What to watch at TIFF 2019. 

By Robin Dickie, Mary Dickie, Jacquelyn Francis and Jennie Punter

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band (above)

Robbie Robertson’s life is certainly ripe for a cinematic portrayal, and this documentary, directed by Toronto’s Daniel Roher (Survivors Rowe, Ghosts of Our Forests) and based partly on Robertson’s memoir Testament, promises lots of insights about the legendary Canadian musician and his fellow Band mates. Born in Toronto, the son of a Mohawk-Cayuga mother and a Jewish father, and raised on the Six Nations reserve near Brantford, Ontario, Robertson started playing guitar as a child and left school to join Ronnie Hawkins’ backing band The Hawks at 16. The Hawks, four Canadians and one American, then backed Bob Dylan on his controversial 1965-’66 electric world tour, and went on to change their name to The Band and more or less create the folk-rock Americana sound. Robertson is credited with writing many of their biggest hits, including “The Weight,” “Up on Cripple Creek,” “Stage Fright” and “The Shape I’m In,” but by the mid-’70s, three of the members were addicted to heroin and there were disputes over songwriting credits that led to a serious riff between Robertson and drummer-vocalist Levon Helm. In 1976, The Band called it quits with The Last Waltz, a star-studded farewell show memorably filmed by Martin Scorsese, and Robertson went on to pursue a solo career that has included well-received albums and soundtrack work. Featuring archival footage and interviews with fans like Eric Clapton, Peter Gabriel, Bruce Springsteen and Van Morrison, Once Were Brothers is the festival’s opening night gala—and it’s the first time TIFF has ever opened with a Canadian documentary. —MD

The Laundromat

Steven Soderbergh exploded onto the film scene in 1989 with his independent film Sex, Lies and Videotape. Since then he has established himself as a major director with Oscar-winning films like Traffic and Erin Brockovich. TIFF offers the North American premiere of his latest lm for Netflix, The Laundromat. The screenplay is based upon Pulitzer prize-winning author and journalist Jake Bernstein’s book Secrecy World, which chronicles the 2016 release of the Panama Papers, millions of leaked documents linking many politicians, world leaders and celebrities to a global corruption and tax evasion scandal. Meryl Streep stars as a woman inadvertently caught up in the intrigue. An ensemble cast also features Gary Oldman, Sharon Stone, Antonio Banderas, David Schwimmer, James Cromwell and Will Forte. Produced, directed, edited and shot by Soderbergh himself. Given his track record and the excellent source material, this movie should prove to be up there with his best. —RD


Based on the award-winning 2010 graphic novel Radioactive: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss, Radioactive was directed by Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) and stars Rosamund Pike as legendary scientist Marie Curie. The story follows the young Marie as she travels from her home in Poland in 1891 to study at the Sorbonne and work in the Paris lab of Pierre Curie (Sam Riley). They fall in love, marry and work together to discover two new elements, radium and polonium, winning the Nobel Prize and heralding the dawn of the atomic era. After Pierre’s death in an accident, Marie continued her work, despite the effects of radioactivity, which slowly poisoned her, and won an additional Nobel Prize in 1911, the first person to win the award twice. The film, which also stars Anya Taylor-Joy and Aneurin Barnard, will be the festival’s closing-night gala. —MD


The most notorious villain in Gotham City, the Joker has been reimagined many times, but has always played a supporting role—until now. The psychopathic prankster finally gets top billing in Joker, which was partly
inspired by the 1988 graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke and Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy. Directed by Todd Phillips (The Hangover), the film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, a dejected stand-up comedian who begins to mentally unravel and hurtle toward a life of attention- grabbing chaos and crime for which, we are to assume, he will eventually become renowned. There’s been considerable buzz around the casting of Robert De Niro as talk show host Murray Franklin, Zazie Beetz (Atlanta, Deadpool 2) as Fleck’s love interest, and Frances Conroy (American Horror Story) as his mother. With a stellar cast and a fresh spin on an iconic criminal, this film is sure to spur chatter and debate among comic aficionados. —JP


