19 Must-See Films at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times, film festivals are my jam and are without question my favorite thing about being an entertainment journalist and film critic. Whether it is a festival that is built entirely on discoveries like Sundance or one that kicks off Award Season like Telluride or Toronto, there is no better way to watch a film for the first time than at a festival.
With the exception of a few films that came out of Sundance and SXSW earlier this year, 2019 hasn’t exactly been the greatest year for cinema. Don’t get me wrong, 2019 has had some great films like Rocketman, The Farewell, Booksmart, Luce, Brittany Runs A Marathon, and Long Shot but these have been few and far between. This year’s summer movie season left most audiences and critics underwhelmed with the exception of a few major releases like Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Hobbs & Shaw, and Once Upon A Time in Hollywood.
But that is all in the past as the fall festival season is now in full swing with Venice, Telluride, and TIFF. While each festival certainly has its fair share of buzz-worthy titles, it is the TIFF line-up that truly stands out as the strongest of the three. Cameron Bailey and the rest of the TIFF programming team have really outdone themselves this year with several major world premieres as well as other big Award Season titles playing at TIFF.
With over 200 films to choose from writing a TIFF must-see list is a lot more difficult this year compared to years past. In my eyes, this is the strongest TIFF lineup since 2016 where films like Moonlight, La La Land, and Arrival all played at the festival, received rave reviews, and led the conversation for the 2016 award season.
Below are my picks for the 19 must-see films premiering or playing at TIFF 2019.
19. The Personal History of David Copperfield
Dev Patel at the Toronto International Film Festival usually is a win-win dating back to his first role in Slumdog Millionaire. No, the Personal History of David Copperfield is not about the iconic magician but rather a film about a character created by the great Charles Dickens. Directed by Armando Iannucci, the man behind such satires as Veep and In the Loop is an interesting choice for this film but one that has me intrigued. The film was also recently acquired by Fox Searchlight, which makes me think it could be one of the many surprises to come out of this year’s festival.
18. Motherless Brooklyn
I attended the World Premiere of Motherless Brooklyn while I was at the Telluride Film Festival. The trailer for this film turned me off right away but truth be told, the more I think about this film the more I like it. This is without a doubt Edward Norton’s best work as a director and possibly, one of his best performances as well. It is a very long and dense film but if you don’t mind films that are considered to be ‘slow burns’ then I highly recommend this one. I think this one will be overlooked by many but might end up becoming an underdog come award season.
If you consider yourself a fan of foreign films and the work of Boon Ho Bong than you must put Parasite on the top of your must see list. Parasite is captivating from beginning to end. It will reel you in and you will laugh a lot but also be on the edge of your seat by the end. It is a shoe-in for a nomination for Best Foreign Film at the Golden Globes as well as at the Academy Awards.
16. Honey Boy
I saw Honey Boy while I was at the Sundance Film Festival back in January and while I was excited to see it because of Lucas Hedges and Noah Jupe, I was absolutely shocked by how much I loved this film because of Shia LaBeouf’s incredible performance. The film, which was inspired by LaBeouf’s relationship with his father is definitely one that needs to be on your radar. If you are going to TIFF, don’t miss out on this one. The performances in Honey Boy are all around fantastic especially LaBeouf and Jupe as a father/son duo.
15. The Lighthouse
The Lighthouse is Robert Eggers follow-up to The Witch. While I still don’t know exactly what this film is about, I am sort of intrigued by it. A24 released a trailer for the film about two weeks ago which doesn’t reveal the plot yet it still managed to sell me. Also, Robert Pattinson acting alongside a legend like Willem Dafoe seems like a winning combination.
14. Guns Akimbo
I don’t know much about this one other than it stars Daniel Radcliffe and is about video games. I personally have added Radcliffe into the category of must-see whenever he is in a new film. I appreciate that he has been taking on a lot of odd roles ever since Harry Potter ended. He is a real talent that can do horror, comedy, drama, and everything else in between. Guns Akimbo sounds like it could be the next Scott Pilgrim.
13. How to Build a Girl
Beanie Feldstein’s performance in Lady Bird, as well as Booksmart, has made me a big fan of her work. How to Build a Girl sounds like it will be a quirky dramedy with some social commentary. The film also stars Emma Thompson who seems determined to get some love this year with multiple projects including this film, Late Night, and Last Christmas.
12. Dolemite is My Name
Eddie Murphy is hoping to have a renaissance and fans who have missed the Eddie Murphy from the 80s and 90s are anxiously hoping that this film does the trick. I don’t know the history behind this true story but the trailer which was released by Netflix a few weeks back left me intrigued. It looks like it will be a lot of fun while reminding audiences why Eddie Murphy was once viewed as a comedic mastermind.
