TIFF Preview: 15 Films We Can’t Wait to See at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival
Sylvester Stallone appears as himself in 'Sly,' a documentary that chronicles his storied career. The film is making its world premiere at TIFF this year. Photo: Courtesy of TIFF
With striking Hollywood actors largely absent from red carpets at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, there has never been a better time to focus squarely on the films. That’s not a hardship given the literally hundreds of features, shorts and documentaries debuting in some capacity (globally, internationally, locally) from Sept. 7 through Sept. 17.
That kind of choice, of course, can be overwhelming. But there are many obvious standout films worth considering — and destined to dominate streaming services and cinematic release schedules in the months ahead. Within the context of a sprawling film festival like TIFF, it’s always worth taking a chance on a film that sounds interesting and may be outside of your usual viewing habits. Gems are there to be discovered. That said, read on for the list of films we’re already excited about at TIFF 2023.
See It for the Director
Ethan Hawke, 52, directs his daughter Maya Hawke in this biopic about American author Flannery O’Connor, which promises to be contemplative and thrilling all at once judging by the director’s past films — notably Blaze. The reliably great Laura Linney, 59, and Steve Zahn, 55, co-star here in one of several films at TIFF ’23 helmed by stars typically featured on-screen.
The Dead Don’t Hurt (Canada, Mexico, Denmark)
Is there anything 64-year-old Viggo Mortensen can’t do? His 2020 directorial debut, Falling, showed the actor was particularly adept at navigating around challenging characters. In his latest, billed as a “feminist western,” the Lord of the Rings star seeks redemption in corrupt 19th century Nevada. Vicky Krieps stars as a French-Canadian firecracker opposite her director.
North Star (U.K.)
For her directorial debut, Kristin Scott Thomas, 63, draws significantly from her own past to tell the story of three sisters and their twice-widowed mother — played, respectively, by Scarlett Johansson, Sienna Miller, Emily Beecham, and Thomas herself — coming to terms with both grief and the looming spectre of patriarchy.
Gonzo Girl (U.S.)
Also making her directorial debut, Patricia Arquette, 55, adapts Cheryl Della Pietra’s semi-autobiographical novel documenting her cuckoo term as Hunter S. Thompson’s personal assistant. Willem Dafoe, 68, plays the gonzo scribe.
Knox Goes Away (U.S.)
The great Michael Keaton, 71, directs and stars in this noirish crime caper about a hit man with onset dementia hoping to retire but pulled into one last job to save his son. Al Pacino, 83, co-stars, and Keaton nerds will note this is his second go ’round as director-star after 2008’s The Merry Gentleman.
See It for the Actors
The Holdovers (U.S.)
The king of the hangdog expression, Paul Giamatti, 56, re–teams with his Sideways director, Alexander Payne, 62, in this brash but sentimental comedy (bound for Netflix) about a ‘70s-era teacher marooned with a confrontational student at an elite boys’ school over the Christmas holidays.
Wicked Little Letters (U.K.)
Olivia Colman, 49, reunites with her brilliant The Lost Daughter co-star Jessie Buckley — a film that earned Oscar nominations for both women plus one for their writer-director Maggie Gyllenhaal — for this period piece about a small English community scandalized when scathing anonymous letters start turning up in people’s mailboxes. Timothy Spall, 66, co-stars.
Legendary tough guy Sylvester Stallone, 77, is expected to attend the Toronto world première of this probing documentary about his career helmed by Thom Zimny, familiar to Bruce Springsteen fans as the director behind Springsteen on Broadway and The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town.
Quiz Lady (U.S.)
Canada’s own Sandra Oh, 52, meets her electrifying match in Awkwafina, in director Jessica Yu’s screwball comedy about a pair of estranged sisters forced to pay off their mother’s gambling debts and who conspire to do it by cleaning up on a quiz show. The stellar supporting cast includes Jason Schwartzman, Will Ferrell, 56, and Holland Taylor, 80.
Powerhouses Annette Bening, 65, and Jodie Foster, 60, propel this hair-raising but inspiring true-life story of Diana Nyad who, at the age of 64 in 2013, became the first person to swim from Cuba to the U.S. without a shark cage. That the film comes from acclaimed documentarians Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin (Free Solo, The Rescue) ensures the visuals will be as gripping as the storyline.
Honourable Mentions: Mads Mikkelsen, 57, The Promised Land; Jamie Foxx, 55, and Tommy Lee Jones, 76, The Burial; Anthony Hopkins, 85, and Helena Bonham Carter, 57, One Life; Kate Winslet, 47, Lee; and Nicolas Cage, 59, Dream Scenario.
See It for a Glimpse Behind the Scenes
Mr. Rogers got the cinematic nod in 2019 with A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, so it’s only fitting that Canada’s own Ernie Coombs, a.k.a. Mr. Dressup — superstar to legions of CBC-watching children from the ’60s to the ’90s — also gets props in director Robert McCallum’s documentary, which features commentary from celebrity fans from Michael J. Fox to the Barenaked Ladies. And of course, Casey and Finnegan make an appearance.
Sorry/Not Sorry (U.S.)
The 2017 downfall of comedian Louis C.K., 55, amid sexual harassment allegations differed from others swept up in the #MeToo movement because he immediately owned them. And yet, less than a year after the revelations, the comedian was back on stage. Filmmakers Caroline Suh and Cara Mones examine what happened, and how.
The Pigeon Tunnel (U.K.)
Legendary documentarian Errol Morris, 75, trains his lens on equally legendary author John le Carré is this archival-rich documentary propelled by le Carré’s last interview before his death in 2020 at age 89. In addition to exploring the author’s life, Morris’ film also apparently covers his most famous works including The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. A must-see for fans of either artist.
Bye Bye Tiberias (France, Belgium, Qatar, Palestine)
Succession followers know 62-year-old Hiam Abbass’ Emmy-nominated screen work as Logan Roy’s shrewd, business-savvy second wife Marcia. What they may not know is that, at age 23, she made the difficult decision to uproot herself from her Palestinian village and large family to pursue an acting career in France. Here, she returns to her homeland with her younger of two daughters, filmmaker Lina Soualem, to explore “four generations of women and their shared legacy of separation.”
Songs of Earth (Norway)
Visually sumptuous and enormously contemplative, 53-year-old filmmaker Margreth Olin’s documentary shadows her 84-year-old father as he explores Norway’s snowy landscapes, glaciers and fjords, pondering our connections to nature and life itself. Wim Wenders and Liv Ullmann, who know a thing or two about exceptional films, serve as executive producers.
Honourable Mentions: Copa 71 (produced by Venus and Serena Williams); Silver Dollar Road (directed by I Am Not Your Negro’s Raoul Peck, 69); The Contestant; Stamped from the Beginning (inspired by American historian Ibram X. Kendi’s 2017 book and directed by 60-year-old Oscar-winner Roger Ross Williams); and Flipside (directed by This American Life contributor Chris Wilcha).