TIFF 2019 lineup: Mr. Rogers, Joker, Judy and Bruce Springsteen

Star-studded biopics and new films by Steven Soderbergh, the Safdie Brothers, Kasi Lemmons, Atom Egoyan, Marjane Satrapi and Pedro Almodovar are coming to Toronto


The first wave of titles has been announced for the 44th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival, and they are very, very shiny.

For TIFF’s first edition following the departure of director and CEO Piers Handling, artistic director Cameron Bailey and executive director Joana Vicente rolled out an initial slate dominated by studio awards hopefuls and filled with A-listers. A total of 53 features were announced, with 16 galas and 37 special presentations constituting roughly one-fifth of the festival program. (Just 25 per cent – seven galas and six special presentations – were directed or co-directed by women, but that percentage will go up considerably as the rest of the program rolls out.)

If a studio wants to win an Oscar, they make a biopic. And if they really want an Oscar, they bring that biopic to TIFF in the hopes of winning the people’s choice award. Hey, it worked for Green Book last year.

And so this year, the festival will be lifting with based-on-a-true-story stories all vying for attention and an awards-season launching pad.

Tom Hanks plays Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood, Marielle Heller’s follow-up to last year’s acclaimed Can You Ever Forgive Me? Cynthia Erivo, who broke out last year in Steve McQueen’s Widows, plays Harriet Tubman in Harriet, director Kasi Lemmons’s first feature in years.

Renée Zellweger plays Judy Garland in the last year of her life in Rupert Goold’s Judy. Hotel Mumbai’s Tilda Cobham-Hervey plays Helen Reddy in Australian filmmaker Unjoo Moon’s I Am Woman.

Eddie Murphy plays blaxploitation icon Rudy Ray Moore in Dolemite Is My Name, from Hustle & Flow director Craig Brewer Priyanka Chopra Jonas plays Indian author Aisha Chaudhary in The Sky Is Pink, directed by Shonali Bose (Amu, Margarita With A Straw). Shia LaBoeuf plays his own father in Alma Har’el’s Honey Boy, which the actor also wrote Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges will play LaBoeuf’s tween and twentysomething selves.

Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins play Pope Francis and Pope Benedict in The Two Popes, a Netflix feature from Fernando Meirelles (City Of God, Blindness). Matt Damon and Christian Bale are racecar legends Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles in Ford V Ferrari, from director James Mangold (Walk The Line, Logan). George MacKay, who starred opposite Amandla Stenberg in last year’s Where Hands Touch, plays legendary Australian outlaw Ned Kelly in Justin Kurzel’s True History Of The Kelly Gang, which co-stars Russell Crowe, Charlie Hunnam, Nicholas Hoult, Essie Davis and Thomasin McKenzie.

Timecrimes’ Karra Elejalde plays Miguel de Unamuno, a Basque author and professor who resisted Franco’s dictatorship in Alejandro Amenábar’s While At War, and Rosamund Pike and Sam Riley play Marie and Pierre Curie in the closing-night gala Radioactive, from director Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis, The Voices). Every last one of these films will be angling for maximum awards traction. That’s just how it works now.

Cardi B and The Weeknd on the red carpet?

But if you’re looking for hip and cool… oh, you’ll find hip and cool. There’s Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, an all-star whodunit featuring Chris Evans, Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon and Toni Collette. Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo, Cardi B and Stormi Maya play strip-club employees who scam their clients in Hustlers, from writer-director Lorene Scafaria (Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World, The Meddler).

There’s Taika Waititi’s special presentation Jojo Rabbit, based on fellow New Zealander Christine Leunens’s novel Caging Skies, it stars newcomer Roman Griffin Davis as a Hitler Youth recruit who discovers his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their home Waititi appears in the film as the boy’s imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler.

Uncut Gems, the new project from New York sibling filmmakers Josh and Benny Safdie, stars Adam Sandler in a rare dramatic turn as a jewelry store owner who takes extreme measures to settle his debts after a robbery. The film’s doubly buzzy for the presence of Toronto R&B singer/songwriter The Weeknd, apparently playing himself.

Armando Iannucci will follow his jet-black Politburo comedy The Death Of Stalin with The Personal History Of David Copperfield, with Dev Patel in the title role and Tilda Swinton, Peter Capaldi, Hugh Laurie, Ben Whishaw and Gwendoline Christine in supporting roles. And Iannucci’s frequent collaborator Steve Coogan will be seen in Michael Winterbottom’s Greed, a satire set at a billionaire’s 60th birthday party on the island of Mykonos, alongside Asa Butterfield, David Mitchell, Isla Fisher, Shirley Henderson and Stephen Fry.

Destin Daniel Cretton, recently in the news as the director of Marvel’s Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings, will present his death-row drama Just Mercy, starring Michael B. Jordan, Brie Larson and Jamie Foxx as a gala. Nicole Kidman, Sarah Paulson, Ansel Elgort, Jeffrey Wright and Finn Wolfhard star in the screen adaptation of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, directed by John Crowley (Brooklyn).

Western Stars, a performance documentary co-directed by Bruce Springsteen and his Springsteen On Broadway director Thom Zinny, will also screen as a gala rather than in the TIFF Docs program. Thoroughbreds director Cory Finley will screen his next feature Bad Education – about a Long Island school district rocked by an embezzlement scandal, and starring Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, Alex Wolff and Ray Romano – as a special presentation.

And then there’s the real wild card of the festival, or at least the clown in the deck: Todd Phillips’s Joker, the 70s-inflected origin story of Batman’s arch-enemy starring Joaquin Phoenix in the title role and featuring Zazie Beetz, Marc Maron and Robert De Niro. It is the first superhero movie to receive a gala slot at TIFF, and that is some kind of triumph for somebody.

