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When we see a movie, we know by the opening scene that Tom Hanks is going to be likeable, Joaquin Phoenix is going to be transformative, and Anne Hathaway is going to be a sweetheart (for the most part, anyhow).
But a beautiful thing happens during film festivals. If you hang around them long enough, sometimes you find a movie that makes you look at an actor in a whole new—and often surprising—way. We’re happy to report that we had that experience several times at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. From bad dads and drummers to wartime moms and strippers, here are five stars who surprised us at TIFF 2019.
Where to start with this oh-so-public figure? From a string of arrests and public intoxication to weird art installations and action movies, Shia LaBeouf has made our eyes roll more than once. Yet we couldn’t help but be moved with his TIFF entry Honey Boy, a film that he wrote while he was in therapy following a 2017 altercation with police in Georgia. It’s a raw, beautiful, semi-autobiographical look at the relationship between a child star and his father, with LaBeouf playing the father in question. If that isn’t cathartic we don’t know what is.
It wasn’t until Riz Ahmed shot to TV fame with HBO’s The Night Of that we really started paying attention to him, and when he appeared as Lena Dunham’s soon-to-be onscreen baby daddy in the final season of Girls we were sold—especially when he rapped. But we didn’t quite embrace all of Ahmed’s notes until we saw him in the TIFF selection Sound of Metal as a drummer grappling with losing his hearing. Now we definitely believe this guy can march to the beat of any drum he’s given, and we can’t wait to see what he does next.
Look, we love us Betty Cooper, and we love us a Dark Betty even more. But when your signature look is a high pony it’s probably a good idea to try and diversify in your other roles. That’s exactly what Lili Reinhart did when she inked a deal to appear in the buzzworthy TIFF film Hustlers alongside JLo and Constance Wu. Sure, her stripper character can vomit on cue (a very weird but useful trait, it turns out), but it’s also making us embrace the 22-year-old in a whole new way.
Okay so yes, we already knew that ScarJo could do anything she set her mind to acting-wise. It’s why we’ve loved her in everything from her Marvel movies to Lost In Translation, when she had that weird onscreen relationship with Bill Murray. She’s also no stranger to controversial roles, as we all learned when she landed that part as a transgender man in Rub & Tug (she later rescinded it). But when she joined Jojo Rabbit as the mother of a German boy during the Second World War whose imaginary best friend is Adolf Hitler, we didn’t know what to think. Turns out the story is completely tongue in cheek, and Johansson’s role is unlike anything we’ve seen from her to-date. Chalk up another one for this A-lister.
These days, when we think of Adam Sandler, it’s hard not to equate him with bad Netflix movies. Fortunately it seems like he’s ready to put the Jack and Jills and The Ridiculous 6s behind him in order to mount a comeback. Our former favourite funny-man leaned into his dramatic chops at TIFF with Uncut Gems, in which he plays a New York City jeweler always on the lookout for his next big score. It’s a surprisingly sincere performance and one that’s lauding him positive reviews for a change. It’s like Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan once said: sometimes comedians really do make for the best dramatic actors.