EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, films like the ones screening at TIFF might not exist.
The 48th Toronto International Film Festival kicks off next week with a whopping 200+ movies offered over the eleven-day festival. Film Obsessive writers Tina Kakadelis and Isobel Grieve will be on the ground in Toronto reporting on the must-see movies of the fall.
Before the festival gets underway, here are some of the buzziest films that will be showing at TIFF 2023.
Dumb Money, the film adaptation of the GameStop stock surge of January 2021, will make its world premiere in Toronto. The movie is one of the more star-studded affairs of the festival, even though SAG-affiliated actors won’t be able to attend. America Ferrera (hot off the success of Barbie), Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, and Pete Davidson are just some of the well-known names in the film’s cast. Craig Gillespie, who was behind I, Tonya and Cruella, is in the director’s chair. An initial trailer has been released, and Dumb Money seems to fall in line thematically with Gillespie’s other fare. At the center is a David and Goliath fight between the regular people and large corporations.
Anatomy of a Fall
We’re entering a time of French dramas that solely exist within the confines of a courtroom. Last year, there was the incredible Saint Omer, and now there’s Anatomy of a Fall. The film premiered at Cannes in May, where it won the Palme d’Or and was one of the buzziest titles of the festival. At the center of the film is the death of a man (Samuel Theis) under mysterious circumstances. Authorities arrest his wife (Sanda Hüller), who is adamant that she’s innocent, but the only witness to the murder is the couple’s blind son (Milo Machado Graner). That synopsis alone creates a compelling drama to unfold in the claustrophobic confines of a courtroom, and it seems like one of the movies where the less you know going in, the better.
Woman of the Hour
Anna Kendrick makes her directorial debut with the world premiere of Woman of the Hour (originally titled The Dating Game). The film looks to capitalize on society’s true-crime obsession by telling the story of serial killer Rodney Alcala (played by Daniel Zovatto). In 1978, in the midst of the period he was committing murders, Rodney appeared on The Dating Game TV show. Kendrick also stars as Cheryl Bradshaw, one of the contestants on the show. The script for Woman of the Hour is written by Ian MacAllister McDonald and was found on The Blacklist. Originally, the film was a Chloe Okuno and Netflix production, but it was sold at Cannes in 2022, where Kendrick was signed on to direct.
The Boy and the Heron
TIFF’s opening-night film is Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron. Extraordinarily little is known about the film’s plot, and there hasn’t been many promotional stills or clips released to market the film. In a sense, Miyazaki’s name is a promotion in itself. Despite the fact that the film premiered in Japan in July, very little is known about the plot. The Boy and the Heron is believed to be Miyazaki’s twelfth and final film.
Another auteur, Wim Wenders, will have a film at this year’s TIFF. Perfect Days is a character study of a Japanese toilet cleaner named Hirayama (Kōji Yakusho). What begins as a look at Hirayama’s perfectly structured, uninvolved life unfolds into a deeper exploration of his past. While this synopsis might not sound like it’s describing the most riveting of films, the simplicity is winning over audiences and critics. Perfect Days premiered at Cannes, where it competed for the Palme d’Or, but ultimately lost to Anatomy of a Fall. Yakusho won the Best Actor Award at Cannes for his simple, earnest portrayal of a simple life.
South Korea’s entry to the 96th Academy Awards is Concrete Utopia, a disaster film set in an apartment complex. In most films, Concrete Utopia’s opening earthquake would be the finale, but Concrete Utopia is about the aftermath and the rebuilding of a society in the wake of a massive disaster. The only building left standing is the Hwang Gung apartment complex, which becomes a microcosm of societal norms. The comparisons to Bong Joon-ho are inevitable given the film’s themes and societal criticisms, but based on the movie’s success in South Korea, Um Tae-hwa’s new film will stand on its own.
All the Light We Cannot See
Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, All the Light We Cannot See, will receive miniseries treatment by director Shawn Levy for Netflix. The first two episodes of the highly-anticipated series will premiere at the festival. Mark Ruffalo, Hugh Laurie, and Louis Hofmann are familiar names, but the series looks to be a big breakout moment for Aria Mia Loberti, who plays the blind lead character, a young woman in hiding in Nazi-occupied France. She does nightly radio broadcasts that are overheard by a Nazi radio technician (Hofmann) who feels connected to the voice on the radio.
What would a film festival be without a heady, nonlinear, sci-fi flick starring two sought-after young actors? Enter The Beast starring George MacKay and Léa Seydoux and directed by Bertrand Bonello. The film is adapted from the Henry James novella The Beast in the Jungle about a man (MacKay) who believes his life’s purpose will be defined by some catastrophic event that has yet to happen. His path crosses that of a woman (Seydoux) many times throughout their lives. Bonello’s adaptation takes the classic novella to the near future where artificial intelligence is taking over daily life, while maintaining the original themes of existential dread, longing, and loneliness.
The Zone of Interest
Yet another award-winning film from this year’s Cannes, The Zone of Interest is loosely based on the 2014 novel of the same name by Martin Amis. The movie takes place in the shadow of Auschwitz during the final days of the Holocaust. Despite the close proximity to this place of abject horror, the film remains focused on the Auschwitz commandant (Christian Friedel) and his family (Sandra Hüller, also starring in Anatomy of a Fall) as they build an idyllic life just outside the prison’s walls. The film balances the ordinariness of everyday life with atrocities and brave acts of resistance. TIFF programmer Dorota Lech warns that The Zone of Interest “will stay with you for a lifetime, for better or for worse.”
Evil Does Not Exist
Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (Drive My Car) returns to TIFF with Evil Does Not Exist, a slow-burn ecological flick. While the title implies horror, the film belongs in the drama genre, following a single father and his daughter as they fight against a Tokyo corporation that wants to turn their idyllic forest land into a glamping site for tourists. Not much else is known, as Evil Does Not Exist will have its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival mere days before it plays at TIFF. Of course, given Hamaguchi’s showcasing of the internal lives of characters in Drive My Car, it’s easy to imagine that Evil Does Not Exist will have a lot to say.