Coronavirus did not stop the Toronto International Film Festival 2020 (TIFF) from showcasing great films from filmmakers around the world. Like many of the big events this year, TIFF was held virtually due to the pandemic. Canadian locals did have some on-site screenings, but TIFF offered a digital experience for the rest of the world. As a result, the number of films included were fewer than usual. TIFF showcased only 50 films this year, compared to 333 films from last year’s event.
This year’s TIFF also saw the absence of many Hollywood studio films. This stands out, considering the tradition of Hollywood studios screening their films at TIFF to test the mettle of potential award-contenders. Despite screening fewer films this year, critics still managed to compile a decent list of the best movies from this year’s film festival. Here are the 10 best films to present at the festival, according to critics.
Like Ai Weiwei’s documentary “Coronation,” this documentary by director Hao Wu captures the COVID-19 outbreak from its origin in Wuhan, China. Although the scope of the film is limited to hospitals in Wuhan, the style of the film grabs the viewer’s attention immediately. Audiences are put head-first into the chaotic rise of the outbreak in Wuhan. The film portrays the lockdown on January 23 which lasted for 76 days, affecting the daily lives of frontline workers trying to save citizens from the virus. The filmmakers do not rely on statistics, instead selecting a few patients to give audiences an emotional deep dive into living as a COVID -19 patient in Wuhan.
In director Francis Lee’s second feature-film “Ammonite,” Kate Winslet plays Mary Anning, a paleontologist who forms a romantic relationship in the mid 1800s with Charlotte Murchinson, played by Saorise Ronan. Although the movie is not a biopic, it is inspired by the life of Anning. The chemistry between the lead actors and their characters make this romantic film stand out for critics. The average score based on 27 critic reviews on Rotten Tomatoes is 78%. One consensus is that “the chemistry between Saoirse Ronan and a never-better Kate Winslet helps ‘Ammonite’ transcend its period romance trappings.”
Director and writer Tracey Deer skillfully blends a coming-of-age story with a socially-conscious drama in “Beans.” The film is written based on her upbringing in Quebec, Canada, amidst the 1990 Oka Crisis. Deer’s script connects audiences with her personal childhood struggles through a 12-year-old girl known as “Beans,” played by actress Kiawentiio, while also highlighting political issues throughout the narrative.
“David Byrne’s American Utopia”
Spike Lee’s latest project, “David Byrne’s American Utopia,” is a documentary about Byrne’s 2019 spectacular Broadway concert. Filled with sheer joy and hope, this documentary has a score of 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 32 reviews. The site consensus reads “Helmed in elegant and exhilarating style by Spike Lee, ‘David Byrne’s American Utopia’ is a concert film that doubles as a joyously cathartic celebration.” Although the film has only screened at TIFF, it will be available for the public to enjoy from October 17 on HBO Max.
This Marathi drama follows a young Indian singer, played by Aditya Modak. The singer longs to become one of nation’s greats, an aspiration which requires tremendous amounts of intense technical and spiritual commitment. “The Disciple” was written, directed and edited by Chaitanya Tamhane, who amazed audiences with his 2014 debut film “Court.” This classical musical drama has been highly praised by critics, with IndieWire giving the film 4.5/5 stars.
“I Care a Lot”
This thriller, directed by J Blakeson, follows Maria, played by Rosamund Pike. Maria shamelessly steals money from the elderly patients she cares for. She is ultimately dragged into a vicious crime war after trying to target another victim. The stellar cast includes Eiza Gonzalez, Diane West and Peter Dinklage as a menacing crime lord. This dark-comedy thriller is filled with terrible characters, but yet it still manages to make them seem human. Currently sitting fresh with a score of 96% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 26 reviews, this is one film that will attract general audiences as well as cinematic geeks.
This Sam Pollard documentary doesn’t dive into Martin Luther King, Jr.’s personal life, but instead focuses on how the FBI used it in an attempt to destroy him. Releasing at a time when the #BlackLivesMatter movement has made social and racial injustice more prevalent than ever, the assembled archival documentary reminds audiences how J.Edgar Hoover led the FBI to unimaginable lengths to try and publicly shame a civil rights leader and discredit his work and impact. Based on 18 critic reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, the film scored 94% on the review aggregator.
Director Chloe Zhao’s (director of the upcoming “Marvel: Eternals” movie) “Nomadland” has been received so well by critics that it has already won several awards. The film follows a widow, played by Frances McDormand, who sets out on a solo road trip after her factory town is gone from the map. Slowly paced and beautifully shot, Zhao’s film embarks audiences on a spiritual journey focused on the importance of compassion and community. The film also won the top award from the Venice Film Festival, the Golden Lion. “Nomadland” has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 98%, based on 66 critic reviews. The critic’s consensus reads, “A poetic character study on the forgotten and downtrodden, ‘Nomadland’ beautifully captures the restlessness left in the wake of the Great Recession.”
“One Night in Miami”
Regina King makes her directorial debut by taking on the challenge of bringing four historical legends together onto the screen. Based on the play by Kemp Powers, this Amazon release imagines what would have happened if Cassius Clay (aka Muhammed Ali), Jim Brown, Sam Cooke and Malcolm X spent a night together in 1964 Miami. They joke around, debate, at times fight and bicker with each other. King captures these moments so well and makes “One Night in Miami” an unforgettable and special film. The casting is spot on – Eli Goree as Cassius Clay, Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown, Kingsley Ben Adir as Malcolm X, and Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke. Rotten Tomatoes scores the film at 98%, based on 65 critic reviews.
“Pieces of a Woman”
With this English-language debut, Hungarian director Kórnel Mundruczó’s “Pieces of a Woman” opens with a few character introductions before moving to a 23-minute one-shot take of a childbirth. Many critics called this Vanessa Kirby’s best career performance. That is no small compliment considering her many notable performances, like her work in “The Crown.” She also won the Volpi Award for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival for this film.
Based on the stage play, the film follows a couple whose lives completely change after the home birth of their child. The drama explores the themes of grief, family and power dynamics. The rest of the cast are outstanding too – Shia LaBeouf, Molly Parker, Sarah Snook, Iliza Shlesinger, Ellen Burstyn, Benny Safdie and Jimmie Fails all contribute to the film. Currently sitting with a score of 79% on Rotten Tomatoes, the site consensus reads “Pieces of a Woman struggles to maintain momentum after a stunning opening act, but Vanessa Kirby’s performance makes the end result a poignant portrait of grief.”
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