We’ve reached that part of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) where we start to question our own humanity. Sleep deprived, overworked and starving for something that isn’t popcorn or ill advised hot dogs. The temperature of the Festival has changed as well. By day 8, most of the premieres are over and done with and most of the press and public have gone home.
The theaters are noticeably quieter, the streets aren’t buzzing with anticipation, and the alluring nature of being surrounded by movie goers has transformed into a collection of holdovers still trucking along to get in a few more films. That’s us, and while we’re not sure we’re gonna make it through to the end, we’ve got a new round up of films we’ve seen to put on your radar!
Welcome back to cinema, Alexander Payne. “The Holdovers” overcomes its extended runtime and slow pacing with sharp hilarity and charming characters that feel impossible not to root for. Paul Giamatti has never been better, and the lead trio deliver emotionally layered and nuanced performance that beg emotional investment. Payne has made something special for the lonely and the broken, and the characters are so personal and resonate through their self discovery and togetherness. The collection of misfit toys wandering the halls of their island create unbreakable bonds that transcend their formulaic outline, and really drive home the themes of broken people finding themselves together. “The Holdovers” is the feel good movie of the year, one that will surely win over audiences and harken them back to that 70s style cinema.
We are not above a good old fashioned, feel good courtroom comedy. Sure, “The Burial” by critical standards isn’t good, and commits all of the mistakes and tropes an uninventive film like this could make. The stuffy film critic in us wanted to scoff as this streaming fodder, but we’re happy to say that we shut that old man up and determined “The Burial” is a freakin’ blast. It’s formulaic, predictable, adds nothing new to the courtroom comedy and has some genuine script issues. But none of that matters because “The Burial” is simple so damn entertaining and packed with rousing moments of cheers and feel good victories for the little guy, unearned or not. Jamie Foxx and Tommy Lee Jones are terrific together, and this will certainly play really well on streaming next month. Also, it’s worth the price of admission to watch Jones sing “Feels Good” by Toni! Tony! Tone!. This is the definition of a genuine crowd pleaser.
Though it sports some sharp production design and a few entertaining moments from its leads, “Pain Hustlers” is a muted version of other films that explore wealth and excess and the rise and fall of the quick buck. A lackluster attempt at being a critique of capitalism and American healthcare (particularly the opioid crisis) at its core, it sadly wears its inspiration on its sleeve instead of trying to do something unique in the genre. “Pain Hustlers” seems more interested in trying to be like everything else as opposed to actually digging into the subject matter beyond it’s surface level exploration. Both Emily Blunt and Chris Evans do fine, but seem miscast together even if they can do fine apart. And neither are capable of maintaining their accents, starting out as mild attempts to pretend their from the East Coast and then just abandoning them entirely at will. “Pain Hustlers” is diet “Wolf of Wall Street” with an occasional sugar free “The Big Short,” and an example that David Yates, Blunt and Evans are all better in other things. This is another filler film, one that you half watch on Netflix while you scroll on your phone.
“The End We Start From”
We weren’t really sure what to expect from “The End We Start From,” but Jodie Colmer is enough to get us on board. A patient and measured portrait of tragedy and survival, and a look at who we become when we have something to live for. “The End We Start From” is a beautifully crafted dystopia that frames desolate landscapes in a way that feels grounded and the same yet forever changed by events. Colmer is divine, and shoulders the whole of the emotional weight of the films themes with poise and mastery. How this woman is not in every single best actress race is beyond me, and it’s high time we give this woman her flowers. “The End We Start From” is is incredibly slow, meant to be an introspective character study than a rousing fight for life in the post apocalypse. If that’s not your speed then you’ll be a little disappointed or interested in the story it’s telling, but it ended with a resonate hopefulness that feels satisfying.
“The Royal Hotel “
“The Royal Hotel” is a wholly unsettling atmosphere makes this exploration of gender dynamics and misogyny a solid step up for Kitty Green. Her direction quickly sets the tone and turns the heat on at a simmer, then slowly begins to turn it up to an outright boil. The tension Green creates is powered further by terrific performances from Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick, that help to make “The Royal Hotel” a gripping, haunting endeavor that will leave you holding your breath in sheer anticipation. Where it falters is how well it uses these elements to complete the journey. The conclusion feels lacking and unsatisfying especially considering everything great leading up to something that should feel much bigger and much more explosive than what we’re ultimately left with. “The Royal Hotel” is a riveting journey to nowhere, and sadly doesn’t quite stick the landing even with will all the right pieces in play.
