It’s been a long, long journey of film these last 10 days. Averaging 4 to 5 films a day can take its toll on you, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to not having to sit in a theater for a little while and sleep in my own my bed for once. But the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) experience has been one of a kind, a sort of dream come true for myself as a film lover and film critic. Sure, living in a hotel room for almost two weeks and living off of coffee, popcorn, and pure adrenaline will certainly have long term effects on my mental health, but I was able to achieve what I set out to do: see a ton of movies! Though the slate of films doesn’t have the same alluring star power due to the strikes, and many of the general favorites were carry overs from Cannes and Venice, there were still a ton of great films that I enjoyed tremendously.
TIFF is typically an Oscar indicator, filling its lineup with a plethora of contenders and future nominees. This year however, I don’t know how well their curated slate will be as awards successful. Truthfully it felt more like a Netflix showcase than an actual demonstration of award worthy films. Without the stars to do press, streaming giants seemed to capture more and more spots each day. There’s certainly a larger discussion to be had here about the pros and cons of this and what the means for the festival landscape moving forward as well as the vast implications of the strikes and how they effected TIFF this year. But That’s another piece for another time. Instead, I want to highlight 10 films I absolutely loved, regardless of their distribution or awards chances. After 53 films, It was extremely difficult to whittle it down to 10, and even more difficult to actually rank them properly within that exclusive lineup. Instead, I’m going to list them in no particular order, and reserve the the right to change my mind on some of these after I’ve actually gotten some sleep and can think properly!
As a disclaimer, most if not all of these films have quick review in one of the many capsule review pieces in my live coverage. So I won’t be giving these full quick reviews again, as many of them can be found in other reviews and almost all of them will get a full review closer to their release date or in the near future.
So, in no particular order, let’s take a look at my 10 favorite films of TIFF!
“Dream Scenario “
When someone asks what an A24 film is, “Dream Scenario” is the perfect example. Weird, absurd, surrealist, and abstract starring Nic Cage is about as A24 as you can possibly get. You all know my stance on Cage, and “Dream Scenario” is exactly the kind of film he thrives in. The man delivers, and this strange yet hilarious film has not left my mind since I saw it. I am very excited for more people to check this one out! I loved “Dream Scenario” so much it may very will be a contender for my number one spot. That’s a knee jerk reaction and I’ll probably walk that back in the future, but it definitely ranks as a fav among favorites.
“How to Have Sex”
I can’t stress enough how much you need to get over the affronting title. “How to Have Sex” is visceral and important, one of the first films I saw at the festival and fell very little down my rankings the more films I saw. The staying power and vital discussion that “How to Have Sex” possesses is unmatched, and this one is another brain worm I simply can’t shake nor stop thinking about. I highly encourage you to get over the giggles of the title and engage with this film, because “How to Have Sex” may just be one of the most important and must watch films of the year. Yes, really.
This one is for me, folks. I am sucker for a well crafted two-hander; a film powered by a little more than a small setting and even smaller cast, and boy does “Daddio” deliver in spades. I get it, it’s a very talky film and that’s not always for everyone, but who it’s for it thrives, with Sean Penn and Dakota Johnson championing the heart and humor of an extended cab ride that transforms into deeply personal and sometimes controversial discussions and self discovery. Johnson thrives in these smaller festival roles, and brings a coyness but vulnerability to her role in “Daddio.” Penn too, who is often in front of the camera spouting off at the mouth with some ridiculous “what did Sean say NOW?” persona reminds us here that he is a terrific actor when he wants to be. Hall’s script and direction is so layered and assured, and “Daddio” starts off being somewhat slow and confusing as to where this is all going, but arrives at a pay off that is completely worth the cab fare.
A Sundance darling making a last stop at TIFF before hitting Netflix next month, “Fair Play” completely lives up to its hype. It is every bit as riveting as they say, and I can’t believe I was going to skip this one. “Fair Play” will probably do fine on streaming, but honestly deserves a big crowd in a big giant theater. The drama and thriller aspect of a couple torn apart by success and fragile male egos works best when it’s experienced with other people and the sexiness looms large over its audience. “Fair Play” is one to start putting on your watchlist now. “Fair Play” solidified a single truth: it’s time to stop holding “Solo” against Alden Ehrenreich. Though it’s Phoebe Dynevor who steals the show, the film doesn’t work without either one of them. And I find myself looking at Ehrenreich like Thanos; perhaps I judged you too harshly.