11.The Two Popes
I am still sad that I missed the Two Popes while I was at Telluride. After the film premiered at Telluride, almost everyone who I spoke to told me how engaging and funny the movie was. You are probably wondering how can a film about two popes be funny and entertaining, but I don’t have the answer to that. I am just glad to hear that the film isn’t the snooze fest that it sounds like from its generic description on IMDB.
10. The Laundromat
Meryl Streep and Gary Oldman working together is reason enough to want to see this quirky comedy directed by Steven Soderbergh.
9. Marriage Story
If you are looking for something that will make you think, laugh, and cry while you are at TIFF, Marriage Story will certainly do the trick. In his latest film from writer/director Noah Baumbach tackles his own life with a fictionalized recreation of his divorce. This is Baumbach’s crowning achievement as a filmmaker as the film is brutally honest and emotionally devastating. Adam Driver continues to prove that he is an incredible actor while Scarlett Johansson delivers his best performance since Lost in Translation. If you are married, divorced, or have ever been in a long term relationship, Marriage Story is not to be missed as it is one of the most poignant films of the year.
8. Just Mercy
Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, Just Mercy has been on my radar for over a year now. The cast which includes Michael B. Jordan, Brie Larson, and Jamie Foxx hints that the film is going to be something special. Just Mercy also marks the third time that Brie Larson has worked with Destin Daniel Cretton. The film is based on a book with a story that seems to be very important and relatable in today’s world.
7. Bad Education
This movie sold me because of the premise and the fact that it stars Hugh Jackman. Bad Education is about a recent school embezzlement scandal and sounds like something that will be very fascinating to watch unfold. There seems to be a lot of buzz centered around this film and I do hope the film connects more with audiences than Jackman’s last film The Front Runner, which went nowhere after playing at Telluride and Toronto.
There has been rumors that Seberg may finally earn Kristen Stewart her first Oscar nomination. As a long time fan of Stewart, I feel like she has been overlooked by the Academy several times already. Here is hoping that Seberg will break that curse and get her the level of attention that she deserves. While I don’t know much about the scandal involving Jean Seberg, I already find it interesting to see how politics and entertainment tend to intersect.
5. Knives Out
I have been excited about Knives Out since I first saw the trailer at CinemaCon back in April. The film, which marks Rian Johnson’s return to original film after the whole Star Wars: The Last Jedi debacle is one that has sparked a lot of interest. I am a big fan of Johnson’s original work and when combined with this all star cast that includes Jamie Lee Curtis, Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, and LaKeith Stanfield, I couldn’t be more excited to see it.
Just like Parasite, The Report, and Marriage Story, I already had the pleasure of watching Waves at the Telluride Film Festival. It was my favorite film from the Telluride Film Festival and one that I cannot stop thinking about. Waves is an emotional rollercoaster ride that will leave you speechless. I don’t want to give too much away about the plot but if you are at the Toronto International Film Festival, do yourself a favor and add this film to the very top of your list.
3. Jojo Rabbit
While I am not afraid to admit that I wasn’t a huge fan of Thor: Ragnarok, I do find Taika Waititi independent work to be very funny and entertaining. Jojo Rabbit, which is based on a book, looks like it is going to be an absolute blast. The film is an anti-hate satire about Hitler and with a talented cast that includes Scarlett Johannson and Sam Rockwell, I cannot wait to see this one with the TIFF crowd.
I have been anxiously awaiting the release of Joker ever single the film was announced. I applaud Warner Brothers and DC Film for taking a risk with this one by not using stories from the comics and instead of creating a whole new take on this iconic comic book villain. With Joaquin Phoenix taking on the role of the Joker, I am convinced that he will bring something completely unexpected to the role. With all of the initial hype out of Venice, the Toronto International Film Festival premiere cannot come soon enough.
1. A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood
While I really struggled with whether or not to put Joker in the number one spot, I believe that good must overcome evil and what better film to do so than A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood. This film is directed by Marielle Heller and stars Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers. When the trailer for this film was released about a month ago, I watched it at least a dozen times and got goosebumps every single time. We live in dark times that lacks an inspiring role model like Mister Rogers. Seeing a movie about this iconic television who fought for the greater good is just what the world needs right now. I hope I am not overhyping this one but I want to believe that it is going to be my favorite film of the year or at least one of my favorites. I can’t remember the last time I was this excited to see a film.