Check Out These Titles Screening at TIFF Before They Hit Screens & Streaming Sites

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday September 15, 2020

Check Out These Titles Screening at TIFF Before They Hit Screens & Streaming Sites
  (Source:Associated Press)

You know awards season has begun, even amidst a pandemic, when TIFF— the Toronto International Film Festival —perseveres, via a scaled-down format.

TIFF is offering a more intimate Fest this year splitting offerings between in-person events, drive-in shows and virtual screenings. Oh, and the red carpet has been retired for everyone's safety.

Last year 333 films were featured. This year the number is 50.

This year the LGBTQ content is very impressive. I sampled six major offerings exploring queer themes: Francis Lee's "Ammonite," François Ozon's "Summer of 85," Viggo Mortensen's "Falling," Reinaldo Marcus Green's "Good Joe Bell," J Blakeson's "I Care a Lot," and Emma Seligman's "Shiva Baby." All are worthwhile selections and included below.

Tickets for all experiences are on sale now at tiff.net.

The following are among the Best the Fest has to offer based on my sampling.

"Ammonite"

Francis Lee's "Ammonite" literally took my breath away. Easily the best film I have seen in 2020, this masterwork is delicate yet rough, exquisite yet unrefined. And Kate Winslet is nothing short of astonishing in a restrained performance seething with pent-up desire and longing. It is sure to garner her a deserved 8th Oscar nomination. Set on the southern coast of England in the 1840s the story explores the budding relationship between a stoic paleontologist, Mary Anning (Winslet) —who really existed, though the film is, to quote Lee, "an imagined, respectful snapshot of someone's life"—and a young married woman (a superb Saoirse Ronan) recuperating after a miscarriage. "Ammonite" is a film where every touch, every glance, every movement, every gesture has great meaning with Lee knowing exactly how long to linger on a face or a body to convey what is needed. The dialogue is perfectly sparse and the landscape is mysterious and perilous. Much like "God's Own Country," Lee's last sexually-charged film, this endeavor is bold, brave and beautiful.

"The Father"
Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman deliver two of the finest performances of 2020 in the masterful, heartbreaking new film, "The Father," directed and co-written (with Christopher Hampton) by French novelist Florian Zeller, based on Zeller's play. This powerful, ultimately transcendent, work burrows into the wildly erratic mind of an elderly man with dementia in a way that was so keen and emotionally resonant, it made my heart hurt. (For the record, both my parents suffered from dementia in their twilight years, so I've been there.) Reality becomes surreality, loops seem endless, and time is relative in the mind where memory is fleeting. Zeller paints the distressing portrait without facile manipulations but with grace and honesty. Hopkins is devastatingly good and Colman is a wonder to watch. Mark Gatiss, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell and Olivia Williams are also superb.


"One Night in Miami"

"Power just means a world where we're safe to be ourselves."
Cassius Clay to Sam Cooke in "One Night in Miami"

Regina King's absolute knockout of a feature directorial debut, "One Night in Miami," based on the play by Kemp Powers, wonders what the meeting between Malcolm X, Cassius Clay (soon to become Muhammad Ali), Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown might have been like (a convergence that actually took place). The quartet, played by Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Leslie Odom Jr., and Aldis Hodge respectively, gather to celebrate Clay's victory over Sonny Liston to become the Heavyweight Champion of the World in February of 1964. This potent and urgent work delves into important conversations that are as relevant today as they were then. All four actors deliver powerhouse performances, with Ben-Adir searing the screen with a truly unforgettable embodiment.

"Summer of 85"

François Ozon keeps topping himself. Last year's brave portrait of Catholic sex abuse, "By the Grace of God," was one of his most intense and powerful films. Now he's fashioned a beguiling look at a love affair between two teen boys, "Summer of 85," set in 1980s Normandy and starring two of France's most promising new actors, Félix Lefebvre and Benjamin Voisin. Both do absolutely compelling work playing two 18-year-old boys of slightly different classes with diverging ideas about fidelity and loyalty. It doesn't hurt that the chemistry between the two is palpable and they're both ridiculously handsome. But "Summer of 85" is much more than another pretty gayboy love story. It seeks to ask fascinating questions about why and who we fall in love with and whether we can ever really know one another. Ozon blends the playful and lighthearted with touches of the sinister and macabre and delivers a cinematic experience that stays with you long after the credits roll. In French with English subtitles.

"I Care a Lot"

The enthralling and exasperating turns the narrative takes in J Blakeson's dark comedy, "I Care a Lot," is enough to keep an audience glued to the screen. But it's Rosamund Pike's sharp, fierce and wicked performance that truly anchors the movie and gives it its most explosive intensity. Pike plays a legal guardian to a host of well-to-do elderly clients who, with the help of her partner (Eiza González), swindles by having them committed to permanent care facilities while she takes over their assets and fleeces them. Her lucrative scheme backfires when she goes after a woman (a hilarious Dianne Weist) who seems to be the perfect mark but has a major tie to a nefarious mobster (a delightfully nasty Peter Dinklage). What ensues is a satiric, madcap thriller treat.

