The Toronto International Film Festival has long marked the start of the fall movie season, the time when new releases finally start to transition from mass-appeal blockbusters to something a little more grown-up and suited for the Oscars. After two years limited by the pandemic, TIFF returned in 2022 to its robust, splashy self, loaded with gala premieres and more than 200 new features. Below are some of the best films my colleague Shirley Li and I saw in Toronto; almost all of our selections will be released in theaters or on streaming over the next few months.
— David Sims
Catherine Called Birdy (in select theaters September 23, streaming on Prime Video October 7)
Being a 14-year-old girl wrestling with hormones and hopeless crushes can, like, totally suck. This being the 13th century, poor Catherine, a.k.a. Birdy (played by Game of Thrones’s Bella Ramsey), has it worse than most puberty-plagued teens: Her father is keen to marry her off to the richest suitor possible so that the family can get out of debt, her best friend is blossoming into a real babe, and no one will tell her what a virgin is even after she gets her period for the first time. The writer-director Lena Dunham isn’t often associated with crowd-pleasing material, but her adaptation of the beloved YA novel is a supremely playful romp. Many of Birdy’s girlhood trials are rooted in a medieval context, but her naive yet naughty perspective of the world around her—a Birdy’s-eye view, if you will—feels delightfully modern. — Shirley Li
Bros (in theaters September 30)
This romantic comedy isn’t just the first from a major studio to center on a gay couple; it’s also the first to feature a main cast of out LGBTQ actors, as well as the first to feature an openly gay man (Billy Eichner) as a co-writer and star. So, yeah, the film carries the weight of some heavy expectations—and might even include some more firsts I’ve overlooked. Yet Bros is astonishingly light. Directed by Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), it’s smart without being preachy, sweet without being cloying. The movie pays homage to queer history while being self-aware enough to skewer its characters’ blind spots. Bros is clearly Eichner’s passion project, and he—along with an excellent Luke Macfarlane, who plays Eichner’s neurotic protagonist’s charming love interest—nails not just every rom-com beat, from meet-cute to make-up, but also every pop-culture zinger. At the very least, you’ll never see Debra Messing the same way again. — S.L.
Triangle of Sadness (in theaters October 7)
The winner of this year’s Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Triangle of Sadness is another brutal satire from the Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund, who has already produced bludgeoning, hilarious works about the family unit (the masterful Force Majeure) and the art world (The Square, which also won a Palme). Triangle of Sadness makes those movies look gentle and subtle. It’s set on a cruise ship populated by the extremely wealthy, with two beautiful influencers (played by Harris Dickinson and Charlbi Dean) along for the ride and a drunken captain (Woody Harrelson) brimming with disdain for his passengers. What begins as a comedy of manners turns into an ultra-gross farce after everyone on board eats some bad oysters. An improbable third-act twist takes things in even wilder directions, but Östlund’s rage against the current social order courses through it all. — D.S.
Decision to Leave (in select theaters October 14, streaming on MUBI)
The South Korean auteur Park Chan-Wook’s latest, about an insomniac detective (Park Hae-il) who falls for his primary suspect in a murder case (a magnetic Tang Wei), is a sublime love story, although it doesn’t start that way. The pleasure of watching Park’s works—including Oldboy and The Handmaiden—comes from the intricacy of his plots and the precision of his symbolism-laden filmmaking. Decision to Leave, which won him Best Director at Cannes, layers mysteries on top of more mysteries, each more absorbing than the last. The film, in which stakeouts are sexy and damning evidence can make you swoon, is about infidelity, moral duty, and obsession. It might also be, frame by frame, the best-looking movie of the year. — S.L.
