TIFF 2019 Reviews: What We’re Watching at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival

At TIFF 2019, we’ll show you what it’s like to attend the festival including the films, Festival Street, the red carpet, and the best production design.

TIFF 2019 is here! The Toronto International Film Festival, or TIFF as it is affectionately known, is one of the largest annual international film festivals in the world and runs from September 5th until September 15th in downtown Toronto.

I have been attending TIFF since 2001, skipping classes in college to make my way to as many screenings as I could. I remember asking one of my film professors if it was okay if I skip class at the very beginning of the semester in order to attend TIFF for a week and a half. I’ll never forget he looked at me very sternly and instead of scolding me, he said, “You’re better off at TIFF than you are here. You’ll learn more. See as much as you can and tell me all about it when you get back.” I haven’t missed the festival since. Unfortunately (and fortunately) my work as a production designer has occasionally prohibited me from attending TIFF as wholeheartedly as I would like, but this year I’m going all in.

After struggling to attend screenings the last couple of years, I decided to make an effort this year and applied to cover TIFF as media. I’ve had the great fortune to attend TIFF over the years in many different facets: as a member of the general public, a proud volunteer helping people get where they needed to go, as a member of the industry, as a production designer with a film at TIFF, as a social media lecturer for the TIFF Rising Stars program, and now as press. Every time I think I’ve seen it all at the festival I realise there is more to see and learn at TIFF. I’ve seen the festival go through many changes over the years and it’s been interesting to watch them adapt and grow. Hopefully I can attend TIFF as a filmmaker at the festival or as a Talent Lab participant in the future. We’ll see where life takes me.

Until then, I will be bringing you new insights and perspectives about the best production design in film this year at the festival and afterwards. The festival is a lot of fun once you get the hang of it. I’ve already seen and done so much that I can’t wait to tell you about in the very near future so stay tuned as the festival continues. Maybe I’ll get some decent sleep ten days from now.

TIFF 2019 Screenings: What We’ve Seen

Keep checking this page as we will frequently update throughout the festival. These notes will be rough until I have time to give them more thought and transfer some notes.

1) Parasite 5/5

Director: Bong Joon-ho
Production Designer: Ha-jun Lee

An absolutely amazing film in every single way. This film will be remembered for years to come. Just when you think you know what the story is about, it takes a turn you never see coming until you’re sitting there wondering what you just witnessed. It defies genre in a way that most films could never do successfully.

What I particularly loved about the film was how integral the homes are to the telling of the story and the plot arc. The architecture had to be very precise in order for the film to work. It’s quite an achievement. Even the furniture had to be designed or chosen to specific specifications in order for certain plot details to work.

The film is largely about class and juxtaposes a struggling working class family with a successful wealthy family. The enormous disparity is shown to great affect via their homes: one, a small basement apartment where they steal wifi signals when they can find it, and the other, a multi-million dollar luxury home designed by a respected architect. Every texture, colour, sheen, and placement works to help the story move forward. This film isn’t the type of film that the Oscars nominate for Best Production Design but as of right now, it would certainly make my list.

2) It’s Nothing 3.5/5

A short film about a young girl struggling with an eating disorder that visually shows her inner psychology. Cara Gee is very strong as the devil on the young girl’s shoulder, egging her on to quite literally dig her own grave. I felt the metaphor was a bit on the nose for me, but ultimately the film successfully shows the battle she goes through daily.

3) Ford v. Ferrari 4/5

Loved it. The cars are glossy and the men are sweaty. The production design is also magnificent. I’ll write more soon.

4) Honey Boy 4/5

I really look forward to watching this movie again. It’s not a perfect film, but a perfect meditation into Shia’s psychology.

5) The Report 3.5/5

Adam Driver is great as always. I feel I need to rewatch this film. It reminded me a lot of The Post in certain ways, but I liked it more than The Post. I’ll write more on this soon.

6) Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band 3.5/5

It’s a glossy documentary about Robbie Robertson and The Band that tells the story of their epic rise with Ronnie Hawkins in Toronto to their ultimate conclusion as the stars of Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz. It’s largely told from Robbie’s perspective given that the film is based on his memoir, but I felt at times that his bias was more noticeable than it really should be. I think I also wanted the film to have a bit more grit to it the way the music does, but instead the film shows a bright and shiny facsimile of what was raw talent and the edginess of the rock n’ roll lifestyles of the ‘60s and ‘70s. That being said- it’s a damn fun ride even if it does smooth over harder elements to their story.