And to think we were going to skip “Fair Play” at TIFF. One of the sexiest thrillers of the year that revels in its heightened tension and unraveling as it takes a sledgehammer to the fragility of male egos. Phoebe Dynevor is magnetic, giving one of the finest performances of the year and instantly on my one to watch radar now. Chloe Domont is so confident in her direction and turns the world of finance from mundane and difficult to understand numbers and figures into a riveting, edge of your seat drama/thriller. “Fair Play” is perhaps one of the sharpest scripts of 2023, and a prime example of how important good writing is to bringing vision to life. One of the best comeuppance endings of the year, with a last line so delectable it’ll leave your mouth agape when it fades to black. Netflix seems hellbent on scooping up as many festival hits as possible, and “Fair Play” will make a fine addition to their catalog. We would say to see it in theaters if given the chance, because it is certainly fitting for a big screen.
“Flora and Son“
With “Flora and Son,” John Carney once again delivers a sweet and endearing story with the heart of music at its core. He continues to tap into the beauty of how affecting music can be, and how often it binds us through any and all relationships we have throughout our lives. It is almost impossible to not be emotionally invested in the characters and the music they create, and how much passion and self discovery through the right chords tug at the heartstrings. Eve Hewston is terrific, and shares great chemistry with Joseph Gordon-Levitt even over laptop screens. “Flora and Son” is just a feel good triumph, one that will leave your heart singing. Is it Carney’s best film? No, probably not. That title still belongs to “Sing Street.” But is itstill wonderful and delightful and emotional and packed with memorable musical moments that make you want to sing on the way home? Absolutely.
A last minute addition to our schedule, we were surprised to here so many divisive reviews coming out of the premiere of “Rustin.” Much to our dismay, the middling reaction is more on par with the film that isn’t much more than the sum of its parts. “Rustin” is a pretty run of the mill biopic that can’t escape its stagey scripting and typical genre tropes. It would fare far better as a stage play in which we see King narrating the life of Rustin. “Rustin” really struggles to be a captivating, emotionally investing film, tackling topics and history that have been done better in previous attempts even if the perspective and highlighted person differs. However, Coleman Domingo as Rustin is transcendent, with a performance that outshines and outdoes nearly everything and everyone around him. He is totally and utterly transformative in his embodiment of this character, and ends up being the beacon of greatness and otherwise forgettable film needs. “Rustin” may not be good enough to thrive come awards season, but Domingo’s performance lives up to the hype.
One of our most anticipated films of the festival and one that we had written off as not being able to see. Alas, the film gods smiled on us, and we are proud to add “Hit Man” to our watchlist. “Hit Man” is an instant classic and Richard Linklater’s best film in years. A darkly funny, sexy, horny RomCom crime thriller with a Linklater twist, “Hit Man” also explores the concepts of role play and allowing experiences to transform us into someone different and hopefully better. Glenn Powell is a movie star, and we love when a director and project finally serves and showcases a performers immense talent. This film oozes sexual tension and appeal, with two of the hottest people you’ve ever seen with unmatched chemistry just passionately lust for each other even if it’s under false pretenses. There’s a scene between Powell and Arjona that is such a rousing, impeccable showcase of writing and performing in pitch perfect harmony it may be the best scene of the entire TIFF. You won’t find a hotter, funnier, smarter film this year, and “Hit Man” deserves a theatrical run so everyone can see this film. All pie is good pie, indeed.
“Stamped From the Beginning”
Another outing from Netflix, this is one of the few documentaries we put on our list. “Stamped From the Beginning” is a taut, thoughtful lesson in the myths of racism, and serves as a difficult but necessary documentary that continues to force discourse around race and the systemic racism in America and their origins. “Stamped from the Beginning” explores a more nuanced look at that history, opting to recontextualize the narrative of the myths we have subconsciously bought into through the voices of black people themselves. “Stamped from the Beginning” touches on everything from the vast slave trade beyond Africa, the founding of white vs black skin, and even touching on the White Savior/white hope trope that often shapes the small steps forward. It may not do enough to stand out among its peers, but it is powered by a stellar hip hop soundtrack and some visceral animated imagery that makes this one worth checking out when it hits streaming.
So there’s our third batch of films to put on your recommendation list! Many more to come, but we anted to give you ones that largely have distribution already so we know you’ll get a chance to check them out when they release!