Festival Dispatch

From Joker to Mister Rogers: The Top 10 Movies of the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival

Published on September 13, 2019

You want glamour? A slew of A-list celebrities? Legit important movies? Unusually friendly volunteers in bright orange T-shirts? Spend a Saturday night at the Toronto International Film Festival. For the 2019 edition (which ran from September 5 to 15), Jennifer Lopez, Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Tom Hanks, Eddie Murphy and Chris Evans all walked the red carpet for their respective new films within a matter of hours and then partied inside posh restaurants until the bustling downtown streets quieted. (Alas, exes Stewart and Pattinson didn’t interact.) At some point along the way, I guarantee these stars also tuned in to the buzz. After all, it’s just a quick ride from Canada to the Oscars. So, which movies came out on top? Here’s my Top 10, with a special shout-out to the fabulous just-released Hustlers. 


Marriage Story

A never-better Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson play a loving couple on the decline. He wants to stay in NYC so he can continue his work as an acclaimed theater director; she’s determined to raise their son in her native L.A. and make a go of it as a TV actress. Writer-director Noah Baumbach (While We’re Young) takes us along for their emotionally complex journey that feels heartbreakingly authentic every step of the way. (In theaters November 6; on Netflix December 6)



Set in a sun-drenched suburban Miami, this is a profound and gut-punching tragedy about an affluent African-American family (led by Sterling K. Brown) as they cope with the effects of expectations. In the electrifying first part, the go-getter teen son (Kelvin Harrison) unravels in a hurry when he learns his girlfriend is pregnant; in the meditative second part, the staid daughter (a beguiling Taylor Russell) deals with the aftermath. (In theaters November 1)


Knives Out

A wealthy family patriarch is found dead after his 85thbirthday party. Whodunnit? Who cares! The pure enjoyment in this devilishly fun murder-mystery derives from watching clever super-sleuth Daniel Craig investigate the conniving suspects. Original scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis is the daughter with a philandering husband (Don Johnson); Chris Evans is the greedy and entitled grandson. You’ll never untwist it all before the closing credits. (In theaters November 27)


A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Leave it to good-guy icon Tom Hanks to inhabit good-guy icon Fred Rogers. But this is nota biopic on the beloved children’s host. (You want an onscreen memoir? Try the stirring doc Won’t You Be My Neighbor.) Instead, life-affirming tale focuses on the unlikely bond between Rogers and a cynical jerk of magazine journalist (Matthew Rhys) at odds with his family in the late 1990s. Hanks-as-Rogers is a walking, talking ray of sunshine and hope. You will smile every single moment he’s on screen.  (In theaters November 22)


Just Mercy

The powerful true story focuses on an upstart Harvard-educated civil rights attorney named Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) that goes to Alabama in the 1980s in a quest to offer legal and financial aid to convince felons on death row. In one of his first cases, he fights for justice for an African American inmate (Jamie Foxx) wrongly accused of murdering a white teen girl. With steely determination, Stevenson proves that one man can indeed make a difference.  (In select theaters December 25; everywhere January 2020)


The Friend

Three appealing actors elevate one touching slice-of-lifer that will most definitely lead to an ugly cry. The friend in the title refers to an unassuming guy named Dane (Jason Segel) who puts his life on hold to move in with his best friends (Dakota Johnson and Casey Affleck) when she’s diagnosed with cancer. Turns out he needs them as much as they need him. Segel was born for this kind of role. (In theaters 2020)


Jojo Rabbit  

Oh, this is just your basic whimsical Holocaust-set comedy! A Nazi-obsessed and lonely German boy (Roman Griffin Davis) named Jojo has a kooky imaginary friend that resembles one Adolf Hitler. (Still with me here?). Much to his aghast, he soon learns that his resistance-fighting mom (Johansson, doing a German accent) is hiding a teen girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their home. Off-kilter premise aside, the film’s sweet message of tolerance led to a standing ovation at the premiere. From Thor: Ragnarok writer-director Taika Waititi. (In theaters October 18)



How to Build a Girl

Beanie Feldstein’s path to world domination continues. In this charming 90s-set coming-of-age comedy, the Booksmart star is a teen in England who talks to the posters of celebrities on her wall as if they’re her friends. She’s desperate to be cool and shed her nerdy ways. She finds her mojo (and thensome) while writing for an alt-rock magazine and suggesting that Pearl Jam crib from Nirvana. Then she learns that reality bites.  (In theaters 2020)



Ready for a Renee-ssance? Renee Zellweger shines bright as Judy Garland, the Wizard of Oz child star whose experience growing up in a sexist Hollywood led to deep turmoil later in life. This drama is set in the twilight of her life, when she’s performing a series of concerts in London. Zellweger captures the essence of the iconic entertainer, and her rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” — yup, she sings and dances! — will melt you, Wicked Witch-style. (In theaters September 27)



I’d be re-miss if I didn’t mention the most talked-about and most-anticipated film at the festival. This is the twisted, ultra-violent origin story about the infamous yet enigmatic clown-faced arch-villain. Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur is a socially awkward loner whose killing spree turns him into a Gotham anti-hero. I thought the drama drowned in dreariness; others are convinced it’s a masterpiece. Find out for yourself in a few weeks. (In theaters October 4)