"Falling"

Viggo Mortensen's debut as writer-director-co-star is a personal, blistering portrait of a racist, homophobic father and his gay son. "Falling" is an impressive work that owes much of its success to Mortensen's keen casting sense, specifically Lance Henriksen as his cantankerous father fighting a losing battle with regret and memory loss. Laura Linney shines in a far-too- brief turn as the hurt daughter. Too many reviewers seem to feel the need to point out that Mortensen plays gay but is not gay. Why note this? What if he wrote the part because he wanted to work through his own feelings of fluidity? Would that be such a tragedy? Regardless, the qualification is insulting to queer people. Mortensen should be allowed to play any role he's right for, without the necessity to infer he's daring or heroic for doing so.

"Shadow in the Cloud"

For a wild 'n wacky, yet sometimes truly moving ride, nothing beats Roseanne Liang's "Shadow in the Cloud." The lunatic film (written by Liang and Max Landis) blends about nine different genres (horror, action, thriller, top the list) and appropriates from some of film and TV's finest resulting in an unusual, bracing delight. Chloe Grace Moretz kicks more ass as an Ellen Ripley-esque WW2 WAAF officer (or is she?) who has been assigned to a shoddy B-17 Flying Fortress, peopled with a host of misogynist men. They take to the air and she is soon fighting off an evil Twilight-Zone-ish presence as well as Japanese fighter planes in order to protect her top-secret package. Strap in for a startling, fierce ride.

"Shiva Baby"

Emma Seligman's deviously delicious "Shiva Baby," is set almost entirely at a shiva (the seven-day mourning period in the Jewish faith taking place at the home of the deceased) and manages to be sweepingly cinematic and passive-aggressively familiar (to anyone who's ever felt uncomfortable at a family gathering). Seligman's keen look at familial dynamics is both relatable and unique. Rachel Sennott and Molly Gordon are especially good as on-again/off-again lovers and Polly Draper kills with her amusing yet keen portrayal of a Jewish mother.

"Good Joe Bell"

The Oscar-winning writers of "Brokeback Mountain," Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, have penned the true story of a father who decides to walk across the United States to raise awareness about how insidious bullying can be after he witnesses the harm it does to his own gay teen son. Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, "Good Joe Bell" is a vehicle for Mark Wahlberg to show off his gifted, underrated acting chops but also an earnest work that argues for empathy. A terrific Reid Miller (as the queer teen), Connie Britton, Igby Rigney and Gary Sinise round out the committed ensemble. The film falters in the second half because of the script's somewhat skewed focus. Perhaps next time a queer writer might be asked to pen a queer-themed story?

"Enemies of the State"

Sonia Kennebeck's stirring and disturbing doc, "Enemies of the State" examines the odd saga of Matt DeHart an alleged whistleblower/hacker who, along with his still-Cold-War -paranoid parents, insists the government is conspiring against them (with some evidence that Matt is targeted). Then, via new evidence, we realize there might be something more sinister afoot. Kennebeck's twisty film is riveting and asks important questions about notions of truth and how the idea of truth might be forever bastardized.

"The Way I See It"

"The Way I See It," Dawn Porter's engaging and illuminating new doc that centers on the work of White House photographer Pete Souza, focuses chiefly on his work during the Obama administration. (He also captured the later Reagan years for posterity.) The film examines Souza's transformation from apolitical photojournalist to activist as he watches the integrity of the office of the presidency crumble under Trump. In contrasting one leader's true, heartfelt love and empathy for the American people with another's indifference and contempt for the same, the film paints a devastating portrait of a democracy in peril. Ours.

"The Truffle Hunters"

"Old Italian Men Who Love Their Dogs" could have been an alternate title for Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw's strangely entrancing, "The Truffle Hunters," a verité doc that takes us deep into the forests of Piedmont, Italy, where a gaggle of elderly men hunts for outrageously expensive white Alba truffles (that people spend a fortune acquiring for expensive meals). Key to finding these treasures—their trained and beloved canines. These men live an old-world way of life and seem pretty content, especially with their precious doggies at their side.

TIFF runs through September 20th. For more information, visit the event's website.

Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He is also a proud Dramatists Guild member and a recipient of a 2018 Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship. He was awarded a 2015 Fellowship Award from the NJ State Council on the Arts, the 2016 Helene Wurlitzer Residency Grant and the Chesley/Bumbalo Foundation Playwright Award for his play Consent, which was also a 2012 semifinalist for the O'Neill. His play, Vatican Falls, took part in the 2017 Planet Connections Festivity and Frank was nominated for Outstanding Playwriting. Lured was a semifinalist for the 2018 O'Neill and received a 2018 Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation Grant. Lured will premiere in 2018 in NYC and 2019 in Rome, Italy. LuredThePlay.com

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