13 TIFF 2020 Movies By & About Women Everyone Will Be Talking About


The Toronto International Film Festival looked pretty different this year. And by different, I mean that not only did I not travel to Canada, I barely left my couch. On the one hand, that meant missing out on some of the most fun aspects of festival attendance: gossip, cocktail shrimp, and eavesdropping on conversations between very unlikely celebrities. On the other, I barely left my couch. 

In all seriousness though, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to upend our lives, being able to enjoy not one, but a whole slate of diverse, innovative, and compelling films safely is a privilege in and of itself. TIFF delivered all that and more this year, with women of color taking the lead on some of the festival’s most acclaimed and buzzy films. In a time when the movie industry is in crisis, and questions about the future of cinema abound, filmmakers and programmers have found new and interesting ways to ensure that their work is seen.

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At the top of the must-watch list? Regina King’s One Night In Miami an imagined 1964 encounter between Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke that feels both timely and timeless, and Nomadland, Chloe Zhao’s latest love letter to the American West, which sidelines your cliched cowboys in favor of those we rarely get to hear from. 

Ahead, check out some of the best titles by and about women to come out of the festival — you’ll want to know these names come awards season. 

Photo: Courtesy of Level Forward.

Holler

Directed by:
Nicole Riegel
Cast: Jessica Barden, Pamela Adlon, Gus Halper, Becky Ann Baker, Austin Amalio
Release date: TBD

Ruth (Barden) and her brother Blaze (Halper) are barely scraping by in their hometown in Southern Ohio. Their mom, Rhonda (Adlon), is booked in the county jail, until she agrees to go to rehab; the eviction notices keep piling up on the porch; and the local plant is laying off staff. The one silver lining? Ruth got into college, the first in her family to do so. And though the adults around her keep discouraging her from pursuing that path, arguing that getting a job and starting to earn is a more viable option for someone like her, Blaze won’t let her give up. To save up, the two join a scrap metal crew, sneaking into the abandoned industrial buildings that litter their town and region to strip them for raw materials. Fans of Debra Granik's Winter’s Bone, this one’s for you. 

Photo: Courtesy of Tiff.

Shiva Baby

Directed by: Emma Seligman
Cast: Rachel Sennot, Molly Gordon, Danny Deferrari, Fred Melamed, Dianna Agron, Polly Draper
Release date: TBD

Remember how anxious you were watching Uncut Gems? Multiply that by three, and you’ve got Shiva Baby. Seligman’s debut feature is both hilarious and tender, exploring the fear and confusion that comes with facing the future as a young woman on the cusp of college graduation. Add to that death, overbearing Jewish parents, and sex, and let’s just say it’s a lot to deal with. Sennot in particular shines as Danielle, an NYU student with a side job as a sugar baby who runs into her sugar daddy at a shiva, but the cast is as stacked as a Jewish father’s van on the way home from a family event. 

Photo: Courtesy of Tiff.

One Night In Miami...

Directed by: Regina King
Cast: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr.
Release date: TBD

One Night In Miami… is my personal favorite movie of the festival, and probably of the year.  Regina King’s directorial debut is a fantasy rooted in reality: What if real-life friends Malcolm X (Ben-Adir), Cassius Clay (Goree), Jim Brown (Hodge), and Sam Cooke (Odom Jr.) gathered in a Miami hotel room to celebrate Clay’s 1964 win over Sonny Liston, cementing his claim as heavyweight champion of the world? The answer is mesmerizing, as Kemp Powers’ script guides us through debates, discussions, jokes, and arguments about what it means to be Black in America —  now and then — and the responsibility of those with a voice to use it for good. But don’t go thinking this movie feels pedagogical. King’s direction makes a simple premise and backdrop feel endlessly engaging, and the cast — Ben-Adir has been hailed as a stand-out but they’re all so good it’s hard to really pick a favorite — is so strong that you can’t look away.. Let’s go, Oscars 2021!!

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Photo: Courtesy of Tiff.