The film features both Martin Scorsese and Bruce Springsteen so that certainly helped my overall opinion of the film as well due to my own personal bias and love of them both. Plus there’s a whole lot of Bob Dylan so what’s not to love.

7) Bacurau 2/5

I’m being too generous with Bacurau giving it 2 stars, but I think some of the cast was very good, and had the script been more layered or nuanced I would have liked the overall plot arc. This film won the Jury Prize at Cannes, which is unimaginable to me since it feels like a Midnight Madness movie (TIFF’s late night screenings featuring horror and B-movies). It’s not quite gory enough to be a horror film but too gory and basic to be taken seriously as a drama.

There is a great Brazilian political element to the film that I wish they had ran with in a better way. The villains are so basic and one dimensional I was reminded of many B-movies that I’ve hated over the years. It’s just not my thing. I am absolutely baffled by what other viewers saw in this film that I did not.

I know the filmmaker made the successful ‘Aquarius,’ but does this film really warrant such positive reviews and accolades? What am I missing? That 70’s style UFO drone was so ridiculous.

8) Corpus Christi 5/5

A Polish film of sheer genius about religion and the lies we tell along the way. This film could likely give Parasite a run for its money for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars if it gets in the hands of the right North American distributor. It blew me away. I was actually trembling afterwards.

9) My Life as a Comedian 1/5

Should have been a Movie of the Week. I don’t have enough time to explain everything I felt was wrong with this movie. It’s encrusted with a cheese so thick, you’d think it’s one of those Christian movies they release near Easter Sunday. Apparently this Swedish film is based on a very successful Swedish book. I’m sure the book must be better.

10) Just Mercy 3.5/5

11) Pain and Glory 3.5/5

12) Seberg 3/5

13) Dolemite Is My Name 5/5

14) A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood 4/5

15) Hustlers 3.5/5

Not a perfect film, but intensely watchable. I will rewatch this film over and over again because it’s just so damn fun. Jane Musky’s production design is great too.

16) Jojo Rabbit 4.5/5

17) Knives Out 3.5/5

18) Uncut Gems 4.5/5

19) Joker 4/5

20) Synchronic 3/5

21) Judy 3.5/5

Renee Zellweger will be a front runner for the Best Actress Oscar this year. I’m so happy to have her back on screen.

22) Motherless Brooklyn 3/5

23) American Son 3/5

24) The Kingmaker 4.5/5

25) Waves 4/5

26) Lucy in the Skye 2/5

27) The Aeronauts 3.5/5

28) The Two Popes 5/5

29) The Personal History of David Copperfield 4/5

30) Western Stars 4/5 (5/5 in my heart)

31) Blackbird 4.5/5

32) How to Build a Girl 4.5/5

33) Clemency 3/5

34) Bad Education 4.5/5

35) Entwined 2.5/5

36) Sea Fever 3.5/5

37) Marriage Story 5/5

Easily one of my favourite films this year. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are remarkable.

38) Endings Beginnings 4/5

39) Henry Glassie: Field Work 3/5

A slow, thoughtful meditation on art and design focusing much of its attention on folk artists in Brazil while we the audience and Henry Glassie watch them work.

40) Life Support 4/5

A simple but beautiful short film about two strangers having an emotional moment in a park.

41) This Is Not A Movie 4/5

A fascinating look at the work of foreign correspondent Robert Fisk which makes clear what it means to be a true journalist dedicated to the truth and only the truth even if that is at odds with authorities.

42) Ema 3/5

Are you at TIFF? Have you been to the festival before? What are you looking forward to seeing? What film coming out this Fall and Winter are you most looking forward to? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below.

For more posts on the Toronto International Film Festival, click here.

Posted by Rose Lagacé

Rose Lagacé is a production designer for film & television by day and an emerging filmmaker by night. Rose is also the creator and editor of Art Departmental where she celebrates the art and craft of production design.

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