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Toronto Film Festival: ‘Joker,’ ‘Ford v Ferrari,’ ‘Hustlers’ Among Big Premieres

This year’s Toronto Film Festival will feature super-villain origin stories, splashy literary adaptations, and Tom Hanks as the most beloved performer in children’s television.

The Canadian celebration of all things movies unveiled its 2019 lineup on Tuesday, and it appears to be an eclectic mixture of glossy awards bait, auteur-driven indies, and populist crowd-pleasers. It’s a bill of fare that ranges from “Joker,” a gritty and very R-rated take on the clown prince of crime, to “Abominable,” an animated adventure featuring an adorable Yeti that’s geared at audiences that are roughly a decade removed from being able to watch “Joker” without a parent or guardian. Bridging that cavernous age gap is “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” a drama about Fred Rogers that features the aforementioned Hanks as the family entertainment icon. Unless it unveils some hitherto unknown skeletons in Rogers’ closet — before starting an on-camera career, he was a Presbyterian minister — it probably won’t offer up much in the way of violence and four-letter words.

Toronto is often viewed as a launching pad for awards season hopefuls, and this year’s edition features a number of titles that are on the hunt for Oscars. There’s “Ford v. Ferrari,” a drama about a team of designers driven to develop a new racing car that stars Matt Damon and Christian Bale. “The Goldfinch,” the big-screen version of Donna Tartt’s best-selling novel; “Just Mercy,” a court room drama with Michael B. Jordan; and “The Two Popes,” a look at the relationship between Pope Benedict and Pope Francis that features Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce as the church leaders. All of these movies have the kind of pedigree that could resonate with awards voters and critics.

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On paper, these films comprise a range of genres, encompassing everything from comic book adaptations to inspirational human stories. Despite their obvious differences, Cameron Bailey, TIFF artistic director and co-head, said that many of the films seem to have been made in response to the tumultuous political debates roiling the United States and other parts of the world.

“In a fractious social moment, a lot of these stories are about characters looking for empathy or ways to connect,” he said. “These films don’t directly address what’s happening, but there seems to be a recognition that we are living in difficult times.”

The 2019 festival festival will unfold at a time of major change in the movie business. Box office returns are down, with pronounced declines in the financial performance of the indie movie sector. Toronto may have been created out of a love for the communal experience of watching a movie unspool in a darkened theater, but many of the artistically ambitious movies it celebrates aren’t being greenlit by major studios. Instead, they’re finding a home on streaming platforms. To that end, while studios such as Sony Picture and Warner Bros. may premiere “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” or “The Goldfinch” at Toronto, they’re now vying for space and attention with a movie like “The Laundromat,” a Steven Soderbergh comedy that will primarily be seen by Netflix subscribers not cinema-goers.

Historically, Toronto has been a fairly accurate barometer for what movies will go on to score on Oscars night. Past best picture winners such as “The Shape of Water” and “Green Book” have all screened to great fanfare at the festival. Others, such as “First Man,” have seen their ambitions dim after enduring a lackluster reception.

It’s easy to look at this year’s crop of movies and to start to get a stronger sense of what might have the makeup to withstand a punishing fall and winter of glad-handing. Awards campaigns have become veritable marathons, requiring directors and actors to canvass major cities, screening their work to voters and enduring an endless array of receptions and special screenings. But while it’s tempting to speculate that getting the invite to Toronto portends great things for movies like “Ford v. Ferrari” or “Just Mercy,” it’s worth noting that films that may still factor into the race for plaudits, such as Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” and Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women,” weren’t ready in time or opted not to be considered.

Other notable movies looking to make a splash up north include “Blackbird,” a family drama with Kate Winslet and Susan Sarandon; “Hustlers” with Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, and Cardi B. as strippers out for revenge; Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit,” a dark comedy set during World War II; and “Harriett,” Kasi Lemmons’ look at the life of abolitionist Harriet Tubman.

Most of these films will be world premieres. Toronto will allow some movies that debut at Telluride, Cannes, Venice or other festivals to screen at the week-and-a-half long festival. To that end, “Parasite,” Bong Joon-ho’s twisty thriller about an impoverished family growing obsessed with their rich employers; Pedro Almodovar’s “Pain and Glory,” a deeply personal reflection on filmmaking; and “Judy,” a look at the life of Judy Garland with Renée Zellweger as the troubled singer, will try to build momentum after debuting at other film gatherings.

