The 9 Buzziest World Premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival

New films about Dolemite, Mr. Rogers, and an imaginary Hitler lead a stacked lineup of TIFF world premieres that could impact awards races this year.

by | September 5, 2019 | Comments

The 44th Toronto International Film Festival kicks off today, signaling that festival season is now in full swing, and while it has always been a major stop on the circuit, this year it returns with added bragging rights: In 2018, the festival premiered the eventual Best Picture-winner Green Book, which won the festival’s Audience Award. Before Green Book‘s Oscar win, it had been over six years since a film skipped Venice and Telluride to premiere at TIFF and still managed to take home the movie industry’s highest honor.

Venice and Telluride favorites Marriage Story, Uncut Gems, Waves, Ford v Ferrari, Parasite, A Portrait of a Lady on Fire, and the hotly anticipated Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix, will all screen over the next few days and likely earn more positive reviews. As those films look to continue their momentum and enviable scores on the Tomatometer (Marriage Story, Uncut Gems, Waves, Ford v Ferrari, Parasite, and A Portrait of a Lady on Fire are all still Fresh at 100%), there are a handful of TIFF titles that may upset the race and displace some of the frontrunners. Here are the TIFF world premieres that we think are likely to make an impact during awards season and maybe win.

Dolemite Is My Name (2019) 97%

Synopsis: Dolemite, the stage persona of comedian Rudy Ray Moore, was an icon of the ’70s blaxploitation era, and his on-screen portrayal has been a longtime passion project for Eddie Murphy. As a musician-actor-producer-comedian, Moore was a multi-hyphenate before the term was coined. Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow) is behind the camera for this biopic about a man who became a success late in life and remains a legend in entertainment.

Why are we’re excited about it: Eddie Murphy has starred in only one feature film since 2012, but this self-imposed hiatus seems to be over, as he recently announced a slew of projects. Coming 2 America and Beverly Hills Cop 4 are both in the works, as is an upcoming a Netflix comedy special, marking his first stand-up film since Raw in 1987. As fabulous as all that sounds, it still pales in comparison to the buzz surrounding the comedian’s upcoming performance in Dolemite is My Name. Knowing how long the Shrek star worked to bring this story to screen, we are betting that it will be well worth the wait. Adding the fact the trailer looks like a funnier version of Hustle & Flow (Brewer’s Oscar-winning drama that also earned Terrence Howard a Best Actor nomination), we are all on board for this one — and Murphy’s chances for a second nomination (Dreamgirls was his first). 

Harriet (2019) 73%

Synopsis: In her third feature and first starring role, the Tony-winning Broadway actress Cynthia Erivo plays one of the greatest heroes of American history. Directed by Kasi Lemmons, Erivo embodies abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who escaped slavery and risked her life to lead others to freedom via the Underground Railroad.

Why are we’re excited about it: Cynthia Erivo is a bright starlet on Broadway, but she has yet to truly breakthrough to feature films. Biopics are on-trend as usual for awards — look no further than Rami Malek‘s Oscar-winning performance for Bohemian Rhapsody. Judy Garland (Judy), Elton John (Rocketman), J.R.R. Tolkien (Tolkien), and even Mr. Rogers (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood — see below) have gotten the big-screen treatment, and given Erivo’s acting chops, this one has a ton of promise.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) 95%

Synopsis: A cynical journalist (Matthew Rhys) profiles the legendary children’s television host Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) and afterward adopts a profoundly empathetic world view that changes his life forever.

Why are we’re excited about it: The nicest guy in Hollywood playing the nicest guy on television? Could we ask for more? We know that Tom Hanks can pull off a biopic (Sully, Captain Phillips) and from the first trailer, we see he’s nailed the voice and look of our most beloved children’s entertainer. Marielle Heller, who directed Can You Ever Forgive Me?, has shown she can direct an Oscar-worthy performance, and as Hanks is a favorite with Academy voters, critics, and audiences, it’s hard to bet against this one. 