Nomadland

Directed by: Chloe Zhao
Cast: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Charlene Swankie
Release date: TBD

Nomadland is a melody in movie form. I don’t mean that in a snooty pretentious way, just in the sense that Zhao’s film feels so delicate and lived in that it sings — no words needed. McDormand plays Fern, a woman whose Nevada town has literally been wiped off the map after its main sheetrock plant shut down. In need of work, she moves into her van and makes the road her home, joining a community of nomads as she picks up seasonal jobs here and there. As is her wont, Zhao features several non-actors in her film, belonging to real nomad communities in the United States. By rooting her fictional world inside an oft-overlooked reality, she makes it feel tangible, and therefore believable. The disenfranchised and abandoned who have found freedom aren’t a vague notion — they’re right here in your living room. As with The Rider, real empathy and generosity permeates every gorgeous shot. The queen of modern Americana has done it again. 

Photo: Courtesy of Tiff.

Violation

Directed by: Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli
Cast: Madeleine Sims-Fewer, Obi Abili, Jesse LaVercombe, Anna Maguire
Release date: TBD

There’s a scene in this movie that will haunt me for the next few months. I won’t spoil it, except to say, blood. So much blood. Still, most of the violence in Sims-Fewer and Mancinelli’s rape revenge film is subtly implied. The action, which is broken down into two interwoven timelines, can be a little difficult to follow at times, but the overall effect is a sense of profound unease. 

Photo: Courtesy of Tiff.

The Way I See It

Directed by:
Dawn Porter
Release date: September 18

One of the most buzzy documentaries of the year follows Pete Souza, official White House photographer for both Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, as he navigates a new political consciousness in the Trump era. Using a mix of interviews, interspersed with archival footage and Souza’s own photographs, it’s a terrifyingly effective portrayal of what’s missing in our current leadership, and what the stakes are this November. Bring the tissues!

Photo: Courtesy of Tiff.

Pieces of A Woman

Directed by: Kornél Mundruczó (written by his wife Kata Wéber, who shares equal billing in the film’s credits)
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Vanessa Kirby, Ellen Burstyn, Benny Safdie, Sarah Snook
Release date: TBD on Netflix 

Yes, this is the movie with the nearly 20-minute long, continuous-shot birth scene. Yes, it’s devastating. For that reason alone, Mundruczó and Wéber’s film will undoubtedly be one of the most talked about movies in the coming months, especially since Netflix has secured the worldwide distribution rights. Kirby is already being talked about as a strong contender in an already crowded field for Best Actress at the 2021 Academy Awards. Burstyn will almost certainly earn a nod as Supporting Actress. And yet, there is something ultimately disappointing about the movie once the tragedy climax passes. Rather than a visceral exploration of grief, the movie sometimes feels cold and impersonal. Still, it’s worth it just to watch Kirby eat an apple more cinematically anyone ever has in the history of film. 

Photo: Courtesy of Tiff.

I Am Greta

Directed by: Nathan Grossman
Release date: November 13 on Hulu

Swedish director Grossman started filming then-15-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg in August 2018, back when no one knew her name. Today, she is the face of the Gen-Z struggle against climate change. I Am Greta follows Thunberg over the course of a year, as she starts to gain international recognition, sometimes struggling with the mantle that has been thrust on her shoulders. But while the movie certainly excavates her public persona, it also provides an intimate look at who she is as a person, culminating in her now-famous speech at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in December 2019. 

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Photo: Courtesy of Tiff.

Lift Like A Girl

Directed by: Mayye Zayed
Release date: TBD

Zayed’s fly-on-the-wall documentary, shot over four years, takes a hard look at what it takes to be an Olympic athlete. Zebiba (which translates as raisin from Arabic)) is Captain Ramadan’s latest project. The coach, who has trained Egyptian women athletes for over 20 years, sees her potential as a weightlifter. But his relationship with the 14-year-old is volatile and complex, at times encouraging and fatherly, other times verbally abusive and challenging. Zayed’s film never judges, but instead follows a young woman as she grows into her potential, and grapples with the often complicated bond between coach and athlete. I won’t spoil the end, but get ready for some nail-biting feats of strength from Zebiba and her fellow lifters. 

