With 245 feature films showing this year, it’s impossible to see everything at the bustling Toronto International Film Festival. But after a week of filmgoing and industry buzz, some themes and potential Oscar races have taken shape.
The big crowd-pleasers at TIFF were wildly diverse in tone and subject. “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers, charmed just about everyone. Eddie Murphy’s comic comeback, “Dolemite is My Name,” sees him playing ’70s cult-film star Rudy Ray Moore to riotous effect. Don’t be surprised to see both in the Best Actor nomination category.
Renée Zellweger’s “Judy,” a portrayal of the fading film and music legend Judy Garland, earned her a sustained standing ovation on premiere night and lots of talk about a Best Actress nod. Less sure is “Harriet,” whose lead actress Cynthia Erivo is a flawless performer leading an otherwise somewhat lackluster biopic about Harriet Tubman. Likewise, Kristen Stewart, who played 1960s film icon Jean Seberg in a fascinating story about the actress’s persecution by the FBI over her support of the Black Panthers, is great in it, but the biopic doesn’t quite rise to meet her. Still, Erivo and Stewart could both land Best Actress nominations. Scarlett Johansson seems more of a sure thing for Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story.” And Beanie Feldstein (“Booksmart”) may be a contender as a scrappy Brit teen in “How To Build a Girl.”
If the festival gave an award to most polarizing, it would doubtless go to “Joker.” The film already won top honors at the Venice Film Festival and sweeping praise for Joaquin Phoenix’s lead performance as the deeply disturbed, Joker-in-the-making Arthur Fleck, but some have balked at the film’s seeming embrace of a man descending into murderous madness.
The biggest disappointments at the TIFF? For me, it was “Hustlers,” the true story of a stripper heist starring Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu that fizzled where it should have sizzled. But that film certainly had its fans, even if I wasn’t among them. More universally panned was “The Goldfinch,” the Nicole Kidman and Ansel Elgort-starring adaptation of Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Although it had prestige picture written all over it, the 2.5-hour drama bored viewers silly.
Reception for Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” was more evenly mixed, although the “Thor: Ragnarok” director’s bizarre satire revolving around a boy in the Hitler youth and his doofy, imaginary friend Adolf Hitler (played by Waititi himself) didn’t totally land with some audiences. Still, it’s one of the most audacious films this year, although not the most: That honor goes to “The Lighthouse,” a black-and-white head-scratcher from director Robert Eggers (“The Witch”) featuring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe as two lighthouse keepers going slowly crazy. And for good old-fashioned B-movie hysterics, there was “Color Out of Space,” an adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft sci-fi horror story starring Nicolas Cage as the patriarch of a family whose farm is infected with a mysterious pink glow after being hit by a meteor.
Movies I’m saddest to have missed: Céline Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” a sumptuous, French 18th-century drama; “Honey Boy,” the story of Shia LaBeouf’s abusive childhood, which he wrote and stars in as his own father; and “Parasite,” Bong Joon-Ho’s chilling tale of class conflict that already won top honors at the Cannes Film Festival.