Hustlers (2019) 87%

Synopsis: Based on a 2015 New York Magazine article, Hustlers fictionalizes the tale behind a clever group of strippers who banded together to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients whose recklessness during the early 2000s caused the financial crisis of 2008.

Why are we’re excited about it: You had us at Cardi B and Lizzo. Add Jennifer Lopez doing incredible acrobatic flips on a stripper pole, and some honest-to-goodness Magic Mike vibes, and this one should be a hit with audiences. Given Lorene Scafaria‘s (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) impressive script and tight direction, and what many are calling J. Lo’s career-best performance, don’t be surprised if awards accolades follow the film’s box office success. 

Jojo Rabbit (2019) 80%

Synopsis: Taika Waititi plays a young boy’s imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler, in this provocative satire set in World War II Germany and based on the eponymous children’s novel. We follow as Hitler fanatic JoJo (Roman Griffin) discovers his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl in his home, causing him to question the validity of Nazism and everything he has been taught.

Why are we’re excited about it: It’s a shame that more people didn’t see Waititi’s earlier gems like Boy (Certified Fresh at 87%) or Hunt for The Wilderpeople (Certified Fresh at 96%), but anyone who did knows that the New Zealand writer-director has a knack for directing young children. Starring the 10-year-old Roman Griffin, Jojo Rabbit hopes to inspire a similarly enthusiastic critical reception and, if things break right, a couple of trophies. When the Thor: Ragnarok director was recently asked why he, a Māori Jew, chose to play Hitler, he quipped back, “The answer is simple: What better ‘f–k you’ to that guy?” 

Knives Out (2019) 97%

Synopsis: Rian Johnson enlists an A-list cast (Daniel Craig, Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, and LaKeith Stanfield) for his first film after Star Wars: The Last Jedi. This whip-smart–looking whodunit pits a legendary southern detective against incompetent local police and a group of eccentric suspects he must investigate after a wealthy crime novelist is murdered.

Why are we’re excited about it: Did you see that cast? Do you need more? It goes without saying that the cast is enough to grab our attention, but with Johnson penning the script, we have to assume this marks a return to his murder-mystery roots a la Looper or Brick. 

Lucy in the Sky (2019) 21%

Synopsis: Natalie Portman is an astronaut who, after an extended time in space, begins to question her reality in this debut feature from television director Noah Hawley (FargoLegion).

Why are we’re excited about it: Here, Natalie Portman plays a crazed, obsessive astronaut who’s losing her grip on reality. When she played a similarly crazed and obsessive ballerina in Black Swan, she won an Oscar, so there’s that. With Hawley directing, the Legion showrunner is likely to turn up the psychedelic imagery, given the nod to LSD in the title, and we are more than hyped to see it.

Just Mercy (2019) 85%

Synopsis: Harvard lawyer Bryan Stevenson (Micheal B. Jordan) heads to Alabama to defend the disenfranchised and wrongly condemned, including Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), the famously exonerated death row inmate.

Why are we’re excited about it: Destin Daniel Cretton is an actor’s director who manages to get the best out every performer he casts. His debut film Short Term 12 did much to launch the film careers of John Gallagher Jr.Kaitlyn DeverRami Malek, LaKeith Stanfield, Stephanie Beatriz, and Brie Larson, who reunites with Cretton in a co-starring role here. Needless to say, he has an eye for talent. Foxx, who many assume to have the meatier role, is poised for a deep Oscar campaign along with Jordan and Larson.

Bad Education (2019) 94%

Synopsis: Cory Finley (Thoroughbreds) directs Hugh Jackman, Allison JanneyGeraldine Viswanathan, Rafael CasalAlex Wolffand Ray Romano in this true-crime dramedy about an infamous school-larceny scandal.

Why are we’re excited about it: Little is know about the plot of Bad Education, but the real-life scandal on which it’s based was heavily covered when news broke in the early 2000s, and it’s a tasty tale of sex, greed, and gross stupidity. Given the cast and Finley’s deadpan style, this one looks to be an updated, potentially even juicier version of Election. If the script and Finley’s direction prove worthy, look for nods for Jackman, Janney, and Romano.

The Toronto International Film Festival is held September 5-15.

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