Toronto’s Galas and Specials

Adam Sandler in Josh and Benny Safdie’s Uncut Gems (2019)

Josh and Benny Safdie’s Uncut Gems, with Adam Sandler as a New York City jeweler on the make, is one of the most anticipated films of the more than fifty in the first round of titles to be slated for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Talking to IndieWire’s Zack Sharf, TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey says Uncut Gems is “probably the most Safdie movie you’ve ever seen. It moves at a breakneck pace.” And Sandler “gives his very best performance since Punch-Drunk Love.

The gala and special presentations announced yesterday are a mix of world, international, North American, and Canadian premieres, which is to say that Toronto will be the first stop for some, while others will bow first in Venice or Telluride. And yet another batch has been touring the festival circuit since premiering in Cannes. In the case of a film like Uncut Gems, the bottom line is that, whoever gets to show it first, the movie looks like a blast and we’ll all get to see it when it opens in theaters on December 13.

Gala Presentations

Nine of the eighteen gala presentations—red-carpet affairs intended for the broadest possible audience—have been directed by women. Five of these catch the eye right away:

  • Persepolis creator Marjane Satrapi’s Radioactive, starring Rosamund Pike as Madame Curie, will be TIFF’s closing night presentation.
  • Cynthia Erivo (Widows) plays activist and abolitionist Harriet Tubman in Harriet, directed by Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou).
  • The challenge facing Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood will be to prove that the story told so well in Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor? needs telling again. Tom Hanks stars as Fred Rogers.
  • Lorene Scafaria directs Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, and Cardi B as former strippers out to fleece their Wall Street clients in Hustlers.
  • Chinonye Chukwu’s Clemency, with Alfre Woodward as a death row prison warden struggling with her conscience, won a grand jury prize at Sundance.

Other notable galas include:

  • The Goldfinch, an adaptation of Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, stars Nicole Kidman, Ansel Elgort, Luke Wilson, Sarah Paulson, and Jeffrey Wright, and is directed by John Crowley (Brooklyn).
  • Matt Damon and Christian Bale play a car designer and a driver who aim to beat an Italian racing legend in James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari.
  • Justin Kurzel (Macbeth) directs Russell Crowe and Nicholas Hoult in an adaptation of Peter Carey’s novel True History of the Kelly Gang.
  • Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx star in Just Mercy, a courtroom drama directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12).
And of course, we can expect Todd Phillips’s Joker, in which Joaquin Phoenix takes on the villain immortalized by Heath Ledger, to draw a crowd.

Special Presentations

As Mark Olsen points out in the Los Angeles Times, until Cannes finds a way to screen Netflix movies that won’t tick off French theater owners, other festivals are more than happy to welcome films that Cannes has kicked down the calendar. Netflix has no fewer than four titles screening in Toronto as special presentations.

  • Starring Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, and Antonio Banderas, Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat tracks a group of journalists who uncover millions of files that come to be known as the Panama Papers.
  • Eddie Murphy plays comedian Rudy Ray Moore in Dolemite Is My Name, directed by Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow).
  • Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson go through an arduous divorce in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story.
  • And Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins are The Two Popes, Francis and Benedict, in the new film from Fernando Meirelles (City of God).

Besides Marjane Satrapi’s Radioactive, Amazon Studios will bring two films from Sundance. Shia LaBeouf has written Honey Boy, which tackles his troubled relationship with his father, and the film won a special jury prize for director Alma Har’el. In The Report, written and directed by frequent Soderbergh collaborator Scott Z. Burns, Adam Driver plays an investigator for the Senate looking into the CIA’s post-9/11 “extreme interrogation” techniques.

Other titles to keep an eye on:

  • Wayne Wang, the director of both the landmark independent film Chan Is Missing (1982) and a big studio success, The Joy Luck Club (1993), is back with Coming Home Again. While caring for his mother, a man tries to master her traditional Korean dishes.
  • Pablo Larraín (Jackie, Neruda) directs Gael García Bernal and newcomer Mariana Di Girolamo as a couple dealing with an adoption gone wrong in Ema.
  • Rian Johnson takes a break from the Star Wars franchise with Knives Out, a comedic whodunit featuring Daniel Craig, Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, and LaKeith Stanfield.
  • Edward Norton has been working for years to realize Motherless Brooklyn, a film based on Jonathan Lethem’s novel starring himself, Willem Dafoe, Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Leslie Mann.
  • In Lou Ye’s black-and-white thriller Saturday Fiction, set in 1941, Gong Li plays an actress returning to Japanese-occupied Shanghai, where she learns of the imminent attack on Pearl Harbor.
  • Weathering with You, in which a teen meets a girl who can clear the skies, is Makoto Shinkai’s follow-up to Your Name, the highest-grossing anime feature of all time.
  • In Jojo Rabbit, director Taika Waititi plays Adolf Hitler, the imaginary friend of a German boy who discovers a Jewish girl hiding in his home. The cast includes Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, and Rebel Wilson.
  • Alejandro Amenábar’s While at War tells the story of writer and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, who warned his fellow Spaniards against the encroaching forces of fascism.
  • Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield, a freewheeling retelling of Dickens’s classic story, will open the the BFI London Film Festival in October.

Wrapping up Cannes at the end of May, we noted that three films, all of them big award winners, had also emerged as critical favorites: Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory, and Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire. All three are now heading to Toronto along with Ira Sachs’s Frankie, starring Isabelle Huppert, and the film that took Directors’ Fortnight by storm, Robert Eggers’s The Lighthouse, with Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson—which brings us to a summer listening tip: Eggers and Midsommar director Ari Aster talk shop on the latest A24 Podcast.

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