The Good Nurse (in select theaters October 19, streaming on Netflix October 26)
Hollywood has no shortage of projects about real-life serial killers, but this slow-burn thriller is an unusual entry in the genre: It doesn’t include blood, despite being set largely at a hospital. The protagonist, played by Jessica Chastain, is not a member of law enforcement or an investigative journalist. And the serial killer in question, Charlie Cullen (Eddie Redmayne), doesn’t choose specific victims—nor does he seem to take any pleasure in their death. The director Tobias Lindholm holds the audience at arm’s length for much of the film, keeping the focus on Charlie’s deceptive kindness and casual cruelty rather than on his (or anyone else’s) deeper psyche. In doing so, Lindholm forces viewers to question their own instincts. That’s a cold-blooded storytelling tactic, but it turns out to be absolutely effective. — S.L.
The Banshees of Inisherin(in select theaters October 21)
Firmly evoking the early plays that put him on the literary map, The Banshees of Inisherin is Martin McDonagh’s first film set in Ireland. It’s a wry allegorical ballad of a friendship coming apart on a remote island during the country’s 1920s civil war, and as with all of McDonagh’s titles, the story is driven by its dialogue—sharply funny bits of conversation that belie unspoken tension. The drama of Inisherin is simply that one islander, Colm (Brendan Gleeson), has decided that he no longer wants to hang out with his former best friend, Pádraic (Colin Farrell). But as Pádraic desperately tries to figure out how he’s wronged his pal, things spiral into macabre territory, and McDonagh slowly tightens the claustrophobic atmosphere of small-town life, transforming relatable boredom into something more unsettling and threatening. Farrell and Gleeson, both of whom did career-best work in McDonagh’s debut film, In Bruges, are just as wonderful here, giving performances tinged with a bitterness that even their characters struggle to articulate. — D.S.
Wendell & Wild (in select theaters October 21, streaming on Netflix October 28)
Henry Selick is one of the most dynamic figures in the history of feature animation, having directed totemic movies such as The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach. He’s kept us waiting far too long for something new—his last film, the incredible fantasy adaptation Coraline, came out in 2009. Wendell & Wild, which will be released on Netflix in October, was worth the time and effort it took to produce. A dense stop-motion fairy tale brimming with ideas both whimsical and topical, Wendell & Wild follows a moody teenage orphan named Kat (voiced by Lyric Ross), who accidentally summons two mischievous demons named Wendell (Keegan-Michael Key) and Wild (Jordan Peele) and then uses them to help fight the prison-industrial complex. Summing up all of the movie’s grand storytelling ambitions is impossible, but it crams a ton of heady notions into an entertaining and family-friendly package. — D.S.
Holy Spider (in theaters October 28)
Holy Spider is a fascinating and frequently horrifying serial-killer yarn from Ali Abbasi (whose last film was the beguiling fantasy drama Border). Based on the real case of the so-called spider killer Saeed Hanaei, who murdered 16 women in the Iranian city of Mashhad in the early 2000s, Holy Spider follows the journalist Rahimi (Zar Amir Ebrahimi) as she urges the police to do something about the bodies piling up. She’s disheartened by their lack of interest, which, in the movie, stems from the fact that the victims are all sex workers. The other half of the film, which concentrates on the killer himself (played with aloof horror by Mehdi Bajestani), is unerringly grim, but the most captivating parts of Holy Spider are its illustrations of Iran’s opaque legal system and the strange religious factions that emerge to support the killer’s supposedly righteous, cleansing mission. — D.S.
The Menu (in theaters November 18)
There’s much to savor about the director Mark Mylod’s blackly comedic horror-mystery. The premise—a group of ridiculously wealthy guests visits a remote island to dine on the latest concoctions of an inscrutable celebrity chef, who has several tricks up his sleeve—is appetizing enough. But the main course has to be the performances: Ralph Fiennes is slickly menacing as the culinary mad scientist orchestrating the evening, and Anya Taylor-Joy matches him scene by scene as a customer who threatens to upend his plans. Bloody fun from the first minute, eating the rich—metaphorically or otherwise—has never looked so entertaining. — S.L.
