TORONTO – Spread the maple syrup on the popcorn and pass the Tim Hortons: we’re back in Canada and seeing everything movies at Toronto International Film Festival.
After two pandemic-hit editions, the Toronto festival is once again an in-person event, having hosted six of the last seven Best Picture winners, most recently 2021’s “Nomadland.” This year’s lineup includes a new Steven Spielberg film (semi-autobiographical “Les Fabelman”), a new “Knives Out” mystery with Daniel Craigthe British ensemble drama ‘My Policeman’ – starring Harry Styles as a locked-down cop – and even a Biopic “Weird Al” Yankovic.
As before, we’ll update readers on the coolest stuff we’ll see at the festival (and ranked, of course):
7. “The Swimmers”
Emotionally satisfying if not completely coherent, director Sally El Hosaini’s real-life drama is a harrowing escapist thriller before transitioning into a more conventional underdog sports flick. In war-torn Syria, swimming sisters Yusra and Sara Mardini (Nathalie and Manal Issa) want to escape to Germany to fulfill Nathalie’s Olympic dreams and protect the family. Along with their cousin (Ahmed Malek), the refugee sisters navigate increasingly dangerous situations across various lands, even as hope comes with greater questions about their identity and place in the world.
6. ‘Susie Searches’
In director Sophie Kargman’s darkly comic mystery, Kiersey Clemons’ Susie is a shy, corset-faced college student with a choppy true-crime podcast that could use some serious signal boosting. When a socially influential classmate (Alex Wolff) goes missing, she investigates and finds him, giving Susie the hero worship she craves. This, however, is the start of a series of increasingly risky problems and obstacles that stand in his way. Clemons shines in every aspect of the Susie complex, from lovable goofiness to heartbreaking paranoia, in the meandering thriller.
5. “Triangle of Sadness”
Self-obsessed supermodels, Russian oligarchs, polite English arms manufacturers – everyone is sent into Ruben Östlund’s deliciously grotesque class satire. Beautiful couple Carl (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya (the late Charlbi Dean) are invited on a trip for the super-rich aboard a yacht helmed by a gonzo American and Marxist (Woody Harrelson). The ship hits an unruly storm – leading to the most obnoxious, vomit-soaked dinner you could imagine – then ridiculously sinks, although this is actually when the film really sets sail, turning the tables and showing who truly reigns.
4. “On the spot”
Sanaa Lathan’s directorial debut, based on Angie Thomas’ novel, is a young adult “8 Mile” with an excellent performance by Jamila Gray. In the fictional Garden Heights, Bri (Gray) is an aspiring 16-year-old musician and the daughter of a deceased hip-hop legend. She finds her voice by finding success in rap battles, with a knack for spitting bars at lyrical enemies. But while helping her mother (Lathan) pay the bills, she falls under the influence of her father’s former manager (Method Man). The stereotypical plot tries to juggle too many storylines, but Lathan’s assured direction allows Gray to shine in the film’s most exciting moments.
3. “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story”
You couldn’t dream of a more perfect Yankovic biopic: hilarious, ridiculous, and, in its crazy way, downright wholesome. With Daniel Radcliffe playing the accordion wonder as broadly as possible, the film traces his real-life rise (and absurdly fictional fall) from childhood to a guy who became famous for parodying other people’s songs. Weird Al’s favorite jams are here (some with bizarre origins) along with plenty of fun cameos. The film promotes a “be as weird as you want to be” message without being sickening, and to match Radcliffe’s over-the-top Al, Evan Rachel Wood is an ace as the delightfully sociopathic Madonna.
2. “The Black and the Blues of Louis Armstrong”
This essential documentary delves into the life and art of the jazz legend using Armstrong’s own words, via essays (spoken by rapper Nas) and home recordings, as well as musical, TV and film appearances. Director Sacha Jenkins reflects on his childhood in New Orleans and his involvement with gangsters, while fascinatingly discussing his political side. During the civil rights era, he was considered by black critics (including actor Ossie Davis) to be too submissive towards white people. And “Blues” reveals the truths he tended to keep more personal than public, even though he would put someone like President Dwight D. Eisenhower in their place, if he felt the need to.
The first gay rom-com from a major Hollywood studio is stellar, honing genre tropes in appealing ways, unleashing clever jokes on Broadway, Hallmark movies and country music, and proudly owning its very big heart. Nicholas Stoller’s best directorial work since ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ lets Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane dazzle as two opposite guys with commitment issues facing the mess of falling in love. It’s bold and fresh in its perspective (not to mention time-honored) and the cheerful maniacal Eichner also harnesses impressive drama in a cautionary tale about self-love no matter who you love.