Talk about a surprise out of nowhere. I went into “American Fiction” expecting a quiet drama that was going to put me to sleep on a day when sleep totaled about 3 and half hours. Instead, I was ignited by a biting, witty, laugh out loud satire with a cast at the top of their game. “American Fiction” is a film I need to see again because I know I missed a ton of lines laughing so much. Jefferey Wright has never been better, and along with a star studded cast all at the top of their game, Cord Jefferson’s adapted screenplay is unrelenting in its humor and critique of American culture through a literary lens. Don’t sleep on “American Fiction.”
I cannot believe that “Hit Man” doesn’t have distribution yet. A film I almost gave up on seeing but managed to score tickets at the last minute, “Hit Man” is the sexiest, horniest film you’ll see all year. It’s a terrific crime comedy, one that has the potential to launch Glen Powell into superstardom. Powell has been on the cusp, sure. But “Hit Man” is a showcase of charm and talent combined with oozing sex appeal matched by equally (if not more so) by Adria Arjona who is so good in this I’ve forgiven her for “Morbius.” This one may not come to your screen until next year, but I’m telling to flag “Hit Man” now and add it to your 2024 must watch list.
“His Three Daughters”
Another small film with a mighty cast and devastating emotion, “His Three Daughters” absolutely wrecked me. Would it do better as a stage play given the vast amount of monologues and stagey dialogue? Sure. But thanks to Elizabeth Olsen, Carrie Coon, and Natasha Lyonne, “His Three Daughters” overcomes any misgivings and will leave you emotionally ripped apart but still hopeful but the time they’re done chewing through scenery. This one hits harder for anyone dealing with grief, but is also a touching portrait of processing and rekindling lost relationships. “His Three Daughters” reminds us that no one hurts or loves quite like family.
“Anatomy of a Fall”
This is as good as courtroom dramas get. “Anatomy of a Fall” has such a smart, well constructed script and a knockout performance by Sandra Hueller that it stands out among its peers even if it operates well within the same genre tropes. What makes “Anatomy of a Fall” stand out is that it is about a broken marriage falling apart and only uses the courtroom as a way to examine that. What happened ends up not being the focus, and “Anatomy of a Fall” makes the audience a part of the jury to decide for themselves. The ambiguity may be upsetting for some, but for me that provides a unique experience in the genre and elevates “Anatomy of a Fall” into an unforgettable watch. Look for this one to be a legitimate awards contender this year. Also, you will never ever listen to “P.I.M.P” by 50 Cent the same every again.
A sure fire crowd pleasure and a perfect winter release, “The Holdovers” is a genuine feel good movie that harkens back to 70s cinema and delivers a sense of belonging for the outliers. I’ll be honest, I don’t know how long “The Holdovers” will stay in the top 10. Not that it isn’t great (it is), but because of all of them this one feels the most like a film that SHOULD be top 10 by default rather my actually instinct to place it there. Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely adored “The Holdovers” and I really hope people show up for it when it comes to theaters later this year. Paul Giamatti has never been better, and he’s worth the price of admission for sure.
“The Zone of Interest”
The most contentious film on the list and the one spot that is the most hotly contested, “The Zone Of Interest” is wholly unique. I am fascinated to see how it fares with general audiences, but it makes the list simply because I can’t compare it to anything else and I need to see it again. “The Zone of Interest” requires two viewings: one to know what “The Zone of Interest” is and another to know what “The Zone of Interest” means. It is by far the most unsettling film of TIFF, one that utilizes sound in a way that left me legitimately shook. “The Zone of Interest” necessitates discussion, and for that alone deserves a spot high on the list of favorites.
So there you go! My 10 favorite films from TIFF. Close contenders include “The Promised Land,” “Wicked Little Letters,” “Fingernails,” “Woman of the Hour,” “Kill,” “Flora and Son,” “Sea Grass,” “Lost Ladies,” “The Teacher’s Lounge,” and “Backspot.” 50+ films is a lot to digest, and even harder to order properly. Who knows how much will change after some much needed rest.