From ‘Ammonite’ to ‘Shiva Baby’: 10 buzzy films headed to the Toronto film fest

TORONTO — The pandemic-tailored Toronto International Film Festival may be slimmer with star-free streets this year. But the Sept. 10-19 celebration of cinema still has some hot tickets in its trimmed-down slate, which will screen in a mixture of online and in-person screenings to suit COVID-19 protocols.

Here are 10 titles the team at The Canadian Press is looking forward to:

“Ammonite”: Francis Lee’s 19th-century love story starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan has been a darling of this year’s festival circuit, previously landing spots at the pandemic-cancelled Cannes and Telluride events. It will finally get to screen at TIFF, where Winslet will also be among the honorees at the Tribute Awards. TIFF says the Oscar winner delivers one of the best performances of her career, playing a solitary paleontologist who falls into a romantic affair with a wealthy, grieving wife, played by Ronan.

“Beans”: Mohawk filmmaker Tracey Deer mined her own experiences for her debut Canadian feature drama, about a 12-year-old Mohawk girl coming of age during the 1990 Oka Crisis. As Deer says on the EMA Films website, she was also 12 during the three-month standoff between two Mohawk communities and government forces in Quebec. “That summer I knew I wanted to become a filmmaker and vowed to one day tell this story,” she says. It’s a powerful premise from the co-creator of the APTN series “Mohawk Girls,” who will also be among the honorees at the TIFF Tribute Awards.

“Bruised”: Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry steps into the filmmaking ring and the boxing ring for her directorial debut. She’s not only behind the camera but in front of it, playing a former mixed martial arts fighter struggling financially and trying to regain custody of her son in New Jersey. Adan Canto plays her boyfriend, who reignites her passion for the sport. Michelle Rosenfarb wrote the film, which TIFF says is screening “as a work in progress” and is an “assured debut feature.”

“David Byrne’s American Utopia”: Oscar-winning filmmaker Spike Lee and musician David Byrne are enough of a lure on their own. But together, they’ve created what TIFF organizers say is an up-to-the-minute, optimistic response to the protests against racial injustice. Lee filmed Byrne’s 2019 Broadway show, in which the former Talking Heads frontman uses his music to address America’s current divisions. The documentary concert will open TIFF.

“Inconvenient Indian”: Thomas King’s 2012 non-fiction book “The Inconvenient Indian” was widely lauded for its look at how Indigenous people have been treated and represented _ or misrepresented _ throughout the ages. So hopes are high for this adaptation by Toronto-based Metis/Algonquin director Michelle Latimer. King narrates and appears in the film, which TIFF calls an “essential documentary.” Latimer is also at TIFF this year with the series “Trickster” and is no doubt one to watch.

“Nomadland”: Two-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand appears poised for more awards glory for playing a broke widow who travels through the American West in an old van. Based on Jessica Bruder’s 2017 non-fiction book, Chloe Zhao’s drama has also been in demand on this year’s festival circuit, landing spots at the Venice, Toronto, Telluride and New York film festivals. Festival programmers have been heralding the film, and Zhao’s career is white-hot: Her last film was the 2017 drama “The Rider,” which won an award at Cannes, and she directs Marvel’s upcoming superhero movie, “The Eternals.”

“No Ordinary Man”: In the 1940s and 1950s, jazz musician Billy Tipton was a fixture on the American nightclub circuit, crossing paths with icons including Liberace and Duke Ellington. Following his death in 1989, Tipton was outed as a transgender man, setting off a shameful media sensation that cast him as a swindler trying to make it in the music industry. In this Canadian documentary, directors Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt restore Tipton’s cultural legacy with the help of a troupe of transgender artists.

“One Night in Miami”: Regina King already has an Oscar for acting but may be on her way to a nomination as a filmmaker for this much-anticipated feature directorial debut. The story is a fictionalized account of a pivotal 1964 meeting between boxer Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali), civil rights activist Malcolm X, singer Sam Cooke, and football player Jim Brown. The cast includes Kingsley Ben-Adir, Leslie Odom Jr., Eli Goree and Aldis Hodge. Writer Kemp Powers adapted the story from his own stage play.

“Shiva Baby”: Toronto-raised director Emma Seligman makes her feature debut with this coltish coming-of-age comedy set during the Jewish week-long mourning ceremony known as a shiva. Adapted from a short film Seligman made as an NYU student, the movie stars Rachel Sennott as Danielle, a soon-to-be college graduate harnessing her sexual empowerment for profit through an arrangement with an older man, played by Danny Deferrari. But when her sugar daddy and embittered ex-girlfriend both show up at a family shiva, Danielle is forced to contend with her duelling personas between prying questions from relatives about her future.

“76 Days”: Filmed in secrecy at hospitals in Wuhan, China, this observational documentary offers an unflinching look at the chaos that swept through the region as the city went into lockdown in the earliest days of COVID-19. In one moment, nurses band together to keep worried locals from stampeding into the hospital, while in another, an elderly man with dementia threatens to go home, even though he may be infected with the virus. Told without narration or interviews, the footage shot by two China-based filmmakers captures the panic and confusion thrust upon doctors as they fought an outbreak none of them yet understood.

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