The Inspection (in theaters November 18)
A startlingly funny fiction debut from the documentarian and photographer Elegance Bratton, The Inspection takes cues from the filmmaker’s tumultuous life and never gets too melodramatic or maudlin. Bratton says that he was kicked out of his house when he was a teen for being gay, and he was homeless for a decade before joining the Marines. In The Inspection, Bratton’s avatar, Ellis French (played by Jeremy Pope), works his way through a grueling boot camp run by the mercurial Sergeant Laws (Bokeem Woodbine). With grace and spiky humor, Bratton charts the difficulty of being gay in a military still enforcing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The Inspection succeeds because it never swerves toward unbelievable twists. It’s a slice-of-life dramedy set in very intense circumstances. — D.S.
The Fabelmans (in theaters November 23)
In many ways, this movie has been 75 years in the making. The Fabelmans is Steven Spielberg’s most autobiographical work yet, a chronicle of his childhood and adolescence as a cinema-obsessed kid in a Jewish family (given the fictional last name Fabelman) that moves from New Jersey to Arizona in the 1950s and ’60s. The emotional impact of his parents’ divorce pervades many of Spielberg’s films, but in The Fabelmans, he and his co-writer, Tony Kushner, mine specific, sometimes bittersweet memories as Spielberg charts the disintegrating partnership of his father (played by Paul Dano) and mother (Michelle Williams). Spielberg tells the entire saga from the perspective of his teenage self, so plenty of lighter nostalgia is mixed in with the family tension. Still, this is no treacly paean to movies and childhood; instead, the piece’s power is in its wrenching detail. — D.S.
The Swimmers (streaming on Netflix November 23)
Part family drama, part survival thriller, part immigration saga, and part sports epic, The Swimmers is at times overwhelmed by the need to be both inspiring and harrowing across its two and a half hours. But the film, based on the true story of Yusra and Sara Mardini, Syrian refugee sisters who fled to Germany and eventually made it to the 2016 Rio Olympics, is undeniably enthralling. Nathalie and Manal Issa, also real-life sisters, star as the Mardinis, buoying the film with a lived-in chemistry. The director Sally El Hosaini composes striking images that capture the reality of war when it’s become just another fact of life. As uneven as it may be, The Swimmers is also potent and moving—and worth every minute of its runtime. — S.L.
Women Talking (in theaters December 2)
The writer-director Sarah Polley’s first narrative film in more than a decade is a stupendous adaptation of Miriam Toews’s 2018 novel, which is itself based on a real-life case in Bolivia. A group of Mennonite women gather to discuss their options—leave, or stay and fight—after they are drugged and raped by the men in their isolated colony. They’ve been asked to forgive the perpetrators per the rules of their religion, but the women are divided. After all, is forced forgiveness true forgiveness? Is their faith’s pacifism worthwhile when violence has already been committed? Is it possible to envision a society, if they leave, that is free of evil? Women Talking is a finely acted endeavor, with a cast that includes Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, and Jessie Buckley, who help anchor a script filled with turbulent philosophical debate. The film is an uneasy watch—one that I couldn’t look away from. — S.L.
The Whale (in theaters December 9)
I’m not convinced that this story—about a man named Charlie who’s crushed by grief, and whose size has left him confined to his home and ashamed of his life—needed to be remade as a film a decade after its debut as an effective, simply staged play. I’m also not convinced that Darren Aronofsky was the right director; his uncompromising filmmaking style constantly threatens to turn a tender tale about finding empathy into a distasteful, near-masochistic parody of the material. But Brendan Fraser’s lead performance is, as many critics have noted, exceptional. The actor treats Charlie—someone who actively rejects care and therefore chooses to die—not as the thought experiment the script seems to want him to be but as someone who simply seeks to be honest, no matter the consequences. His work in the final five minutes left me speechless, sobbing before I even realized what was happening. — S.L.