Photo: Courtesy of Tiff.

I Care A Lot

Directed by: J Blakeson
Cast: Rosamund Pike, Eiza Gonzalez, Peter Dinklage, Dianne Wiest, Chris Messina
Release date: TBD

Any movie that let’s Pike go full Amy Dunne is already a winner. But her performance as Marla Grayson, a professional legal guardian who cons her elderly charges out of their savings, goes a step further. She’s utterly emorseless, uninterested in charming anyone unless it suits her calculated purpose — and it’s a delight to watch. But don’t sleep on Gonzalez, who plays Marla’s romantic and business partner Fran, and rocks some pretty impressive curly bangs. The movie might have been more compelling without the added mobster plot, but then again it does give us Messina as a smarmy lawyer in a wide array of seersucker suits, so who’s to say, really?

Photo: Courtesy of Tiff.

Monday

Directed by: Argyris Papadimitropoulos
Cast: Sebastian Stan, Denise Gough
Release date: TBD

No one plays the plainly irresponsible yet utterly charming boy you shouldn’t fall for but do quite like Sebastian Stan. Chloe (Gough) is an American immigration lawyer whose brief love affair with Athens has turned sour. Fresh off a breakup with rich boyfriend Kostos, she’s at a party when she’s introduced to Mickey (Stan), an American DJ also living in Greece. Their one-night stand turns into a full-fledged relationship, but eventually, as the title suggests, the sparkle of Friday night gives way to the dull reality of Monday. Can they survive it? I won’t give away the answer, but let’s just say that the ride is most definitely worth it. (And yes, the rumors are true. There is Bucky Barnes full-frontal in this film. Cap would be proud.)

Photo: Courtesy of Tiff.

Beans

Directed by: Tracey Deer
Cast: Kiawentiio, Rainbow Dickerson, Violah Beauvais, Paulina Jewel Alexis, D’Pharaoh Mckay Woon-a-Tai, Joel Montgrand, Jay Cardinal Villeneuve, Taio Gélinas
Release date: TBD

Set against the real backdrop of the three-month standoff between Mohawk communities and the Quebec police known as 1990 Oka Crisis, Deer’s film is named after its 12-year-old protagonist. Beans (Kiawentiio, who’s been receiving raves for her screen debut) is a girl on the cusp. No longer a child, but not yet a woman, she’s also caught between her desire to learn and evolve, and the pull she feels towards her traditions. Her ken towards activism is mitigated by the horrifying racism she and her community experience, which crushes dreams and souls to devastating effect. Deer cut her teeth in documentary film, so it’s fitting that much of her feature debut was inspired by scenes from her own childhood living on the Kahnawake reservation in Quebec. This one’s a must-see. 

Photo: Courtesy of Tiff.

Shadow in The Cloud

Directed by: Roseanne Liang
Cast: Chloë Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Beulah Koale, Taylor John Smith, Callan Mulvey, Benedict Wall, Joe Witkowski, Byron Coll
Release date: TBD

Do yourself a favor, and don’t read any spoilers about this movie. It is an absolute blast, and one best enjoyed in complete ignorance, not to mention suspension of disbelief. Whatever attitude you bring to watching Tom Cruise scaling a skyscraper? Bring that to Shadow In The Cloud, and you’re in for a wild ride. Liang is a masterful director, and her movie is bursting with campy creativity. Moretz stars as Flight Officer Maude Garrett, a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Service Pilots during World War II assigned to an all-male B-17 bomber. Confined to the Sperry tower, a miniscule glass orb attached to the bottom of the giant plane, she faces multiple threats at once, including Japanese stealth fighters, her co-pilots’ misogyny, and a gremlin. You read right, don’t ask questions — just give in. 

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