This year’s edition of the Toronto International Film Festival has officially come and gone. With new films from all around the world having been released across the festival’s 10-day run, I thought it would be best to break down all the buzzy titles TIFF had to offer.
TIFF and the Current Industry Climate
The festival certainly looked a little different this year with the lack of stars walking along the red carpet. This, of course, is due to the current strikes and inaction from major studios to resolve these strikes. There were still some stars present. A24, Neon, and several independent and international films were able to have stars present alongside their films due to interim union agreements, and these studio’s proactivity in working to resolve the strikes. The festival also saw a handful of actors and actresses turned first-time filmmakers walk the red carpet to present their respective works. Stars such as Patricia Arquette (Gonzo Girl), Chris Pine (Poolman), Anna Kendrick (Woman of the Hour), and more saw their first features premiere at the festival.
The Major Players
The hot ticket item at the festival this year was the latest Studio Ghibli film from acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, The Boy and the Heron. His first film in a decade, getting a ticket to this one was not an easy task for festival goers. The film, which is set for release in North America on December 8th of this year, is beautiful. The film features many of Miyazaki’s signature staples and could be considered a greatest hits montage from his legendary career; but at times, it goes much further than that. The film moves like an epic towards a fantastical and impassioned third act that left me in awe. It is paired with a moving musical score by Joe Hisaishi, who has been composing for Studio Ghibli films for over thirty years.
Taikai Waititi’s long-awaited and countless times delayed Next Goal Wins is a real movie that has been seen by real people. Waititi joked at the premiere that the film had been delayed until next April, which surely garnered laughs from the audience as intended. The film stars Michael Fassbender and centers around the true story of the worst soccer team in the world and their attempt at qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The highlight is a performance from Kaimana, who stars as Jaiyah Saelua, the first openly trans woman to compete in a FIFA World Cup qualifier. Aside from a heartwarming story and solid performances all around, the film is mostly a pretty digestible and admittedly forgettable film that doesn’t seek to do much more than simply entertain. Fans of Waititi shouldn’t be too disappointed with this one. The film hits theaters on November 17th, but viewers should be more inclined to just watch the documentary of the same name which came out back in 2014.
In his follow-up film to the Academy Award-winning 2021 film Drive My Car, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Evil Does Not Exist first premiered at Venice earlier this month before hitting TIFF. Hamaguchi’s focus in this film is the environment and how we react when our spaces are threatened. Starring Hotishi Omika, the film follows a company’s attempts to build a tourist destination in a small rural village. They must convince the locals, and from there we are engulfed in this film’s tension and vision. Evil Does Not Exist can be best described as a cinematic lullaby as we are meant to absorb gorgeous imagery of land and the environment in the rural Japanese village of Harasawa. The film rarely uses any musical cues or scoring, aside mainly from one recurring track that we hear multiple times throughout. This piece of music is brilliantly haunting and incredibly effective at generating mood and inciting emotions. It is a slowly-paced, well-balanced film that tells a powerful story in a rather simple manner and execution. While not being the grand and complex film that Drive My Car was, Evil Does Not Exist is every bit as encapsulating and certainly worth a watch. It is my personal favorite of the festival. At this moment it does not have a set release date, but is aimed at a launch sometime in 2024.
A Film from the Future?
I had the pleasure of attending the North American premiere of Harmony Korine’s latest project Aggro Dr1ft, which features Jordi Mollà and rap superstar Travis Scott in the lead roles. Korine presented the project by telling the audience that it may not be a film at all, and that he was looking for something that feels like it is beyond film. Shot fully in infrared and scored with a super captivating effort by EDM producer AraabMuzik, Aggro Dr1ft feels like something never seen before. It is the type of film that will elicit a wide range of reactions. It is inherently incoherent and insists upon itself with each and every passing scene. It is mostly plotless, and the dialogue is often drowned out by the film’s musical score. There was a lot of laughter throughout the screening, although it was unclear if this was an outcome intended by the filmmaker (it had to be, right?). Aggro Dr1ft does not yet have a studio attached to distribute it, and while this film definitely won’t be for everyone, it will certainly find its audience upon release.
The New Nick Cage
Filmmaker Kristoffer Borgli’s second feature film Dream Scenario is produced by Ari Aster and A24, and stars the legendary Nicolas Cage. In what is easily the best premise in a movie this year, Nick Cage stars as Paul, a mundane professor whose life is turned upside down overnight when he randomly begins appearing in everyone’s dreams. Nick Cage absolutely kills it in a role that demands quite a bit of him. The film is hilarious despite the heavy dramatic moments and eerie vibe throughout, and Cage is able to weave right through it all with one of his all-time iconic performances. The film is set to hit theaters on November 10th.
The Cannes Crown Jewel
French filmmaker Justine Triet’s Palme d’Or winner Anatomy of a Fall continued its successful fall festival run with a stop at the Toronto International Film Festival. Led by a brilliant performance from Sandra Hüller, Anatomy of a Fall centers around Sandra (Sandra Hüller) who is the suspect in an investigation regarding the potential murder of her husband, Samuel (Samuel Theis). Samuel had been working upstairs in the attic windowsill before being found on the ground at the bottom of the home. Did he fall? Was he pushed? The film soon evolves into a complex study of relationships and the courtroom drama of it all is supremely entertaining. Sandra and Samuel’s blind son, Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner), is the only witness who was around at the time of the fall, and the importance and intrigue of his role cannot be understated. If you’re keen on a well-written drama with some of the year’s best performances woven throughout, this is the one for you. Anatomy of a Fall hits theaters in North America on October 13th.
The People’s Choice Winner
First-time feature filmmaker Cord Jefferson’s American Fiction won the festival’s illustrious People’s Choice Award. Recent winners include The Fabelmans, Belfast, Nomadland, and Jojo Rabbit. Take that information as you will, but Jefferson’s American Fiction is definitely deserving of the acclaim. The film stars Jeffrey Wright, who plays an author who is frustrated with the current state of African-American literature in the United States. The film is full of nuance and self-discovery, and aside from Wright’s phenomenal turn in the lead role, the film benefits greatly from Cord Jefferson’s witty and hilarious screenplay. Jefferson comes from a background in TV writing (Succession, Watchmen), and it comes across quite clearly in his writing. American Fiction isn’t overly cinematic, and it’s not a film you watch for that aspect. It is a very well-written satirical dramedy, and it hits U.S. theaters on November 3rd.
Despite a more low-key festival from a red-carpet point of view, the quality and variety of the films at the festival have never been stronger. The festival offered a lot of films that will certainly find their audiences and play very well come awards season. Keep on the lookout for the films mentioned in this article as they begin to hit theaters and streaming in the coming weeks and months.
Thank you for reading! What are you excited for from TIFF 2023? Comment down below!
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