Despite the challenges that come with putting on entertainment industry events amid dual Hollywood strikes, the recent Venice and Telluride film festivals premiered what will surely be some of the year’s most talked-about movies, including Bradley Cooper’s “Maestro,” Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla,” Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things,” Michael Mann’s “Ferrari,” Emerald Fennell’s “Saltburn” and Ava DuVernay’s “Origin.”
Which means this year’s Toronto International Film Festival — opening Thursday with the international premiere of “The Boy and the Heron,” the latest from master animator Hayao Miyazaki, and the world premiere of Larry Charles’ “Dicks: The Musical” — already has a lot to live up to.
TIFF is typically an extremely starry affair, with fans lining the streets outside theaters for a glimpse of their favorites as they walk the red carpet. Whether the 2023 edition will conjure the same energy with the walkouts of the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists is the biggest mystery hanging over this year’s festival.
Cameron Bailey, chief executive of TIFF, said in an interview last week that the relationship among the fall festivals is a healthy mix of competition and cooperation. The program at this year’s festival in particular is a latticework of world premieres, international premieres, North American premieres and Canadian premieres.
“It is something that is just part of the character of putting on a film festival in the same way that scoops are for people in the journalism trade,” Bailey said of the pressure to land high-profile world premieres. “It’s not the only thing that drives your work, but it’s a factor and it’s something that you keep in mind.”
“We are colleagues for the other festivals in the fall,” Bailey added. “We collaborate, but you also want to do the very best for your own festival, your own audience. ...
“No one festival is going to get all of the premieres, nor should they. I’m glad to see that there is enough strong work to go around.”
Justine Triet’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner, “Anatomy of a Fall,” will be at Toronto, as will Jonathan Glazer’s Cannes-premiering “The Zone of Interest” — both of which star German actor Sandra Hüller. Harmony Korine’s “Aggro Dr1ft,” which divided critics and audiences when it premiered at Venice, will play in TIFF’s Midnight Madness section. George C. Wolfe’s “Rustin” is already generating strong Oscar buzz for Colman Domingo’s lead performance. And DuVernay’s “Origin” was a last-minute addition to the TIFF lineup.
Among TIFF’s other world premieres, Canadian-born Elliot Page stars in and produces Dominic Savage’s “Close to You”; Page is also executive producer on D.W. Waterston’s “Backspot,” which stars “Reservation Dogs’” Devery Jacobs. There’s also Craig Gillespie’s “Dumb Money,” based on the story of the GameStop Wall Street scandal of 2021 and starring Paul Dano, Shailene Woodley, America Ferrara, Sebastian Stan and Pete Davidson.
The most anticipated event of this year’s festival, however, just may be the Monday night screening of Jonathan Demme’s 1983 Talking Heads concert film “Stop Making Sense.” A new 4K restoration will play in IMAX at the festival, followed by the four original members of the group — David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Tina Weynouth and Jerry Harrison — appearing together for the first time in more than 20 years for a Q&A moderated by Spike Lee.
“It was meant to be and was meant to be at our festival,” said Bailey, “and I cannot wait for that night.”
That’s far from everything, though. Below are the 10 titles that L.A. Times staffers who will be on the ground at Toronto are most excited about.
Spanish actor Jordi Mollà stars as a Floridian assassin named BO in the latest from Harmony Korine (“Spring Breakers,” “Trash Humpers”), which arrives in Toronto with a rush of curiosity. Filmed in infra-red night vision and, going off of the divisive Venice reviews, chasing a hallucinogenic vibe over narrative engagement, “Aggro Dr1ft” brings a sizzle of delicious chaos to this year’s Midnight Madness lineup even if the questions it raises are bigger than any one movie alone. Will Korine’s just-launched new new-media company EDGLRD crack open the next era of visual art-making in the time of AI? Where does rapper Travis Scott — for whom the director recently shot a segment of the dreamlike and experimentally abstract “Circus Maximus” — fit into the Korine Cinematic Universe, cast here in his first major film role? You never know how a Harmony Korine movie will alter the DNA of the cinema zeitgeist. That great unknown alone makes the provocation worth the hype. — Jen Yamato
‘All the Light We Cannot See’
Admittedly, I may wait until I return to the comfort of my own sofa to screen this adaptation of Anthony Doerr’s 2014 novel — after all, that’s what most viewers will be doing when the miniseries lands on Netflix in November. Don’t take that as a lack of enthusiasm on my part, though. Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning World War II novel, in which blind Marie-Laure and her doting father hide from the Gestapo in the beautiful seaside redoubt of St. Malo, has the same fanciful sweep that made Michael Ondaatje’s “The English Patient” so ripe for the Hollywood treatment, replete with scheming Nazis, kindly locksmiths, precocious orphans, reclusive veterans and a cursed diamond. Coupled with pedigree in front of and behind the camera — including cast members Mark Ruffalo and Hugh Laurie, writer Steven Knight and director Shawn Levy — and the streamer’s deep pockets, such source material has me hoping for an epic as captivating as Doerr’s original. And as easy to curl up under a blanket with when the leaves start to turn. — Matt Brennan
