Five Films to Look Out For: Toronto International Film Festival 2020

Frances McDormand in Nomadland

There is no doubt that everything is a little different this year as we head into festival season — critics and creatives are no longer making the pilgrimage north as summer fades into autumn, but nevertheless Toronto International Film Festival is upon us.

With sophomore features from Chloe Zhao and Francis Lee, as well as Spike Lee’s second film of 2020, here are some of our top picks for TIFF 2020.

Concrete Cowboy

Still from Concrete Cowboy. Idris Elba and Caleb McLaughlin sit on top of two horses in a street. They are both wearing cowboy hats and dressed in denim.
Idris Elba and Caleb McLaughlin in Concrete Cowboy

With a cast of emerging and exciting new talent — Stranger Things’ Caleb McLaughlin and Emmy winner Jharrel Jerome — as well strong, established actors in Lorraine Toussaint and Idris Elba, Rick Staub’s feature directorial debut explores the subculture of Black urban cowboys in North Philadelphia.

When Cole (McLaughlin) gets expelled, his mother takes him to North Philly to spend the summer with his father (Elba) — an urban cowboy who spends his days working at the stables down the block. Caught between the demanding work of the stables, and the exciting, criminal life of his childhood best friend Smush (Jerome), Cole’s journey is one of self-discovery in the vibrant, forgotten subculture of Black cowboys that promises to be an engaging watch.

Kadija Osman’s review is now live: ‘Concrete Cowboy’ Sheds Light on the Fletcher Street Cowboys Through a Black Coming of Age Tale

One Night in Miami…

Still from One Night in Miami. Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr., Eli Goree and Kingsley Ben-Adir are in front of a bar, looking excited and also pensive - surrounded by other paterons.
Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr., Eli Goree and Kingsley Ben-Adir in One Night in Miami…

Actress, Oscar winner and now director, Regina Hall’s endless list of talents shows no sign of slowing down, as she makes her debut with an intriguing, fictionalised account of a meeting in 1964 between Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown.

Based on Kemp Powers’ play — who also adapted it for the screen — King brings together a story of celebrity, fame and activism as the four men come together during one evening during the heights of the Civil Rights Movement. With debates swirling concerning the very real phenomenon of “celebrity activism” during the uprisings and protests of Summer 2020, One Night in Miami… looks to be a timely and engaging debate on the nature of protest.

Nomadland

Still from Nomadland. Frances McDormand stands looking to the right of the camera. In the background are mountains rising up into sharp peaks, but the landscape is  empty.
Frances McDormand in Nomadland

With the restrained and soulful 2017 film The Rider , Chloe Zhao storms in Toronto with Venice Film Festival’s top prize of the Golden Lion under her belt, putting her name among the first to be whispered about for the Best Director nominations at next year’s Academy Awards.

As with The Rider , Zhao explores the American West through carefully studied character performances, with Fern (Frances McDormand) as a modern day nomad who describes herself as “houseless” not homeless as she travels to where the seasonal work is available. With a cast mostly comprising of non-actors who live the very life that Zhao is exploring, Nomandland s naturalism combined with the talents of McDormand looks like a force to be reckoned with.

Ferdosa Abdi’s review for Screen Queens: Chloé Zhao’s ‘Nomadland’ is a Sweet and Tender Look at Life as a Modern-Day Nomad in the American West

Shiva Baby

Still from Shiva Baby. Rachel Sennott, wearing a black blazer and white shirt holds up a bagel in her left hand.
Rachel Sennott in Shiva Baby

There’s nothing quite like a confined family gathering to bring up the secrets that everyone had hoped were buried far enough under the surface, away from prying eyes of the people that know you best.

When Danielle (Rachel Sennott), a struggling student who is trying to conceal her failing academic career from her parents, is dragged to a shiva, seeing her ex-girlfriend Maya (Molly Gordon) is the start of an increasingly awkward encounters. As advice (unwanted, mostly) is given by well-meaning relatives, chldren cry and Danielle tries to keep her complicated personal life close to her chest, the event becomes increasingly chaotic.

A painfully real comedy about the complexities of life, Emma Seligman’s debut looks to be an interesting feature from an emerging artist.

Take a look at Saffron Maeve’s review here: The Trying Art of Seeking (and Dodging) Arrangements in ‘Shiva Baby’

Wolfwalkers

Still from animated film Wolfwalkers. Two young girls sit on a tree branch suspended in the air. One has large red hair with leaves and shells intertwined, the one is blonde and has a bird resting on her elbow.
Still from Wolfwalkers

Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart’s final installment in their Irish folklore trilogy looks at English colonialism in 17th century through the animation style that has brought Carton Saloon worldwide acclaim.

After the siege of Kilkenny, the county has fallen to the English settlers under Cromwell’s bloody reign of Ireland. Robyn Goodfellowe (Honor Kneafsey), and her father, Bill (Game of Thrones’ Sean Bean) are ordered to Ireland to hunt the wolves that stalk the forests outside the city walls.

When Robyn sneaks into the woods alone, she meets Mebh (Eva Whittaker), who has been raised by wolves in the emptiness of Kilkenny’s wilderness. Through this friendship, Robyn’s eyes are opened to a side of life that she had not considered, and conflicts between her new friendship and the life she was born into begin to grow.

With a unique animation style that manages to tackle complex and difficult themes while still remaining accessible to the target audience, Wolfwalkers looks to round out this trilogy with a triumphant exploration of beauty of the natural world.

Toronto International Film Festival runs virtually from September 10th until September 20th

by Rose Dymock

Rose is a budding film critic, who graduated from the University of Liverpool with an MRes in Film Studies. She’s currently living back home in the Black Country in the West Midlands, juggling working full time and trying to break into criticism. She loves thrillers, great female characters, Al Pacino, and multilingual cinema. She’s not entirely sure if she’s a millennial and she wants a Lord of the Rings tattoo. Find her on twitter @rosedymock or on her website https://rosefd.wordpress.com/

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