tiff movies 2019

40 must-see movies at TIFF 2019 according to its programmers

40 must-see movies at TIFF 2019 according to its programmers

It's easy to get lost in the vastness of the TIFF calendar, with so many films screened over the 11 days of the fest. It's natural to be a bit overwhelmed.

Here are the must-see films at TIFF 2019, according to the programmers who help bring the festival to life.

Cameron Bailey (Artistic Director & Co-Head)

Jojo Rabbit

Taika Waititi brings his half-Maori, half-Jewish, fully-skewed sensibility to this dazzling take-down of fascist hate. This tale of a Hitler Youth with Hitler himself as an imaginary friend begins in searing satire but gathers a real emotional wallop as it goes.


Sarah Gavron reinvents herself in this urgent, empathetic portrait of a girl at a turning point. A black British high schooler has her family foundation ripped out from under her and must seek help from friends. Wise and free of false sentiment, this is a snapshot of how working class kids in cities like London and Toronto live now.

Anne at 13,000 Ft

One of the best Toronto films in years, Kazik Radwanski draws an unforgettable performance from Deragh Campbell as a fantastically self-sabotaging young woman on the verge. Up close, devastating and sometimes hilarious, this one comes with a bonus feature: Matt Johnson as the boyfriend.

Diana Sanchez (Senior International Programmer)

3 Summers

Sandra Kogut's light-hearted comedy tells the story of a live-in maid who witnesses the financial ruin of her employer over the course of three consecutive summers. Subtle and funny, the film is poignant, while it also scrutinizes corruption and class disparity in Brazil.


Sophie Deraspe's film about a young woman who sacrifices her freedom for her brother is a beautiful rendition of Sophocles's tragedy. This fresh and heartfelt film is ultimately a story about love and standing up for what one believes in.

La Llorona

Guatemalan filmmaker Jayro Bustamente's revisits the legend of The Weeping Woman through a genre-blending story that speaks to the military dictatorship in his country. Part ghost story, part historical drama, Bustamente tells a chilling story of his country's recent history.

Kiva Reardon (Lead Programmer, Contemporary World Cinema)


This is a deeply moving, beautifully observed and acted tale of two women forging a friendship in Casablanca. The film's lasting power rests in the way the story patiently crescendos without clichés to create a portrait of familial love and support between women.


A migration-meets-ghost story set in Senegal, Mati Diop's Cannes Grand Prix winning film is an evocative and stunning study of how love and loss haunt us all.


Yaron Zilberman's haunting feature depicts the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. This psychological thriller weaves in archival footage, foregrounding the high political stakes of the era and drawing connective lines from the past to the present.

Dorota Lech (Lead Programmer, Discovery)

Simple Women

Chiara Malta's film is about a director with epilepsy trying to make a film about the life of famed Romanian actor Elina Löwensohn, who discovers that her real-life subject bears little resemblance to the star she idolizes.

Two Of Us

Pensioners Nina (Barbara Sukowa) and Madeleine (Martine Chevallier) have hidden their deep and passionate love for many decades, but their bond is put to the test when they are suddenly unable to move freely between each other's apartments.


In this fiction-feature debut from documentarian Mahnaz Mohammadi, a widow who works tirelessly at a failing factory in sanctions-gripped Iran receives a marriage proposal that could mean financial security — but could also tear her family apart.

Lina from Lima

Motherhood and migrant labour are beautifully portrayed in this musical comedy from María Paz González about a Peruvian woman working as a domestic helper for a wealthy Chilean family who prepares for a trip home to visit the son she left behind.

Geoff Macnaughton (Lead Programmer, Primetime)

Mrs. Fletcher

A dual coming-of-age story chronicling the personal and sexual journeys of Eve Fletcher, an empty-nest mother, and her college freshman son, based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Tom Perrotta.


This French drama centres on an Arabic candidate for the presidency, who sees his ambitions threatened by a perfect storm of religious, cultural, and family politics.

Brad Deane (Lead Programmer, Masters)

The Whistlers

Romanian New Wave director Corneliu Porumboiu has made his most accessible and fun film yet with this comedic neo-noir about a corrupt cop traveling to the Spanish island of La Gomera, home to a secret whistling language that he must master to complete his mission.

Zombi Child

Bertrand Bonello weaves a stylistic tale out of a zombified man in 1962 Haiti and his granddaughter attending a privileged boarding school in present-day Paris, exploring the ways colonialism is also undead.

I Was Home, But...

An immensely rewarding slow-burn centered around a 13-year-old disappearing and then reappearing mysteriously, this film earned director Angela Schanelec the Silver Bear for best director at the 2019 Berlin Film Festival.

Andréa Picard (Lead Curator, Wavelengths)

Vitalina Varela

The film’s haunting and magisterial style is matched only by the resilience and fortitude of the titular Vitalina and the filmmaker’s empathy and ongoing political engagement in representing the violence of his country’s postcolonial condition.


Albert Serra returns with another lush period piece — this time exploring libertinage in the 18th century. While the film probes the philosophical utopias from the Enlightenment, it also brilliantly proposes new ways of representing sex on screen, including the interplay between what is seen, unseen, and imagined.

