Published Sep 21, 2020The Toronto International Film Festival normally takes over the city with Hollywood premieres, celebrity sightings and massive crowds of film fans. For obvious reasons, this year's TIFF was unlike any other — in fact, unless you were paying close attention, you might not have even noticed that it was taking place at all.
Even if TIFF wasn't the spectacle it normally is, the festival still screened a few dozen films. And, just like any other year, it brought it's fair share of surprising hits and disappointing misses. Here are the best and worst things our critics saw this year.
The Best Films at TIFF 2020:
Ammonite (dir. Francis Lee)
Ammonite is a delicate love story that brings to screen the life of Mary Anning and her relationship with Charlotte Murchison. It's a slow-burn romance, with the coldness of the cinematography soon replaced by a sun's warm kiss. Saoirse Ronan and Kate Winslet's chemistry is electric, and you can feel the heat through the screen.
The Father (dir. Florian Zeller)
Florian Zeller's film adaption of his play of the same name is a difficult watch. This story of dementia takes the audience inside the mind of Anthony Hopkins's octogenarian character: faces change, timelines jumble, and we're left upset and disoriented. It's a harrowing, impeccably acted glimpse of a mind as it breaks down.
I Care a Lot (dir. J Blakeson)
This stylish, sardonic thriller is a downright heartless film about horrible people doing horrible things to each other. It's campy, darkly funny and a total blast. Rosamund Pike taps into Amy Dunne in a role that's her best since Gone Girl.
Nomadland (dir. Chloé Zhao)
By utilizing real-life American nomads in a fictional film, Chloé Zhao has accomplished something that doesn't just feel lifelike — it feels alive. Frances McDormand is one of the few big names attached to the project and offers a career-high performance as Fern, a woman who joins a van-living commune in the middle of the Arizona desert. Bolstered by achingly real performances and jaw-dropping cinematography, Nomadland is a timely and timeless look at the beauty in an American empire in decline.
Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time (dir. Lili Horvát)
It's not perfect, but the twists and turns of Lili Horvát's delightfully mixed-up romantic drama/psychological thriller are well worth your time. The film follows a successful brain surgeon who leaves New Jersey for her native Budapest in pursuit of romance, but her suitor might not actually exist.
The Worst Films at TIFF 2020:
Good Joe Bell (dir. Reinaldo Marcus Green)
Mark Wahlberg stars in this "based on a true story" recounting of a father who walks across the country to cope with the trauma of a son tormented for being gay. The role is a break for the action and comedy star, and Brokeback Mountain's screenwriters find conflict in his character. The choice of protagonist (focusing on the father rather than the son), along with the placement and treatment of certain events in the son's life as twists, make this movie feel antiquated at best.
I Am Greta (dir. Nathan Grossman)
The new Hulu-produced documentary I Am Greta does, well, exactly what we'd expect it to: takes the unbelievable story of a Swedish teen climate activist who started an unprecedented global movement and turns her story into a by-the-numbers Hulu documentary. There's so much to be learned from Greta Thunberg's story, but this documentary is boring at best and pacifying at worst.
New Order (dir. Michel Franco)
A faceless revolution is seen from the perspective of attendees of an upper class wedding that ends in bloodshed. Each event in the movie is a provocation, a view into the ugliness the filmmakers can imagine stemming from a popular revolution and an authoritarian response. The result is impersonal to its characters and nihilistic on the whole — the only good part is that its runtime is under 90 minutes.
Penguin Bloom (dir. Glendyn Ivin)
Despite a strong true story and a solid performance from Naomi Watts, Penguin Bloom's many problems include the fact that its titular character is an obnoxious squawking bird. Watts stars as Sam Bloom, a woman who becomes paralyzed after a freak accident while on vacation with her family. She channels her energy into nursing a rescued magpie back to health, complete with endless shrieks and chirps throughout the whole thing. Worse yet, the non-bird parts are unfocused and overly predictable.