Toronto crowds are a favorite with moviemakers. Unlike Cannes, where a film premiere can inspire audiences to boo or storm out, ticket buyers here are known for being warm and polite.

“The focus for us is very much on the audience,” said Joana Vicente, who was recently tapped to serve as the festival’s executive director and co-head alongside Bailey. “We try to program a diverse range of films that engage people.”

“Once Were Brothers,” a documentary about Robbie Robertson, the lead guitarist and primary songwriter in The Band, will kick off the festival as the official opening night presentation. “Radioactive,” a biopic about physicist and chemist Marie Curie, will close out the festival as its final film. Toronto, which kicks off on September 5 and runs through September 15, will announce additional premieres and screenings in the coming weeks.T his first batch of films from features 18 gala premieres and 38 special presentations.

GALA PRESENTATIONS 2019
Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band
Daniel Roher | Canada

Radioactive
Marjane Satrapi | United Kingdom

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Marielle Heller | USA

Abominable
Jill Culton | USA

Blackbird
Roger Michell | United Kingdom

Ford v Ferrari
James Mangold | USA

Harriet
Kasi Lemmons | USA

Hustlers
Lorene Scafaria | USA

Joker
Todd Phillips | USA

Just Mercy
Destin Daniel Cretton | USA

Ordinary Love
Lisa Barros D’Sa, Glenn Leyburn | United Kingdom

The Goldfinch
John Crowley | USA

The Sky Is Pink
Shonali Bose | India

The Song of Names
François Girard | Canada

True History of the Kelly Gang
Justin Kurzel | Australia

Western Stars
Thom Zimny, Bruce Springsteen | USA

American Woman
Semi Chellas | Canada

Clemency
Chinonye Chukwu| USA

SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS 2019
A Herdade
Tiago Guedes | Portugal

Bad Education
Cory Finley | USA

Coming Home Again
Wayne Wang | USA/South Korea

The Two Popes
Fernando Meirelles

Dolemite Is My Name
Craig Brewer | USA

Ema
Pablo Larraín | Chile

Endings, Beginnings
Drake Doremus | USA

Frankie
Ira Sachs | France/Portugal

Greed
Michael Winterbottom | United Kingdom

Guest of Honour
Atom Egoyan | Canada

Heroic Losers (La odisea de los giles)
Sebastian Borensztein | Argentina/Spain

Honey Boy
Alma Har’el | USA

Hope Gap
William Nicholson | United Kingdom

How to Build a Girl

Coky Giedroyc | United Kingdom

I Am Woman
Unjoo Moon | Australia

Jojo Rabbit
Taika Waititi | USA

Judy
Rupert Goold | United Kingdom

Knives Out
Rian Johnson | USA

La Belle Époque
Nicolas Bedos | France

Marriage Story
Noah Baumbach | USA

Military Wives
Peter Cattaneo | United Kingdom

Motherless Brooklyn
Edward Norton | USA

No.7 Cherry Lane
Yonfan | Hong Kong

Pain and Glory
Pedro Almodóvar | Spain

Parasite (Gisaengchung)
Bong Joon-ho | South Korea

Pelican Blood (Pelikanblut)
Katrin Gebbe | Germany/Bulgaria

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Portrait de la jeune fille en feu)
Céline Sciamma | France

Saturday Fiction (Lan Xin Da Ju Yuan)
Lou Ye | China

The Friend
Gabriela Cowperthwaite | USA

The Laundromat
Steven Soderbergh | USA

The Lighthouse
Robert Eggers | USA

The Other Lamb
Malgorzata Szumowska | Belgium/Ireland/USA

The Painted Bird
Václav Marhoul | Czech Republic/Ukraine/Slovakia

The Personal History of David Copperfield
Armando Iannucci | United Kingdom

The Report
Scott Z. Burns | USA

Uncut Gems
Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie | USA

Weathering With You
Makoto Shinkai | Japan

While at War (Mientras Dure La Guerra)
Alejandro Amenábar | Spain/Argentina

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