Martin Eden

A gorgeous and idiosyncratic adaptation of Jack London’s eponymous book from 1909, this is an epic love story in the tradition of the great Italian classics. A classic tale of an individual torn between class, political ideals and artistic ambition, explored through a film that is executed in bold and utterly surprising ways.

Book of Hours

A miniature gem — as intimate as it is expansive. The film explores the creative, intellectual and political potential of intimate, domestic space and private life, the home and childcare as a possible permeation of the frontier between inner and outer life.

Ravi Srinivasan (International Programmer, Canada)

Black Conflux

Canadian filmmaker Nicole Dorsey delivers a gorgeous and moody coming-of-age tale set in Newfoundland that explores womanhood speeding toward a head-on collision with toxic masculinity.

Castle In The Ground

Toronto filmmaker Joey Klein's second feature boldly tackles the opioid crisis sweeping the globe with his Sudbury set thriller starring Alex Wolff and Guelph's very own Scream Queen Neve Campbell.


This dark comedy stars Toronto's comedic genius Grace Glowicki in a truly electric performance that calls to mind the brilliant work of Gilda Radner and Jim Carrey. Do not miss this breakout performance from a star in the making!

Steve Gravestock (Senior International Programmer, Canada)

Maria's Paradise

Based on a true story, the film examines a sect whose charismatic leader claims a direct link to the divine and holds her acolytes in check through fear, sadism and isolation.

The Rest of Us

Ashling Chin-Yee's film is an assured, affecting and empathetic debut feature. Heather Graham gives a sparkling performance, creating one of the year’s most intriguing and recognizable characters as a mother whose outward generosity and moralizing obscures a more conflicted and complex reality.

White Lie

This is a fearless look at a troubling character whose behaviour should appall us, but the film does what only real art does: ask us to try and understand those we would normally dismiss as well beyond the pale. It's powerful, and memorable.

Peter Kuplowsky (Lead Programmer, Midnight Madness)

The Platform

A wickedly creative synthesis of sci-fi, horror and action, judiciously sharpened to make a brilliantly pointed socio-cultural critique in the tradition of speculative epics. Audiences can expect to wince at its visceral horror, laugh at its absurdist satire, and be transfixed by the steady momentum of its unpredictable and electric trajectory.

Saint Maud

Rose Glass’ striking debut soaks you in a malaise of nervous dread as she orbits a young nurse’s unhealthy obsession with the piousness (or lack thereof) of her patient. A slow-burn that increasingly twists your guts as its lit fuse burns toward a concentrated barrel of bloodshed.

The Twentieth Century

Selecting a biopic about former Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King for this section might raise a few eyebrows, but trust me when I assert that filmmaker Matthew Rankin’s epic comedy reaches Pythonesque heights of sublime absurdism.

Thom Powers (Lead Programmer, TIFF Docs)

Red Penguins

If you like humour with your global politics, you'll delight in director Gabe Polsky's latest. The film takes place after the collapse of the USSR as American hustlers invested in a Moscow hockey team, ushering in an era of capitalism and consumerism that forever changed the country.

Love Child

If you want to be the TIFF-goer who leads your friends to an under-the-radar world premiere, full of emotion and unforgettable characters, this is your film. Director Eva Mulvad follows a couple fleeing Iran under threat of death for birthing a child in an adulterous relationship.

Letter to the Editor

Filmmaker Alan Berliner has been obsessively clipping photos from The New York Times for 40 years. He draws upon his collection and transforms them into an extraordinary cinematic essay about photojournalism, representation of truth and what we stand to lose when print newspapers are gone

Jason Anderson (Lead Programmer, Short Cuts)


Yorgos Lanthimos clearly relishes the opportunity to escape the period trappings of The Favourite to get back to his weirdest self. No wonder Matt Dillon looks so creeped out in the role of a classical musician whose life takes a hard left turn after an encounter with a stranger.


Set in 2022 in Quebec, this all-too-plausible piece of speculative fiction by Pier-Phillipe Chevigny is essential viewing for anyone who likes to believe this country is somehow immune to the rising tide of nationalism or to the tensions provoked by the refugee crisis.

Toomas Beneath the Valley of the Wild Wolves

Toomas is a hard-working family man — or family wolf, to be more accurate — who’s forced to use his, ahem, 'natural gifts' to make ends meet. Plenty of hilariously risqué gags about gigolos, BDSM and sexploitation flicks here, but this toon is irresistibly sweet, too.

Robyn Citizen (International Programmer, Short Cuts)

Watermelon Juice

Irene Moray’s lush, gorgeously observed drama follows a young woman on holiday as she tries to heal old wounds surrounded by her attentive partner and friends. A uniquely mature portrait of trauma, sensuality and the courage of surrendering to intimacy in all forms.

Austral Fever

Quietly lonely Amanda and her teenaged son invite his friend to their remote cabin. When the friend is accidentally injured, the wound becomes a site of sexual pleasure in Thomas Woodroffe’s wildly original and precisely composed fever dream that eludes all generic categorization.


In this lighthearted, fantastical comedy from television writer Nicole Delaney, a mosquito — voiced by the incomparable Maya Rudolph — falls in love with a brokenhearted but delicious-tasting human male (Jay Ellis). The film balances hilarity with moving insights about difficult relationships in a way that feels fresh and stylish.

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