A British remake of Bille August’s award-winning 2014 Danish film Silent Heart, Blackbird takes on the loaded issue of euthanasia. Susan Sarandon stars as a mother with a terminal illness who plans to end her life. She and her husband (Sam Neill) invite the extended family together for one final weekend at a country house. However, her two daughters, played by Kate Winslet and Australian actor Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland), complicate matters. As they become more and more upset at the prospect of their mother’s death, old wounds are bared and bitter conflict ensues. Although at one time this project was attached to Diane Keaton, Sarandon seems like she’s the better fit for this role. Also starring Rainn Wilson (The Office) and Lindsay Duncan (Under the Tuscan Sun). Screenplay by Christian Torpe, who also penned the original. Directed by Roger Michell (My Cousin Rachel, Notting Hill). —RD

The Goldfinch

Donna Tartt’s novel The Goldfinch was the love-it-or-hate-it smash book of 2013. When a boy and his mother are victims of a terrorist attack at a New York museum and she is killed, he mysteriously takes a priceless painting of a captive bird as a talisman/ memento. An eccentric cast of characters comes into his life as he struggles to survive and mature, all the while obsessed with holding onto his treasure. A Waspy family briefly adopts him, an antique furniture store owner takes him under his wing and a young girl steals his heart, yet disaster seems to follow him wherever he goes. He goes to Vegas to live with his father where he befriends a ne’er-do-well who is both friend and foe. As things come to a head over the missing painting, he must decide between guilt and redemption. The movie looks to please the book enthusiasts with its full landscape of the novel. Starring Ansel Elgort (Baby Driver), Luke Wilson, Nicole Kidman and Sarah Paulson. Directed by John Crowley (Brooklyn). —RD

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Hot on the heels of the 2018 documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, about the beloved children’s entertainer Fred Rogers, comes the bio pic A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks. In the annals of perfect casting, who else could really pull this off? Hanks seemed destined to play the part of the wise and kind-hearted children’s TV personality who preached a kind
of “What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?” philosophy. Based on the true life memoir of journalist Tom Junod, the fictional character of Lloyd Vogel is sent to interview Rogers for an article on heroes for Esquire magazine. Initially cynical about the prospect, Vogel is deeply affected by the encounter and he and Rogers develop a strong and lasting friendship. Directed by Marielle Heller, whose 2018 Can You Ever Forgive Me? deserved better attention at the 2018 Oscars. Also starring Welsh actor Matthew Rhys as Vogel. —RD

Parasite (Gisaengchung)

The first Korean film to win the prestigious Palme D’Or, Parasite made waves at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Marking somewhat of a departure for director and screenwriter Bong Joon-ho (Okja, Snowpiercer, Memories of Murder), who is better known for his work in the sci-fi and crime drama genres, this film is more of a black comedy with biting class commentary. A cunning family of four, down on their luck and struggling to make ends meet, hatches a scheme to infiltrate the employ of a wealthy family. One by one they scam their way into the family’s good graces, but things begin to fall apart as they are caught in their lies. Violence, deceit and murder ensue. Parasite marks Joon-ho’s fourth collaboration with popular Korean actor Song Kang-ho. A South Korean production, the film was dropped from a Chinese film festival ostensibly for technical reasons but likely due to its socioeconomic themes. Joon-ho is definitely one to watch. —RD


Bio pics of major Hollywood legends like Judy Garland are rare for a reason. An over-the-top performance can easily verge on camp. Mommie Dearest anyone?
In the case of Garland, her one-of- a-kind voice and personality, her iconic Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, her failed marriages and her well-known descent into addiction, and death from accidental overdose, make any kind of re-creation almost insurmountable. However, Renée Zellweger has thrown herself into the fray with the simply titled Judy, an adaptation of the Tony- nominated Broadway show End of the Rainbow. It focuses on the final year of Garland’s life in London (she died in 1969) and her struggle as a mother and in-demand performer. Her career is failing, money is tight and there is pressure from all sides. She’s trying hard to keep it all together. Hard-core Judy fans may find it awkward, but it’s bound to be a fun ride. And who knows? There’s already Oscar buzz for Zellweger. Directed by renowned British theatre director Rupert Goold and costarring the marvellous Michael Gambon as impresario Bernard Delfont, Rufus Sewell as ex-husband Sid Lu and Gemma-Leah Devereux as Liza Minnelli. —RD

No. 7 Cherry Lane

After a 10-year hiatus, Chinese director Yonfan returns to the big screen with his animation debut. Yonfan is adept at capturing the pangs of forbidden love (Bishonen, 1998), and No. 7 Cherry Lane looks at a love triangle between Ziming, a Hong Kong University undergraduate, an exiled Taiwanese woman and her beautiful daughter. Set in 1967 Hong Kong, the film shows a politically turbulent time for the then-British colony. Yonfan, who moved to the territory in 1965, describes the film as his “love letter to Hong Kong and cinema. A story about yesterday, today and tomorrow. Above all, it is a film of liberation.” The 125-minute film was hand-drawn in pencil on rice paper. Yonfan worked with scores of animators to render all the visuals, and the lengthy process is said to be a first for feature animation. —JF

Guest of Honour

Renowned Toronto filmmaker Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica) returns with a psychological “page-turner” that weaves through time to explore the complicated relationship between a father and his music- teacher daughter, who has decided to stay in jail after being wrongfully convicted of abusing her position of authority with students. Acclaimed British actor David Thewlis (TV’s Fargo, the Harry Potter films) plays the father, a restaurant inspector who starts taking advantage of his influence on small family businesses after his daughter rejects his efforts to secure her release. Toronto rising star Laysla De Oliveira (TV’s The Gifted, new Netflix series Locke & Key) plays the daughter, who believes she deserves to be in jail for crimes she committed in
her youth. Her confidant, Father Greg, who may hold knowledge that leads to emotional healing, is played by Luke Wilson, and Rossif Sutherland (Hyena Road, TV’s Reign) plays a school bus driver who perpetrated the hoax that set key events in motion. —JP

JoJo Rabbit

Outspoken, one-of-a-kind filmmaker Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok, What We Do in the Shadows) makes a red-carpet splash this year as the winner of the 2019 TIFF Ebert Director Award and the director of this daring satire about a 10-year-old German boy who discovers a Jewish girl hiding in his home and consults with his imaginary best friend, Adolf Hitler, who is played by none other than Waititi himself. JoJo Rabbit also stars Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Rebel Wilson, Thomasin McKenzie and newcomer Roman Griffin Davis. —JP

Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger

Veteran filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin appears at TIFF as part of the Masters program with Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger. Obomsawin’s 53rd film tells the story of young Jordan River Anderson, from the Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba. Jordan, who suffered from a rare genetic disorder, spent all five years of his life in hospital while the federal and provincial governments argued over the cost of his health care. As a result of his case, Indigenous activists have fought to have the Canadian government enforce “Jordan’s Principle” and pledge that no First Nations children would face inequitable access to government-funded services again. The multi-decorated Obomsawin was named a Companion of the Order of Canada earlier this year. Her creative career has included such films as Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance and Trick or Treaty? —JF

How to Build a Girl

Beanie Feldstein—who was so brilliant as the main character’s sidekick in Lady Bird and one of the two teenage leads in Olivia Wilde’s underrated film Book Smart—stars in this comedic coming of age story based on the bestselling semi-autobiographical 2014 novel by journalist Caitlin Moran, who also co-wrote the screenplay. Directed by Coky Giedroyc, the film follows 14-year-old Johanna Morrigan, who lives with her eccentric family in a council at in working-class Wolverhampton, as she decides to drop out of school, move to London and reinvent herself as music critic Dolly Wilde, a more outspoken and bolder version of herself. Of course there are unpredictable consequences, including love, sex, drinking and family conflicts. The film also stars Alfie Allen, Paddy Considine, Emma Thompson and Chris O’Dowd. —MD


The compelling story of abolitionist Harriet Tubman is the stuff of great action/thriller movies. One has to wonder why this movie wasn’t made many years ago. Born into slavery in Maryland, Tubman escaped on her own to the North, only to return to help family and friends make the same dangerous trek. She never lost a passenger in the Underground Railroad, at great risk to her own personal safety. A wanted woman, she helped John Brown at the raid on Harpers Ferry and became a spy for the Union army in the Civil War. Eventually, her work helped hundreds of slaves escape to freedom. Apparently, this production languished in the works for several years, and at one point had Viola Davis starring. However, British actress Cynthia Erivo, a Tony Award winner (The Color Purple) and a Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, looks to provide a powerful performance. Also starring Leslie Odom Jr. of Hamilton fame, Peter Clarke (The Wire) and the multi- talented Janelle Monáe. Directed by Kasi Lemmons, an actor turned director (Eve’s Bayou, Talk to Me). —RD