Since leaving Gawker in 2014, Cord Jefferson has notched writing credits on several of the most acclaimed TV series of the last decade, including “Master of None,” “The Good Place,” “Succession” and “Watchmen” — the last of which won him and Damon Lindelof an Emmy in 2020. One can see how that meteoric rise from the digital journalism content mines into Hollywood’s rarefied air might have informed his debut feature, about a frustrated literature professor (Jeffrey Wright) whose new novel, full of Black stereotypes and written in a fit of pique, attracts attention from publishing houses and studios that his more serious work never did. Based on Percival Everett’s “Erasure,” and with echoes of Paul Beatty’s “The Sellout” and Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled,” the film has a potent legacy to live up to — but if it does, it’ll surely be one of the highlights of the fest. — Matt Brennan
As the follow-up to her breakthrough 2019 feature “The Farewell,” a stirring family drama rooted in cross-cultural confusion, writer-director Lulu Wang returns with a six-part limited series called “Expats.” An adaptation of Janice Y.K Lee’s 2016 novel “The Expatriates,” the series is set against the social and political tumult of 2014 Hong Kong, as a community of affluent Westerners finds their tight-knit community torn apart by a family tragedy. Seeing Wang bring her keen eye for cultural observation to the expanded canvas of a limited series is very promising, in particular with a cast that includes Nicole Kidman, Brian Tee, Sarayu Blue and Jack Huston. The festival is screening the series’ stand-alone, feature-length penultimate episode, about Filipina domestic workers in Hong Kong as a typhoon approaches the city. — Mark Olsen
‘His Three Daughters’
Anyone who has gone through the suspended time of having a loved one in hospice care, with its mix of jangled nerves, heavy emotions and excruciating tedium, will likely feel a sense of acknowledgment and perhaps triggered trauma from Azazel Jacobs’ “His Three Daughters.” Carrie Coon, Elizabeth Olsen and Natasha Lyonne play three sisters who find themselves cooped up together in their father’s small New York City apartment as he slowly goes through the final stages of life in the next room. From his early small-scale features to working in TV, Jacobs has matured into a fantastic director of actors in small spaces, finding ways to expand both the emotions and sense of place. With a trio of electrifying performers at its center, “His Three Daughters” should provide a bracing, moving portrait of family ties and the things that bind us closer. — Mark Olsen
Glen Powell stars in “Hit Man,” from director Richard Linklater. Need I say more? OK, how about this: Everyone’s favorite “Top Gun: Maverick” breakout pulls double duty in this true-crime comedy thriller: Not only does Powell play Gary Johnson, a mild-mannered police investigator who finds his calling posing undercover as a professional hit man; he also worked behind the scenes as co-screenwriter with Linklater, reuniting the pair after 2016’s “Everybody Wants Some!!” (“Hit Man” also marks its multi-hyphenate star’s feature producing debut.) Add a dash of Powell’s rom-com charisma in a crackling romance with Adria Arjona as his latest would-be client — the likes of which cinema has been thirsting for since 2018’s “Set It Up” — and you’ve got a TIFF must-see coming in hot off the raves it racked up at its Venice world premiere. —Jen Yamato
‘When Evil Lurks’
Argentine filmmaker Demián Rugna made waves with his 2017 supernatural chiller “Terrified,” considered one of the best horror entries of that year, in which paranormal bumps in the night take over a Buenos Aires neighborhood. The writer-director’s latest already has genre insiders calling it one of the scariest new horror films on the horizon. Ahead of an October theatrical run and Shudder streaming debut, the world premiere of “When Evil Lurks” will bring the Midnight Madness crowd to the edges of their seats with the tale of two brothers (Ezequiel Rodríguez and Demián Salomón) who accidentally unleash an epidemic of demonic possession into the countryside. TIFF’s legendarily zany midnight lineup is packed with a cornucopia of genre-traversing offerings, but “When Evil Lurks” promises to serve up the purest shocks and scares of them all. — Jen Yamato
‘Silver Dollar Road’ / ‘Stamped From the Beginning’
When it comes to list-making, there’s nothing I love more than bending the rules, so forgive me for squeezing an additional title in here. But my mind couldn’t help pair the documentaries “Stamped From the Beginning,” directed by Roger Ross Williams, and “Silver Dollar Road,” directed by Raoul Peck. Where the former, based on Ibram X. Kendi’s book of the same name, traces American racism back to its origins, the latter, following a Black family’s fight against North Carolina land developers, captures its application in the present. History and microhistory, theory and praxis: Consider “Stamped From the Beginning” and “Silver Dollar Road” an essential (if unintentional) double feature. — Matt Brennan
A 2000 film set inside a Swedish commune in 1975 is not the most obvious target for a sequel, but filmmaker Lukas Moodysson, one of the great humanists of contemporary international cinema, has always been full of surprises. While the lively commune of the original “Together” has withered away to just two residents, the old gang all returns — and Moodysson brings together nearly his entire original cast — for a birthday celebration in “Together 99.” Ten years on from “We Are The Best!,” his portrait of teenage punk rockers that has become an unlikely cult coming-of-age touchstone, Moodysson returns to feature filmmaking with the same sense of knowing humor and heartfelt warmth, this time for a story that focuses on how growing older doesn’t have to be a process of stasis and decline, but can instead be about perpetual growth, development and the renewal of inspiration. — Mark Olsen
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