Glass Onion (in theaters TBA, streaming on Netflix December 23)
The much-hyped, very expensive sequel to Rian Johnson’s whodunit hit Knives Out has a high entertainment bar to clear, but it does so splendidly, sending the erudite detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) to solve a murder on a private island teeming with the toxically rich. Where Knives Out is a warm, autumnal portrait of greedy old money gone to pot, Glass Onion is a brassy satire of crass nouveau wealth, spearing the garish tastes of tech celebs and Twitch streamers. Johnson perhaps wisely realizes that the best way to sequelize is to dial the mystery energy up as high as possible, wrapping plot inside plot (like, well, an onion) to keep the audience on its toes. The terrific results should guarantee Netflix a buzzy hit for its Christmas season this year. — D.S.
Corsage (in theaters December 23)
Those who have seen Phantom Thread know what a charismatic presence Vicky Krieps can be on screen. But even they might be surprised by the work the actor delivers as the Empress Elisabeth of Austria in this revisionist period piece from the writer-director Marie Kreutzer. The film is a mordant and sober look at how a public figure, celebrated for her beauty above all else, ages into a complicated woman trapped in a gilded cage. Krieps injects a knowingness into the royal, playing her as a rebel who is profoundly unhappy yet inherently mischievous. She chases every whim—pretending to faint at an official engagement, flirting with having extramarital affairs—even as these acts threaten her reputation. Kreutzer may be taking creative liberties with the past, but Krieps is the one who truly liberates the empress from her story. — S.L.
Brontë purists, look away. The writer-director Frances O’Connor has, with this reimagining of Emily Brontë’s short life, invented a bodice-ripping, opium-filled coming-of-age saga that captures the author’s spirit, if not her biographical truth. No, Emily (played by Sex Education’s Emma Mackey) probably never, um, serviced a hunky clergyman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) after French lessons, but Wuthering Heights is, after all, a dangerous text of moral complexity. Emily, with its shots of breathtaking vistas and scenes that hint at supernatural forces, matches that book’s haunted air. The film bursts with an imagination as unconventional as the author herself. — S.L.
One Fine Morning (TBA)
The French auteur Mia Hansen-Løve has long excelled at crafting works of delicate observation, sometimes drawing inspiration from her own life. One Fine Morning is one of her most personal projects yet, partially inspired by her experience caring for her ailing father after he was diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease. Léa Seydoux gives her best performance yet as Sandra, a translator trying to assist her father, Georg (Pascal Greggory), while also embarking on a relationship with a married chemist named Clément (Melvil Poupaud). Every development and emotion feels earned. Though the script is obviously infused with sadness, the viewing experience is never miserable, thanks to all the happier human connections Hansen-Løve builds around Sandra and her father. — D.S.
All the Beauty and the Bloodshed(TBA)
The winner of the Golden Lion at this year’s Venice Film Festival, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is an impressive offering from the documentarian Laura Poitras, who took home an Oscar for 2014’s Citizenfour. The film beautifully weaves together two biographical threads about the artist and photographer Nan Goldin, one taking in the entire sweep of her life, the other concentrating on her recent, successful campaign against the Sackler family—an effort to hold them accountable for their company Purdue Pharma’s part in the opioid epidemic. Poitras’s approach evokes the “slideshow” presentation that’s such a crucial part of Goldin’s artistic process, flicking through memories tender and harsh as she illustrates the passion behind her activism. — D.S.
The Eternal Daughter (release date TBA)
After the two-part seriesThe Souvenir, which liberally dramatized the British director Joanna Hogg’s development as an artist in her 20s, the filmmaker has turned to more recent autofictional territory with this lovely, eerie movie. Tilda Swinton plays both a middle-aged woman (loosely based on Hogg) and her mother as the pair stays in a countryside estate hotel that’s haunted by family history. The Eternal Daughter binds a gentle ghost story with thoughtful domestic tensions to magnificent effect, turning the hotel into a groaning chamber of regrets and reminiscence. What could have felt like a small-scale experiment is one of Hogg’s richest and most expansive texts—it’s the best thing I saw at the festival. — D.S.