The 2020 Toronto International Film Festival is, to be sure, a TIFF like no other. It is no surprise that COVID-19 has dramatically altered the film festival landscape. What is a bit of a surprise is that there is even a fall festival season. Back in the spring, Cannes was forced to cancel, while some summer festivals (like Fantasia) made the move to a fully online model. Of the big fall four — Telluride, Venice, TIFF, and New York — only Telluride made the tough decision to cancel. Venice, TIFF, and New York have gone the hybrid route.
For TIFF that means a few public screenings at venues like the TIFF Bell Lightbox, but all press screenings are happening online. The numbers are drastically reduced, with a little over fifty films. Still, TIFF20 runs for the same length of time as every other TIFF, eleven days (September 10-20).
And happily, I am one of the critics who received accreditation to cover the fest. The number of accreditations saw another reduction, and many very, very insightful critics did not make the cut. That is a shame, to be sure. Let’s hope TIFF21 sees a return to the public experience of old, and more films, critics, and happenings than ever before.
There are a great many special events scheduled this year, among them a Full Metal Jacket panel discussion. But let’s start our first exploration of the TIFF20 lineup with a look at ten buzzworthy films.
Ammonite: This Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan-starrer might be the festival’s most anticipated film. It’s a love story centered in two women in 19th century southwest England. The fact that those two women are played by actors like Winslet and Ronan makes this one especially intriguing. (It is worth noting that according to Twitter buzz, the film will not be screening digitally for TIFF press. Bummer.)
City Hall: At ninety years of age, documentarian Frederick Wiseman (best known for his late-sixties masterpieces, Titicut Follies and High School) is still cranking out epic studies of American life. His latest, the 275-minute City Hall, is a timely look at government in the city of Boston.
Concrete Cowboy: For a number of years now, Idris Elba has been the lead or co-lead in films at TIFF, among them Molly’s Game and The Mountain Between Us. These films have met with varying degrees of success. His TIFF20 vehicle, Concrete Cowboy, sounds like a winner; Elba plays a cowboy in Philadelphia and Stranger Things star Caleb McLaughlin plays his son.
David Byrne’s American Utopia: Spike Lee plus David Byrne? It’s hard not to be thrilled by that mix of talents. While Lee’s film of Byrne’s Broadway show will be airing on HBO in October, it’s still a scintillating "opening night" selection for the festival.
The Father: Anthony Hopkins’ performance as a man experiencing the onset of dementia has been talked about for months now as Oscar-worthy. With recent Academy Award winner Olivia Colman as his daughter, The Father ranks as a fall must-see. (Like Ammonite, rumor is this one will not be screening digitally for TIFF press.)
Nomadland: Director Chloé Zhao’s last film, The Rider, was extraordinarily moving. Her follow-up, an adaptation of Jessica Bruder’s book, stars the great Frances McDormand as a "modern day nomad."
One Night in Miami … : Now here’s a premise: Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown gather for a meeting in Miami in 1964. Yes, it’s fiction, but seeing this grouping on-screen sounds thrilling. Based on a play by Kemp Powers, Miami is the directorial debut of Oscar winner Regina King.
Pieces of a Woman: As Netflix’s The Crown has proved, Vanessa Kirby is a rising star. In this drama co-starring Shia LaBeouf, she plays a woman who experiences a heartbreaking tragedy, and must attempt to put her life back together. Sounds like powerful stuff, and a chance for Kirby to shine.
Spring Blossom: Twenty-year-old Suzanne Lindon stars in, wrote, and directs this already acclaimed coming-of-age drama from France. This story of a teenager who falls for an older man is just seventy-three minutes long, which is a highly commendable length.
The Truffle Hunters: The complex search for truffles in Northern Italy is the premise for this documentary from filmmakers Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw. TIFF is known for its strong documentaries, and this one sounds particularly unique.