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Toronto International Film Festival 2019 Preview: The Films We're Most Excited About

Originally published on September 5, 2019 6:04 am

Good morning from Toronto, where the NPR Movies team has decamped for the next seven days or so, as we attend the Toronto International Film Festival, the largest film festival in North America.

The festival runs from the 5th through the 15th of September; hundreds of feature films, documentaries and shorts from around the world will be screened. For the public, there will be gala events, red carpets and celebrities. For the press, there will be long days spent in the dark, meals consisting entirely of greasy fistfuls of popcorn, and endless scuttling from theater to theater without ever stepping out into air that hasn't been heavily conditioned.

I asked the rest of the team to tell me which films they were most looking forward to seeing at TIFF 2019. Many will be coming to theaters — and/or streaming services — in the coming months.



Harriet Tubman (Cynthia Erivo) in Kasi Lemmons' Harriet.

The story of renowned abolitionist Harriet Tubman who escaped slavery in 1849, then headed back into the South to risk her life rescuing others via the network of safe-houses known as the Underground Railroad.

Bob says: "Love director Kasi Lemmons (Eve's Bayou, Talk to Me) for telling stories in unorthodox ways – she's reportedly conceived Tubman's harrowing tale as a politically engaged action flick. And after Widows, I'd follow leading lady Cynthia Erivo anywhere.


Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik) and Ki-jung (Park So-dam) get some screentime in Bong Joon-ho's Parasite.

An upstairs/downstairs tale of a family of impoverished con artists who insinuate themselves into a wealthy Korean household with results that defy social norms and genre categories.

Here's Bob: "A Palme d'Or-winning, politically charged, class-war tragicomedy that lets Korean director Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer, The Host) channel his inner Tarantino? Count me in!"

The Laundromat

Retiree Ellen Martin (Meryl Streep) chases a paper trail in Steven Soderbergh's The Laundromat.

Steven Soderbergh directs a high-powered cast – Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas, Jeffrey Wright, Sharon Stone, David Schwimmer, Larry Wilmore and others – in a caper-comedy-style true-crime dramatization of the worldwide financial chicanery exposed by the Panama Papers leak.

Bob says: "I've seen the Soderbergh-produced Scott Z. Burns-written The Report, which shreds the CIA for its post-9/11 torture tactics, so the thought of these guys teaming up for a high-suds, Soderbergh-directed comic take on money-laundering is irresistible."


A Hidden Life

Franziska (Valerie Pachner) and Franz (August Diehl) find a moment of solace in Terrence Malick's A Hidden Life.

Writer-director Terrence Malick's latest film centers on a pious Austrian farmer who balks at the rise of Nazism as it sweeps across Europe on the eve of World War II.

Bilal says, "Malick's recent films have received mixed reviews at best, but from the rapturous reception at Cannes to the sublime new trailer, this film about a farmer in the Alps and a conscientious objector to the Nazi regime feels like a companion piece to Malick's other masterpiece about war, nature and family, The Thin Red Line."

Bombay Rose

Gitanjali Rao's hand-painted animated feature Bombay Rose follows several characters through the streets of Mumbai.

This animated feature follows several characters as their lives intersect on the streets of India's largest city, their stories linked by a single red rose.

Here's Bilal: "I love feature-length animated world cinema that breaks from Hollywood's CGI fantasies and animal-world fables to address history and national identity ... Persepolis, Waltz With Bashir and Spirited Away come to mind. Some may think Bollywood already resembles anime, but here in hand-painted frames, Gitanjali Rao has composed a love letter to Mumbai and a Hindu-Muslim love story that seems tailor made for such a heightened, animated palette.

Jojo Rabbit

L-R: Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) has dinner with his imaginary friend Adolf (writer/director Taika Waititi), and his mother, Rosie (Scarlet Johansson) in Jojo Rabbit.
Kimberley French / TIFF

Taika Waititi directs a screenplay he adapted from Christine Leunens comic novel about a young German boy whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler ... played by Waititi.

Bilal says, "Hitler as an imaginary friend? Nationalism and childhood? It sounds like one of the strangest mainstream fall releases ever, and dare I say, one of the freshest takes on WWII."


Dolemite Is My Name

Eddie Murphy stars as comedian Rudy Ray Moore, aka Dolemite, in My Name Is Dolemite.

Eddie Murphy stars in this biopic of comedian Rudy Ray Moore, who created the character Dolemite on records and in blaxploitation films in the 1970s.

Linda says, "A lot of movies have wasted Eddie Murphy both before and after his Oscar nomination for Dreamgirls. I'm really excited to see him with this amazing cast (Keegan-Michael Key! Tituss Burgess! Ron Cephas Jones! Craig Robinson! Lots more!), doing something that looks as interesting as this. The trailer looks amazing, the design looks beautiful, and Eddie Murphy playing a guy who creates a larger-than-life character seems like a pretty perfect fit."

How To Build A Girl

Johanna (Beanie Feldstein) in Coky Giedroyc's How to Build a Girl.

A teenage girl (Beanie Feldstein) creates a music critic persona who becomes infamous for her cutting takedowns in this film, set in and around the London music scene of the 1990s.

Linda's take: "I am entirely here for the Rise Of Beanie Feldstein, which continues here with this adaptation of Caitlin Moran's novel (which Moran wrote herself). I am also entirely here for Emma Thompson being paired off with various young and funny women, as she is here. If you add the fact that Chris O'Dowd is one of my favorite actors, this is exactly up my alley, and I can't wait."

Knives Out

An all-star cast hams it up in this comedy about a big old mansion, a fractious family gathering, and (meaningful pause) ... murder.

Here's Linda: "As Kelly Kapoor would have said on THE OFFICE, this cast is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S. Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Chris Evans, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer – who knew we were all just waiting for the Christopher Plummer/LaKeith Stanfield movie? The fact that it has a very funny trailer, and its origins in the great and weird mind of writer-director Rian Johnson make this the single film I am most excited to see."


The Lighthouse

Thomas (Willem Dafoe) and Ephraim (Robert Pattinson) keep a crusty vigil in Robert Eggers' The Lighthouse.

Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson are a couple of lighthouse keepers who descend into madness and/or homoeroticism — the trailer's less than forthcoming, frankly.

Shot on 35mm black-and-white film, directed by Robert Eggers (whose The Witch I deeply loved), this movie would be up my alley even if I didn't harbor a lifelong dream of being a lighthouse keeper. But as it turns out I do harbor said dream, and nothing — not even Dafoe's character crustily and creepily rasping "Why'd ye spill yer beans?" over and over in the gorgeous trailer — will dissuade me from it, thank you very much. This is easily the movie I'm most looking forward to. I mean, the facial hair alone.

The Personal History of David Copperfield

Dev Patel plays the title character in Armando Iannucci's The Personal History of David Copperfield.

Armando Iannucci and Simon Blackwell (who co-wrote In The Loop) re-team to make this reportedly fast, fun and freewheeling take on Charles Dickens' novel.

The cast is both amazing (name a British actor, quick. Yep, they're in it) and low-key innovative — Dev Patel stars as David. But I'll be honest, the TIFF description had me at "his eccentric aunt Betsey Trotwood (Tilda Swinton)," because I'm easy like that.

No. 7 Cherry Lane

No. 7 Cherry Lane is filmmaker/photographer Yonfan's animation debut.

Hong Kong filmmaker/photographer Yonfan's first animated feature, reportedly a love letter to the city.

I've never seen an animated film that looks quite like this — the result of the filmmaker's innovative technique: "A new process that turns original 3-D illustrations into 2-D images on rice paper." The trailer promises a combination of clean, crisp animation and a meditative tone.

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