Oh, Canada! Even in a high-wattage industry, the Toronto International Film Festival reigns supreme because it’s where the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Bradley Cooper, Scarlett Johansson, Nicole Kidman, Matt Damon, Tom Hanks, Joaquin Phoenix and Michael B. Jordan walk the red carpet and premiere their buzzy new Oscar-worthy movies and sneak out for ice cream at a tucked-in shop called Sweet Jesus and, hello, that was just 2019! But because of the pandemic, TIFF 2020 was an in-person/virtual hybrid, with most accredited movie-lovers — hey, that’s me! — watching the films from home. (On the upside, at least I didn’t have to stand in line in a chilly downpour to enter a theater). (Just kidding… Reinsteins don’t stand in line!). So why should you care? Because the lineup was still pretty top-notch — and most of the selections will be coming soon to a screen extremely near you. Here’s a heads-up Toronto wrap on eight stand-outs.
One Night in Miami
The feature directorial debut from Oscar and Emmy-winning actress Regina King is a powerful knockout, as it imagines what would have happened if boxing legend Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree) — then known as Cassius Clay — NFL star Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), singer Sam Cooke (Hamilton Tony winner Leslie Odom Jr.) and civil rights activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) converged in a hotel room following a big Clay victory in February 1964. The meet-up leads to a lively (and remarkably timely) dialogue about race in America.
Pieces of a Woman
Vanessa Kirby (The Crown) deserves all the awards coming her way — she already won one in Venice — for her fearless performance of a well-heeled wife coping with unimaginable loss. The drama’s 30-minute single-take opening act is an absolute jaw-dropping stunner that will haunt you for days, weeks, years. (It’s easily the most memorable scene of 2020.) Shia LaBeouf provides sturdy support as her blue-collar husband.
Naomi Watts stars as a Australian steely wife/mom who becomes paralyzed because of a freak accident. An avid outdoorswoman, she enters a long depression — but she begins emotionally healing after her family nurses a wounded bird back to health. (Yeah, the metaphor is just a tad obvious.) Quibbles aside, the fact-based movie is a sweet, life-affirming package during a time when we need one.
Ooh, there’s nothing like a steamy period romance between two A-list stars. In the 1800s, well-regarded, ultra-repressed British paleontologist Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) reluctantly takes on a lonely, melancholic housewife (Saoirse Ronan) as an apprentice. As the women spend time more time together, the sexual tension builds until they fall into each other’s arms. This is sort-of based on a true story, which is to say there’s no viable proof of Anning’s romance. But still.
Good Joe Bell
In the wake of his gay teen son’s suicide in the Heartland, an average Joe (Mark Wahlberg, wisely playing it understated) decides to walk across the United States to raise awareness about the harms of bullying. Along the way, he still finds a way to bond with his boy (newcomer Reid Miller). The heartbreaking drama, based on a true story, is a poignant showcase about loss and tolerance.
I Care a Lot
Yaaaaaaay, Rosamund Pike has returned to beeyotchy cold-hearted-and-dead-eyed Gone Girl mode! In this deliciously wicked thriller, she plays a calculated legal conservator who exploits and defrauds all her unsuspecting elderly clients. All is good in her ruthless world — until she runs afoul of a big-time crime boss and fellow alpha dog (Peter Dinklage). Dare you to place a correct bet on the ultimate winner.
This beautifully rendered drama focuses on a disenfranchised widow (Frances McDormand) who drives in her beat-up van from a Midwest Amazon fulfillment center to a beet sugar harvesting plant to the Pacific Northwest to dense desert camp grounds. Director Chloe Zhao (The Rider, the upcoming Marvel The Eternals movie) has crafted a sensitive and highly nuanced portrait of life off the grid. And yet it shows one can still push forward despite the setbacks.
Idris Elba riding horseback on the streets of Philadelphia. Enough said. Here’s a bit more: Inspired by the century-old Fletcher Street Stables, an African-American horsemanship community in Philly, the drama follows a wayward 15-year-old Detroiter (Caleb McLaughlin, Stranger Things) taken to live with his estranged father (Elba). That’s where he discovers the city’s vibrant urban cowboy subculture amid its poverty and violence. Despite the slow-ish narrative, the unique story is worth of saddling up for.