TIFF 2019: Agreeing to Disagree 

Some stellar films promote humanity, others just provoke

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Courtesy TIFF / Getty Images

Having emerged from the exhilarating but sleep-deprived experience that was the 2019 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival, I was overcome by the spirited, buoyant optimism from some selections, but I was also overwrought by the bleak, dreadful pessimism of others. Two films in particular had TIFF tongues wagging, and are certain to trigger some visceral debates in the weeks and months to come. True, some folks love a good verbal tussle while debating the morals, or lack thereof, of a particular film. But given today's divisive times, I'm increasingly finding such discord at the cinema simply exhausting. That leads me to Jojo Rabbit, certain to be one of most disagreed-upon movies in recent memory. Debates erupted almost immediately following its TIFF premiere, first as critics were exiting the theater (I heard more than a few pretty loud disputes in the lobby) and soon after, on social media. The comedy about a boy's imaginary friend being Adolf Hitler (yes, I said "comedy"), a critic for The Los Angeles Times wrote that Jojo Rabbit's "so-called audacity smacked of calculation and emotional cowardice," while Indiewire concluded that the film "makes Life is Beautiful look like Shoah." Ouch. But I also, just as many critics, praise Jojo Rabbit, which co-stars Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell and Rebel Wilson, to the hilt. The real stunner is that the film took home TIFF's coveted people's choice award, a major predictor of Oscar success. Sorry, but I couldn't disagree more. I found Jojo Rabbit far beyond any inkling of good taste. True, making fun of Nazis isn't anything new (e.g. The Great Dictator, The Producers), but my stomach turned more than a few times during this certain-to-be-debated film. So, if you're among the extremely curious, I encourage you to craft your own opinion. But for the record, I found Jojo Rabbit beyond the pale.

The debate on TIFF's front burner this year swirled around Joker, which is certain to secure a Best Actor nomination for Joaquin Phoenix. I'm a huge fan of Phoenix, and his performance as the archvillain is as stunning as it is disturbing. That said, I struggle with an outright endorsement of Joker. It demonizes mental illness and showcases violence to a level of pornography. If anyone wants to use this film as a platform for a healthy conversation about domestic terrorism and gun violence in America, let's do that. But if Warner Bros. decides to promote Joker as some kind of comic book fantasy in order to lure more young males into cinemas this fall, then count me out.

As a tip of the touque to the overly generous people of Toronto, I'm once again borrowing their beloved maple leaves for a rating system. The upper class, earning five out of five maple leaves were, in alphabetical order, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Clemency, A Hidden Life, Just Mercy, Parasite and The Personal History of David Copperfield.

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A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, A Hidden Life, Clemency, Just Mercy, Parasite, The Personal History of David Copperfield

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The Cave, Ford v Ferrari, Harriet, Judy, Just Mercy, Knives Out, Marriage Story, Ordinary Love, Sound of Metal, Two Popes, Waves

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Aeronauts, Bad Education, Dolemite is My Name, Endings/Beginnings, Joker, I Am Woman, The Laundromat, The Lighthouse, Motherless Brooklyn, Ordinary Love, Pain and Glory, Radioactive, The Report, Uncut Gems, Western Stars

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Blackbird, The Friend, The Goldfinch, Hope Gap, Hustlers, Jojo Rabbit, Lyrebird

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Abominable, Greed, Lucy in the Sky, Proxima, Guest of Honour, Honey Boy, Seberg

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