EW's annual TIFF must list is a little shorter than usual, but the talent represented is as impressive — and awards-bound — as ever.

There's never been a Toronto International Film Festival like this. The biggest of the prestigious fall festivals is usually a showcase for hundreds of films, a launchpad for major studio titles, and the destination for dozens of A-listers gearing up for months-long Oscar campaigns. Given the circumstances surrounding COVID-19, from pushed release dates to the dangers of crowding, it's perhaps a small miracle there's any 2020 TIFF at all. And there is: largely virtual, with a heavily tightened slate in the double-digits, and with plenty of anticipation.

Credit: SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES; Courtesy of TIFF (5)

But the movies, we're pleased to report, are still very much worth seeing. A few are resurfacing after bowing to acclaim at Sundance in January, before the world changed; others are blitzing the fall slate, jumping around from Venice to Toronto to New York. EW screened dozens of films in preview for this year's event, and have selected 13 standouts. If there's any justice, many of these movies and performances will be headed for Oscar glory. Others are the markers of exciting, fresh talent, or are just a damn good time worth celebrating.

Here's EW's TIFF 2020 Must List. Join us for full coverage, including exclusive interviews and premiere reviews, over the course of the festival, which runs from Sept. 10-20.


Credit: Courtesy of TIFF

Anthony Hopkins, The Father

Building on the film’s hit Sundance premiere, this fall Anthony Hopkins once again shows why he’s a heavyweight with his searing turn as a patriarch succumbing to dementia. The role, drawn from a stage play of the same name, should net the Oscar winner his first Best Actor nod in 25 years.

Lance Henriksen, Falling

A legend of a very different stripe from Hopkins, Lance Henriksen (Alien’s Bishop) has amassed hundreds of screen credits without ever getting a role like this. But goodness was the wait worth it. In Viggo Mortensen’s directorial debut, the iconic sci-fi star plays a bigoted man in decline with tragic intensity, as he’s left in the care of his estranged gay son (Mortensen).


Pieces of a Woman
Credit: Pieces Film, Inc.

Naomi Watts, Penguin Bloom

In the resident “Oscar-bait” role of the festival, Naomi Watts is devastatingly good as an Aussie nurse and mother whose world is turned upside down after a falling accident leaves her permanently paralyzed. The film gets a little corny in its take on hope and resilience, but Watts is completely magnetic.

Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman

Anyone familiar with Vanessa Kirby’s acclaimed stage work has likely been eagerly awaiting the Emmy-nominated Crown star’s next act. She justifies the anticipation with this raw portrait of a would-be mother undone by grief and tragedy, and the long road back to herself. The film’s opening, a near-30-minute “oner” in which Kirby’s character gives birth, marks an unparalleled sequence of naturalistic acting.


Credit: See-Saw Films

Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, Ammonite

The 19th-century-set Francis Lee (God’s Own Country) drama examines the forbidden romance between an irascible paleontologist (Kate Winslet) and the lonely housewife (Saoirse Ronan) who drops into her life. The chemistry between the two acclaimed actresses is undeniable and electric.

Caleb McLaughlin and Jharrel Jerome, Concrete Cowboy

Two of the small screen’s more exciting young talents — Caleb McLaughlin, long a core part of Stranger Things; Jharrel Jerome, Emmy winner for his astonishing turn in When They See Us — make a vivid big-screen impression together as troublemaking teens reunited after McLaughlin’s Cole moves in with his urban-cowboy father (Idris Elba).


The Water Man
Credit: Karen Ballard

Lonnie Chavis, The Water Man

Best known as This Is Us’ young Randall, Lonnie Chavis takes center stage in this mystical film directed by David Oyelowo (Selma), about a young boy who embarks on a unique quest to cure his ill mother (Rosario Dawson). While The Water Man is rooted in magic and myth, Chavis’ tenderly grounded performance never feels less than achingly real.

Reid Miller, Good Joe Bell

Mark Wahlberg and Connie Britton are the marquee names here, but it’s young actor Reid Miller (Play by Play) who will steal your heart in this tearjerker about a bullied gay teen (Miller) who dies by suicide, and the father (Wahlberg) who attempts to raise awareness in his honor.


I Care A Lot

One Night in Miami

Regina King’s feature directorial debut is overloaded with great performances: Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr. as musician Sam Cooke, The Invisible Man’s Aldis Hodge as NFL player Jim Brown, The OA’s Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X, and Ballers' Eli Goree as Cassius Clay (who'd later be known as Muhammad Ali). In this rich tale of Black manhood and fame, they all soar.

I Care a Lot

This pitch-black tale of elder-care abuse and fraud finds Rosamund Pike in peak icy form as the ambitious antihero of J. Blakeson’s thriller. But from Chris Messina’s scene-stealing slick lawyer to Dianne Wiest’s mercurial “patient” to Peter Dinklage’s crime boss (!), many great actors get many fun things to do here.


American Utopia
'David Byrne's American Utopia'
| Credit: HBO

Chloé Zhao, Nomadland

After collecting raves for her small-scale indie The Rider, Chloé Zhao emerges as a filmmaking force with her stunning new film. A lyrical meditation on the American character, Nomadland follows a woman (a brilliant Frances McDormand) who, with nothing to lose, embarks on a “houseless” life across the country.

Spike Lee, David Byrne’s American Utopia

As if his Netflix epic Da 5 Bloods weren’t enough for 2020, Spike Lee opens this year’s unconventional TIFF with a movie of Byrne’s acclaimed Broadway show. Rousing and joyful, this filmed concert-theater piece isn’t particularly distinctive from the source material, but Lee’s invisible hand is a genius one, too, guiding viewers right into Utopia’s gushy heart.

Sam Pollard, MLK/FBI

An Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning filmmaker, Sam Pollard is back with a new documentary, and it may be the best of this year’s very impressive slate. A rigorous examination of J. Edgar Hoover’s surveillance campaign against the Civil Rights Movement leader, MLK/FBI features artfully assembled archive footage that illuminates the darkest, most insidious corners of American power and racism — past and present.

Follow EW for the latest news, reviews, and more from the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival.

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