Joker isn’t the only left-field gala entry DreamWorks Animation’s Abominable, an adventure about a girl and her Yeti from Jill Culton and Todd Wilderman – and featuring the voices of Chloe Bennet, Albert Tsai, Sarah Paulson and Eddie Izzard – will screen in that program as well. Two other animated features, Hong Kong filmmaker Yonfan’s No. 7 Cherry Lane and anime superstar Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering With You, will screen as special presentations.

From Cannes to Canada 

While the bulk of TIFF 2019’s Canadian programming will be announced at a dedicated press conference next week, the festival did announce two homegrown titles today.

François Girard’s The Song Of Names, starring Tim Roth, Clive Owen and Catherine McCormack in “an emotional detective story spread over two continents and half a century” – which sounds like a cousin to Girard’s Oscar-winning The Red Violin – will be a gala, while Atom Egoyan’s Guest Of Honour, a psychosexual thriller starring David Thewlis, Luke Wilson, Rossif Sutherland and Laysla De Oliveira, will be a special presentation.

A number of Cannes premieres will screen as special presentations at this year’s festival, including Bong Joon-Ho’s Palme d’Or winner Parasite, about a family of scammers who insinuate themselves into a wealthy household Ira Sachs’s Frankie, starring Isabelle Huppert as a movie star assembling her family around her for one last celebration Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain And Glory, an autobiographical drama starring his regular collaborator Antonio Banderas Céline Sciamma’s Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, an 18th century romance starring Noémie Merland and Adèle Haenel, and Robert Eggers’s The Lighthouse, starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as a pair of alienated lighthouse keepers.

The Laundromat

Courtesy of TIFF

Meryl Streep stars in The Laundromat, Steven Soderbergh’s Netflix film about the Panama Papers.

Soderbergh, Wang and Baumbach

Want more announcements? Of course you do. Annette Bening, Bill Nighy, Josh O’Connor and Aiysha Hart star in William Nicholson’s family drama Hope Gap Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville play a couple in the romantic drama Ordinary Love, from Northern Soul directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn.

Steven Soderbergh will make his first appearance at the festival since 2013’s Visitors (which he produced for director Godfrey Reggio) with The Laundromat, a Netflix drama about the Panama Papers scandal starring Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas and Jeffrey Wright.

The Laundromat is written by Soderbergh’s frequent collaborator Scott Z. Burns, who’ll be bringing his own project to TIFF as well: Amazon Studios’ The Report, a drama starring Adam Driver as a Senate staffer who exposes America’s post-9/11 policy of “enhanced interrogation” of detainees. (It premiered at Sundance earlier this year.)

Big Little Lies’ Shailene Woodley will play a woman figuring herself out in Endings, Beginnings, from writer/director Drake Doremus (Like Crazy, Equals) the supporting cast includes Sebastian Stan, Jamie Dornan, Matthew Gray Gubler and Toronto’s own Shamier Anderson.

Czech director Václav Marhoul brings The Painted Bird, his adaptation of Polish author Jerzy Kosinski’s autobiographical novel of survival in Nazi-occupied Poland starring Stellan Skarsgård, Barry Pepper and Harvey Keitel. Katrin Gebbe’s drama Pelican Blood casts German superstar Nina Hoss as a mother in a complicated relationship with her adopted daughter.

Roger Michell’s Blackbird stars Kate Winslet, Sam Neill, Mia Wasikowska and Rainn Wilson as members of a family brought together by their terminally ill matriarch (Susan Sarandon) it’s a remake of Bille August’s 2014 drama Silent Heart.

Ema, Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín’s first feature since his 2016 Platform winner Jackie, also pivots on adoption, starring Gael García Bernal and Mariana Di Girolamo as a couple whose marriage disintegrates as they prepare to welcome a child. And Portuguese filmmaker Tiago Guedes (Blood Curse, Noise) tells a decades-spanning drama in the generational epic A Herdade.

Gabriela Cowperthwaite (Blackfish, Megan Leavey) directs The Friend, a domestic drama starring Casey Affleck, Gwendoline Christie, Jason Segel and Dakota Johnson. Booksmart’s Beanie Feldstein stars opposite Emma Thompson, Alfie Allen and Chris O’Dowd in How To Build A Girl, Coky Giedroyc’s film of Caitlin Moran’s semi-autobiographical novel, adapted by Moran herself.

Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver are a couple in the middle of a very complicated divorce in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, which co-stars Laura Dern, Merritt Wever, Ray Liotta, Alan Alda, Julie Hagerty and Newfoundland native Mark O’Brien.

Nearly 20 years after directing himself (and Ben Stiller and Jenna Elfman) in the romantic comedy Keeping The Faith, Edward Norton does it again with his adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn, playing a private detective trying to solve the murder of his mentor (Bruce Willis). Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale, Willem Dafoe, Leslie Mann, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Michael Kenneth Williams co-star.

Wayne Wang – who came to TIFF last year to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his Asian-American touchstone The Joy Luck Club – is back with a new feature, Coming Home Again, about a young man (Justin Chon) trying to cook his ailing mother’s Korean recipes as a means of connecting to her. And Lou Ye’s black-and-white thriller Saturday Fiction stars Gong Li as a stage actor in 1941 Shanghai with a hidden agenda.

The 2019 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 5 -15. For more details on the titles announced today, visit the festival website. The Canadian program will be announced next Wednesday (July 31).

@normwilner

Leave your opinion for the editor...We read everything!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *