The bug can’t stop the buzz at TIFF 2020
For once this pandemic year, that tingling sensation you’re feeling isn’t coming from the fear of COVID-19.
It’s the buzz generated by the Toronto International Film Festival, which is defying the virus by going ahead with its Sept. 10 to 19 cinema celebration, albeit in a downsized form that’s more of an online and outdoor event.
Which means it’s time for the 20th anniversary edition of “Chasing the Buzz,” the Star’s annual dive into the hive of pre-TIFF anticipation, taken from a poll of film critics, writers, programmers and scholars.
This year, antennae are seriously twitching for “One Night in Miami,” the top pick with five votes and the feature directing debut of Oscar-winning actress Regina King. It dramatically imagines what might have happened had 1960s icons Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown met to discuss the groundbreaking racial, social and cultural events of their time.
Close behind with four votes is Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland,” a fact-inspired tale of cash-strapped retirees finding their inner Jack Kerouac as they drive their camper vans across America in search of gigs and cheap lodging.
Note that both top picks were directed by women of colour.
Three films took three votes apiece: Canadian film “The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel,” a documentary update to “The Corporation,” an award-winning 2003 skewering of capitalism and big business by Joel Bakan and Jennifer Abbott; “Another Round,” Thomas Vinterberg’s drama of deliberate drunkenness; and “Notturno,” Gianfranco Rosi’s documentary of cultural and physical conflict, set in the Middle East.
“Chasing the Buzz” picks often point the way to future glory. Last year’s top vote-getter, Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit,” won the People’s Choice Award at TIFF 2019 and went on to multiple Oscar nominations, winning for Best Adapted Screenplay. Previous buzz chases have turned up eventual Oscar winners in “Moonlight,” “La La Land,” “12 Years a Slave” and more, although the object of the exercise is to judge a movie’s worth, not its awards potential.
A total of 32 diverse pictures shook our hive, which should assist you in selecting from the 61 features and 36 shorts coming to TIFF 2020. Each of our 27 panellists was asked to name and explain the movie they’re most keen on. We also asked them to name a second buzzworthy title, a “wild card” pick with no explanations given.
MOVIE WITH FIVE VOTES
‣ One Night in Miami (Regina King)
“Regina King is finally being recognized for the queen that she is and now she’s taking on the role of director … I’m hoping we are celebrating this film for months.” — Teri Hart, freelance entertainment reporter (Wild card: “Inconvenient Indian”) “I’m looking forward to actor extraordinaire Regina King’s feature directorial debut. Although I’m not a huge boxing fan, the premise transcends that sport to reflect the civil unrest of the ’60s, which resonates loudly today.” — Michèle Maheux, former TIFF executive director (Wild card: “Wildfire”) “Regina King is a strong, splendid screen goddess with excellent taste. Films (‘If Beale Street Could Talk’) and peak TV (‘Watchmen,’ ‘Seven Seconds,’ ‘The Leftovers’) can’t get enough of her. So it’s no surprise that her directorial debut sounds original and urgent.”— Johanna Schneller, Globe and Mail columnist (Wild card: “Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds”) (The other votes for “One Night in Miami,” by critic Jim Slotek and screenwriter/director/producer R.T. Thorne, are wild card picks.)
MOVIE WITH FOUR VOTES
‣ Nomadland (Chloé Zhao)
“I’ve been anxiously waiting to see what writer/director Chloé Zhao would do as a followup to her beautiful, intimate, tender indie film ‘The Rider.’ This has an intriguing premise and what a cast: Frances McDormand and David Strathairn.” — Karen Gordon, film critic for CBC’s “Metro Morning” (Wild card: “Another Round”) “Zhao has already been crowned the new queen of indie cinema for her ‘The Rider,’ but now that she has teamed up with Frances McDormand for her return to the west, she is likely to own that directing throne, not just now but for decades to come.” — B. Ruby Rich, editor of Film Quarterly (Wild card: “Beginning”) (The other votes for “Nomadland,” by Hollywood Elsewhere critic Jeffrey Wells and Jennie Punter, writer and editor for Variety and Musicworks, are wild card picks.)
MOVIES WITH THREE VOTES
‣ The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel (Joel Bakan and Jennifer Abbott)
“This takes a more activist approach than its philosophical predecessor and, in its focus on duplicitous corporate makeovers, it may be more urgent and insightful about the dangers and pitfalls that face us.” — Steve Gravestock, TIFF senior programmer (Wild card: “Another Round”) “This is a brilliant and ‘unfortunately necessary’ update on the activities of the commercial entities memorably dubbed ‘psychopaths’ in the first film; their pretence as socially responsible actors draws the filmmakers’ ire.” — Marc Glassman, film critic for 96.3 FM and editor of POV magazine (Wild card: “Notturno”) “It’s been 17 years since ‘The Corporation’ rode to multimillion-dollar box office … with a message that if corporations were ‘persons’ under law, they were sociopathic persons under psychiatry. A few things have happened since then.” — Jim Slotek, critic and editor for Original Cin (Wild card: “One Night in Miami”) ‣ Notturno (Gianfranco Rosi)
“Rosi’s previous film, ‘Fire at Sea,’ was a must-see. So I am intrigued to see how he has dealt with the explosive situation of the Middle East in his new documentary.” — Piers Handling, former TIFF CEO (Wild card: “New Order”) (The other votes for “Notturno,” by critics Sam Adams and Marc Glassman, are wild card picks.)
‣ Another Round (Thomas Vinterberg)
All three votes for “Another Round” were wild card picks, by critics Karen Gordon and Eric Kohn, and programmer Steve Gravestock.
MOVIES WITH TWO VOTES
‣ Concrete Cowboy (Ricky Staub)
“Idris Elba rides tall in the saddle with this father-son drama with a twist: it’s centred on Philadelphia’s storied Black urban cowboys.” — Linda Barnard, freelance movie writer (Wild card: “Falling”)
(The other vote for “Concrete Cowboy,” by TIFF’s Maria Alejandra Sosa, is a wild card pick.)
‣ David Byrne’s American Utopia (Spike Lee)
“In these uncertain times TIFF kicks off with Spike Lee’s movie of the life-affirming David Byrne’s Broadway concert ‘American Utopia,’ a joyful film about protesting injustice, optimism and the celebration of life. It’s got a good message and you can dance to it!” — Richard Crouse, host of CTV’s “Pop Life” (Wild card: “Beans”) “This will be the first time in 20 years I haven’t attended TIFF in person and I’ll miss the festival’s enthusiastic crowds most of all. But I’m hoping Spike Lee’s film of David Byrne’s ‘American Utopia’ might convey some of the thrill of sitting in the audience and watching something electric unfold.” — Sam Adams, senior editor of culture at Slate.com (Wild card: “Notturno”) ‣ The Disciple (Chaitanya Tamhane)
“A near-perfect study of a young man learning Indian classical music from a demanding master. You could call it ‘Whiplash in Mumbai,’ but that doesn’t capture this film’s grace and precision.” — Cameron Bailey, TIFF artistic director and co-head (Wild card: “Quo Vadis, Aïda?”) “The story of a classical musical vocalist who faces personal hurdles as the modern world threatens the future of his profession sounds intriguing enough, but Alfonso Cuarón’s EP credit suggests that the cinematic calibre of Tamhane’s sophomore effort is on another level.” — Eric Kohn, executive director and chief critic for IndieWire (Wild card: “Another Round”) ‣ Falling (Viggo Mortensen)
“Magic happens when Viggo busts a move and comes to Canada.” — Maria Alejandra Sosa, head of media relations and strategy for TIFF (Wild card: “Concrete Cowboy”) (The other vote for “Falling,” from movie writer Linda Barnard, is a wild card pick.)
‣ Inconvenient Indian (Michelle Latimer)
“This brilliant, artfully orchestrated doc, inspired by Thomas King’s acclaimed 2012 book, examines the colonial history of North America from a forward-looking Indigenous perspective — a must-see conversation-starter.” — Jennie Punter, writer and editor for Variety and Musicworks (Wild card: “Nomadland”) (The other vote for “Inconvenient Indian,” by reporter Teri Hart, is a wild card pick.)
‣ Wolfwalkers (Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart)
“(Producer) Paul Young and Tomm Moore follow up three Oscar-nominated animated features — “The Secret of Kells,” “Song of the Sea” and “The Breadwinner” — with a tale set during Oliver Cromwell’s brutal colonization of Ireland. Sure to be delicious.” — Donald Clarke, critic for the Irish Times (Wild card: “Wildfire”) (The other vote for “Wolfwalkers,” by Star librarian Astrid Lange, is a wild card pick.)
‣ Beans (Tracey Deer)
(Both votes are wild card picks, by critic Richard Crouse and film professor Sherry Coman.)
‣ Beginning (Dea Kulumbegashvili)
(Both votes are wild card picks, by critic Jordan Ruimy and editor B. Ruby Rich.)
‣ Wildfire (Cathy Brady)
(Both votes are wild card picks, by critic Donald Clarke and Michèle Maheux.)
MOVIES WITH ONE VOTE
‣ 76 Days (Hao Wu, Weixi Chen and Anonymous)
“It traces the earliest days in the front-line battle against COVID-19, in Wuhan, China. I’m not sure what horrors we will see, but the entire world is now under the virus’s deadly pall.” — Anne Brodie, critic for What She Said! (Wild card: “The Inheritance”) ‣ Akilla’s Escape (Charles Officer)
“Officer’s long awaited return to TIFF, starring Saul Williams, is a beautiful poetic reflection on fathers, sons and the legacy of generational violence.” — R.T. Thorne, producer, director and screenwriter (Wild card: “One Night in Miami”) ‣ Ammonite (Francis Lee)
“Mainly because Celine Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” didn’t cover the smouldering seaside lesbian period romance thing thoroughly enough.” — Jeffrey Wells, critic for Hollywood Elsewhere (Wild card: “Nomadland”) ‣ The Best Is Yet to Come (Wang Jing)
“‘Politics and prejudices sometimes conflict with safety and health concerns’ is probably the most important issue we should explore living with COVID today.” — Alice Shih, critic for Fairchild Radio (Wild card: “Get the Hell Out”) ‣ Enemies of the State (Sonia Kennebeck)
“The twists will keep you guessing until the very end in this investigation of Matt DeHart and his parents, who fled the United States to seek asylum in Canada.” — Thom Powers, TIFF documentary programmer (Wild card: “MLK/FBI”) ‣ Good Joe Bell (Reinaldo Marcus Green)
“From screenwriting royalty Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana (‘Brokeback Mountain’), a movie tackling bullying and homophobia is bound to punch you in the heart. Throw in the underrated (as an actor) Mark Wahlberg and Connie Britton? Sold.” — Astrid Lange, Toronto Star librarian and film buff (Wild card: “Wolfwalkers”) ‣ I Am Greta (Nathan Grossman)
“Greta Thunberg has woken us up to climate science and changed how we see the world, so I can’t wait for this insider’s look at the young woman who has confronted leaders and legends, while becoming one herself.” — Sherry Coman, Humber College film professor (Wild card: “Beans”) ‣ Shiva Baby (Emma Seligman)
“I saw Seligman’s film earlier in the year when it premiered at the South by Southwest festival and, suffice to say, I was floored by the swirling energy of her camera and the edge-of-the-seat mise en scène. Seligman manages to turn a Jewish day of mourning into a frightfully comic treat.” — Jordan Ruimy, critic for World of Reel (Wild card: “Beginning”) ‣ Spring Blossom (Suzanne Lindon)
“A bored Parisian teenager contemplates the pitfalls of growing up too fast when she falls in love with an older man, in Lindon’s bold debut.” — Dorota Lech, TIFF lead Discovery and International programmer, central and eastern Europe (Wild card: “Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time”)
‣ Under the Open Sky (Miwa Nishikawa)
“I’m intrigued by Nishikawa’s film, about what comes after the ego and fealty of the yakuza life, particularly with a female director exploring this male world and genre.” — Nathalie Atkinson, freelance culture writer (Wild card: “Memory House”) (The remaining one-vote films, all wild card picks, are: “Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds”; “Get the Hell Out”; “The Inheritance”; “Memory House”; “MLK/FBI”; “New Order”; “Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time” and “Quo Vadis, Aïda?”)
(This story was originally published in the Toronto Star on Sept. 4, 2020.)