That’s a Wrap: Toronto International Film Festival Recap

Jojo Rabbit took home the coveted Grolsch People’s Choice Award and Joaquin Phoenix continues to stun in his turn as The Joker.

Recovering from this year’s Toronto International Film Festival was more of an emotional hangover than I seem to recall from past years. After a summer drought of cinema where only two films seemed to make any cultural impact—Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood and Ari Aster’s Midsommar—TIFF 2019 brought the drama and thrill, reminding me why the theatrical experience still matters.

Hundreds of thousands of cinephiles attend every year to get a sneak preview of the most important films that will factor into awards season. For the biggest A-List Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Joaquin Phoenix, Adam Sandler, Jennifer Lopez, and more, this year’s lineup of films provided them an opportunity to play in genres they don’t often visit—the payoff, of which, has been huge.

Johannsson and Phoenix are leaders in the awards race for working outside the box, a modus operandi that they’ve become best known for in recent years.

Scarlett returns to the independent film territory after a few years of reprising her role as Black Widow in the Avengers franchise with Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story (as well as featured in the ensemble of Jojo Rabbit which won this year’s audience award) while Joaquin takes on the IP of DC Comics with Todd Phillips’ The Joker (which received the top prize at the Venice leading into TIFF).

Phoenix stars in the best performance of the festival and maybe the last year. He lost over 50 pounds for an origin story of the infamous villain that paints a sympathetic light on his character’s mental instability to explain his descent into mass violence all played through an early ’80s gritty NYC lense inspired by Martin Scorcese’s The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver. This is a Joker for a new generation. Its release during the current political climate where an unprecedented amount of mass shootings are taking place takes on greater fear and uneasiness. I was both disturbed and mesmerized by Phoenix’s full embodiment of a performance that’s all his own.

Also generating major awards buzz is Jennifer Lopez who delivers her best performance since Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight in Hustlers, Lorene Scafaria’s adaptation of a New York Magazine article that detailed the true story of a group of scamming strippers. It was a genius marketing move to have the film open shortly after the festival and proved to be a huge box office hit over the weekend.

In addition to these mainstream releases, A24’s Waves and the Amazon-acquired The Sound of Metal seemed to generate an equal amount of buzz. Trey Edward Schultz’s Waves has been compared to both HBO’s Euphoria and Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight for its stylized storytelling and multi-act structure centered around breakout performances from Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Taylor Russell. Alexa Demie (Euphoria) and Lucas Hedges co-star in this emotionally raw family drama with a soundtrack that features Frank Ocean and Radiohead.

In The Sound of Metal, the debut film from Darius Marder, Riz Ahmed plays a drummer in a hard rock band that suddenly goes deaf. The film’s sound editing mirrored the actor’s inner experience of hearing loss, a performance that required him to learn the drums and sign language.

You can see all of the TIFF winners here.

Stay tuned for an exciting fall season as these films begin to roll out!

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