Published Sep 16, 2019Each year, the Toronto International Film Festival offers a glimpse into the next few months of the film industry. Rising new directors get their big break, promising blockbusters crash and burn, and audiences get a taste of the big contenders for next year's awards season. The films at TIFF set the tone for the next slate of cinematic releases.
As always, TIFF 2019 treated audiences to an array of masterpieces and surprise fan faves, not to mention a few disasters.
Below are the highlights from our TIFF experience. These are the films to look out for when they get a wide release — plus the ones to avoid at all costs. You can see our full TIFF 2019 coverage here.
The Best Films at TIFF 2019:
Joker (dir. Todd Phillips)
This origin story of Batman baddie the Joker is brilliant, even though it will make you feel a bit icky. Its portrait of a mentally ill man abandoned by the system will inspire sympathy, but that doesn't make his heinous crimes any less repulsive. At the heart of it is Joaquin Phoenix, who brings the complex character to life with frightening nuance. It's not enjoyable, exactly, but it's totally riveting.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (dir. Céline Sciamma)
This story of queer love is starkly beautiful and emotionally devastating. It portrays an 18th century romance between a portrait painter and her subject, and their affair plays out in the form of meaningful glances and stolen moments of privacy. The urgency of their love is mirrored by the pounding waves of the gorgeous setting in Brittany, France, and director Céline Sciamma highlights the sense of intimacy by not using a musical score.
Parasite (dir. Bong Joon-ho)
Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho is no stranger to dissecting class warfare, as he did with his 2013 calling card Snowpiercer, but Parasite takes the incisive commentary up several notches as Bong relays his message through the genre of family drama. Cleverly stylized, expertly plotted and rivetingly acted, Parasite explores class disparity with refreshing nuance and heartbreaking ramifications.
Jojo Rabbit (dir. Taika Waititi)
Thousands of voters can't be wrong, right? This year's Grolsch People's Choice Award went to Taika Waititi's hilarious but heartfelt exploration of World War II-era Germany. Starring Waititi as an earnest but misguided Hitler Youth member's imaginary version of the dictator, Jojo Rabbit deftly balances absurdist, visceral comedy with resonant, high-stakes messages about the social implications of blind patriotism.
Sound of Metal (dir. Darius Marder)
Between the Robbie Robertson documentary and Judy Garland biopic, there was plenty of music at TIFF this year, but Darius Marder's low-key tale of a noise rock drummer whose world is upended when he suddenly loses his hearing stood out. Anchored by Riz Ahmed's strong lead performance, Sound of Metal opens up vital conversations on deafness, disability and addiction in a moving, thought-provoking way.
The Worst Films at TIFF 2019:
Lucy in the Sky (dir. Noah Hawley)
Natalie Portman stars as an astronaut struggling to adjust to life back on Earth, but her character is so dislikable that it's hard to feel anything other than irritation. Throw in some obtrusively flashy direction choices (like a changing aspect ratio) and clumsy metaphors (a butterfly chrysalis filled with wasps), and you've got a front row seat for one seriously annoying existential crisis.
Dads (dir. Bryce Dallas Howard)
Bryce Dallas Howard's documentary Dads contends that fatherhood has changed, and that today's dads are expected to play an equal role in raising kids. Every dad portrayed here is an unfailingly excellent parent, making this a vapid puff piece that never really gets into the weeds of fatherhood. No one will disagree with the film's thesis, but no one will take anything away from it either.
The Goldfinch (dir. John Crowley)
Adapting Donna Tartt's beloved 2013 novel of the same name was never going to be an easy task, but the team behind this adaptation inexplicably decided to make their job even harder by intentionally obscuring some of the story's most crucial plot points, leading to an exhausting, confusing mess. Those interested by the story of love, loss and a stolen painting are better off (re-)reading the book.