboys in a manner that has rarely, if ever, been seen, with cries for a retcon from many, all the while critics raved, labelling it one of the strongest entries in the Star Wars franchise.

Love him or hate him, Johnson is something of an auteur, showcasing a neo-noir flourish in notable works like Brick and Looper, and he has once again returned to these roots with his upcoming murder mystery Knives Out. While each film I have listed thus far features an impressive cast, Knives Out’s is particularly robust, with stars such as Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Lakeith Stanfield and Christopher Plummer. It remains to be seen if Knives Out can live up to its immense cast and talented filmmaker as reviews have yet to emerge, but if it’s anything like Rian Johnson’s previous neo-noir efforts, it should reap praise instead of sow division.

Joker 

Finally, I come to what might be the most hotly anticipated film to hit TIFF for the general film-going public, Joker. I know I’m excited! 

Its writer and director Todd Phillips, who is primarily known for his work in comedy, somewhat deviated from his comfort zone with 2016’s War Dogs, a biographical crime drama that still featured elements of Phillips’ trademark comedy, albeit with darker inflections than usual. Although Joker may be about a failed comedian who eventually becomes the titular character based on the infamous DC Comics character, it is intended to be anything but a comedy.

Both a psychological thriller and character study, early reviews suggest that Joker is a “game-changer” for the comic book film genre, a term I haven’t seen thrown around this much since the release of Logan in 2017. There have even been many favourable comparisons made to Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. This is all without mentioning Joaquin Phoenix who reportedly, and unsurprisingly, delivers a powerhouse performance that has many critics crying “Oscar!”

All signs point to another watershed moment for comic book films, and while tickets to this apparent showstopper sold out in less than a minute, those of you who missed out can take solace in the fact that Joker’s hype has seemingly been justified.

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