One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk

The inspiring resilience and power of Inuit culture as expressed by Isuma—the celebrated artist collective and lm and video production company—represented Canada last May at the prestigious 58th Venice Biennale. The head-turning centrepiece of the exhibition was the latest feature from Zacharias Kunuk (Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner), which dramatizes the true story of Noah Piugattuk (1900–1996), an Inuk hunter whose life history reflects the story of Canada’s Inuit in the 20th century. The film depicts one fateful day in 1961 when Piugattuk (Apayata Kotierk) and his band, hunting seals on Baffin Island, are approached by a character identified only as Boss (Kim Bodnia). With a revolver on his belt and plenty of tea and sugar to share, Boss encourages Piugattuk to give up the traditional Inuit lifestyle and assimilate into a modern settlement. At its North American premiere, One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk offers TIFF audiences a vision of truth and reconciliation from an Inuit point of view. —JP


Former stripper turned singer-actor Cardi B joins Jennifer Lopez, rapper Lizzo, Lili Reinhardt (Riverdale), Keke Palmer (Akeelah and the Bee) and Constance Wu (Crazy Rich Asians) in the dream cast of this film based on a 2015 New York magazine feature about a crew of former strip club employees who swindled their Wall Street regulars in the wake of the 2007/08 financial crisis. Lorene Scafaria (The Meddler) was originally hired to adapt the article—written by Jessica Pressler, who’s played in the film by Julia Stiles—but she convinced the producers that she should not only direct the film, but also track down the perfect performers, some of whom she crafted parts for. She told New York that Lopez, who plays the ringleader of the group, trained hard-core for the pole-dancing scenes, inspiring her costars. With its world premiere screening just steps from Toronto’s financial district, Hustlers will no doubt shake things up beyond the red carpet. —JP

Endings, Beginnings

Drake Doremus grew up around improv comedy, and his films, including Breathe In and Like Crazy, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2011 Sundance festival, tend to feature bare-bones scripts and improvised dialogue. His latest film, Endings, Beginnings, follows that trend, being reportedly mostly improvised and based loosely on the screenplay. It’s a love story of sorts, starring Shailene Woodley (Big Little Lies, Insurgent) as a woman involved in a complicated love triangle while trying to get her financial house in order. The other points on the triangle are the bad boy, played by Sebastian Stan (Gossip Girl), and the friend, played by Jamie Dornan (The Fall). Shamier Anderson, Lindsay Sloane and Sherry Cola round out the cast. —MD


BAFTA-winning director Michael Winterbottom (The Wedding Guest) reunites with his The Trip star Steve Coogan, who plays a fast- fashion billionaire in this satirical look at the lifestyles of the super rich. Greed follows the fictional retail baron and his wife, played by Isla Fisher, as they prepare to celebrate his 60th birthday with an over-the-top, celeb- filled party in a luxury hotel on the Greek island of Mykonos. All this revelry is captured in stark contrast to the humble lives of the female garment workers who toil away in the billionaire’s far-off factories. A timely topic in the age of post-Rana Plaza consumption. —JF


Ford v. Ferrari

Matt Damon and Christian Bale inject some high-octane excitement into the gala lineup with this biographical action drama that pits an eccentric underdog team of American automotive talent against the dominant Ferrari team at the 1966 Le Mans race in France. Directed by James Mangold (Logan, Walk the Line), Ford v. Ferrari packs vintage cars and plenty of racing sequences into the story of down-on-his-luck engineer Carroll Shelby (Damon) and renegade driver Ken Miles (Bale), who are tasked by Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) and Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) to build the Ford GT40 to challenge Ferrari at Le Mans—the notoriously gruelling race that lasts 24 hours and is famous for crushing dreams and destroying, quite spectacularly, many custom-built racing cars. Outlander’s Catriona Balfe also stars. With Mangold in the driver’s seat and two high-performance stars propelling its hot wheels, Ford v. Ferrari is bound to rev up audiences. —JP