After two years of severely scaled-back, pandemic-era editions, the Toronto International Film Festival looks to make a full-throttle return this year. The festival – long known as a key platform for awards season titles as well as a launch pad for celeb-friendly commercial films in addition to more esoteric arthouse and international movies – runs Thursday through Sept. 18.
Expect a return to the kind of star-studded red carpets and postscreening Q&As that Toronto audiences clamor for. While a small selection of films will be available online for viewers in Canada, the emphasis is very much on the in-person event.
“I wouldn’t call it a rebuilding year because a rebuilding year is a year when you have no hope of winning the championship. So for us this is a comeback year,” said Cameron Bailey, CEO of TIFF. “In the sense that we wanted to come back strongly and we wanted to just remind our audience here in Toronto, and the people all over the world who would usually come to Toronto, that if they haven’t been able to come in the last two years, there’s a lot of great reasons to be here.”
Among the most notable world premieres at this year’s festival is Netflix’s sequel to the 2019 blockbuster “Knives Out,” “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” the fourth of writer-director Rian Johnson’s films to premiere at TIFF.
Two filmmakers coming to the festival for the first time are Steven Spielberg with his semiautobiographical “The Fabelmans,” which Universal will release in theaters this Thanksgiving, and Tyler Perry with the sweeping period tale “A Jazzman’s Blues,” from Netflix.
Musical superstar Taylor Swift will appear for a conversation along with a screening of “All Too Well: The Short Film,” which she directed to go with the 10-minute version her song “All Too Well,” on a newly struck 35mm film print. (The film reportedly has qualified for Oscar consideration in the live-action short film category.)
As festivals emerge from the pandemic era – or perhaps more accurately learn to exist during the ongoing pandemic era – there is still a healthy sense of competition among the top-rank events including Telluride, Venice, Cannes, New York and Sundance. Yet even as the festivals may fight for world premieres or be seen as the ideal venue to launch a certain film, they each maintain a unique identity.
“Each festival has its own kind of special sauce,” said Bailey. “And in Toronto, our audience has historically been that for us – their ability to find films that really break out and support them and be excited about them from their launches here. And so where filmmakers and companies want that, where they want that Toronto audience reaction, then that becomes a priority.”
Among the films screening at TIFF 2022 after premieres at earlier festivals are Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking,” Darren Aronofsky’s “The Whale,” Florian Zeller’s “The Son,” Sebastian Lelio’s “The Wonder,” Mia Hansen-Love’s “One Fine Morning,” Sam Mendes’ “Empire of Light,” Martin McDonough’s “The Banshees of Inisherin” and Rebecca Zlotowski’s “Other People’s Children.”
Below are the most notable world premieres from the TIFF program. Some we have seen already, and others we will be seated for when they’re unveiled.
“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery”: Among the most anticipated films of the festival is the follow-up to writer-director Rian Johnson’s surprise 2019 blockbuster, which finds Daniel Craig returning as detective Benoit Blanc, this time in the Mediterranean for a new case among the jet set. Seemingly rooted in the vibes of cult fave “The Last of Sheila,” the film’s fresh all-star ensemble includes Edward Norton, Janelle Monae, Kate Hudson, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr. and more.
“The Fabelmans”: Touted as Steven Spielberg’s most personal picture, it had better be: It’s based on his cinema-besotted youth and he co-wrote the script with frequent collaborator Tony Kushner. Relative unknown Gabriel LaBelle plays the Spielberg figure; he’s flanked by Paul Dano as his father, Seth Rogen as a surrogate uncle and Michelle Williams as his mother.
“The Woman King”: Director Gina Prince-Bythewood continues to refashion herself as a top-shelf action filmmaker after the success of “The Old Guard” with “The Woman King,” a fact-based story about the Agojie female fighters of the African kingdom of Dahomey. Viola Davis gives a performance of both physical and emotional power as leader of the warrior women, with a cast that includes Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim and John Boyega.
“Bros”: From director and co-writer Nicholas Stoller (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) and co-writer and star Billy Eichner comes a big-studio, big gay rom-com set in the queer community of New York City. The openly LGBTQ cast includes Luke Macfarlane, Guillermo Diaz, Miss Lawrence, Bowen Yang, Harvey Fierstein, Amanda Bearse, Eve Lindley and Jim Rash. Plus, one of the enduring figures of gay pop culture, Debra Messing, as herself.
“A Jazzman’s Blues”: Tyler Perry’s “A Jazzman’s Blues” is an ambitious, sweeping story set mostly in a small town in 1947 Georgia. A murder mystery, a forbidden romance and even musical numbers all come together to tell the tale of Bayou (Joshua Boone) and Leanne (Solea Pfeiffer) and the system that strives to keep these two young Black people apart.
“My Policeman”: A romantic drama that feels unexpectedly timely, “My Policeman” explores a love triangle and its aftermath across decades. Directed by Michael Grandage, the film is rooted in 1950s England, as Harry Styles plays a police officer who settles down with a schoolteacher (Emma Corrin) but finds himself drawn to a dashing museum curator (David Dawson) who befriends them both. As older adults (played by Linus Roache, Gina McKee and Rupert Everett) they are thrown together again many years after being torn apart by a deep betrayal.
“Causeway”: Jennifer Lawrence (also a producer for the first time) stars as an Afghanistan war veteran coping with deep physical and psychological damage inflicted by combat. Brian Tyree Henry co-stars as a New Orleans resident with his own baggage in the feature debut of noted theater director Lila Neugebauer.
“Devotion”: Yes, TIFF is presenting a 2022 U.S. Navy flyboy adventure with Glen Powell in IMAX … and it ain’t “Top Gun: Maverick.” Set during the Korean War, “Devotion” stars Jonathan Majors (the man who would be Kang in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) as Jesse Brown, the Navy’s first Black pilot (with Powell as his wingman), negotiating enemies foreign and domestic.
“The People’s Joker”: Three years after lauding Todd Phillips’ oh-so-serious “Joker” at its 2019 edition, TIFF welcomes a truly original, technically unauthorized riff on the DC Comics supervillain in the charmingly lo-fi and experimental “The People’s Joker.” Writer, director, editor and star Vera Drew carries the queer coming-of-age tale as the trans Joker the Harlequin, an aspiring comedian in a hyperactive, dystopian Gotham City ruled by a fascistic Caped Crusader. Her quest of becoming casts a withering side-eye at mainstream comedy while rediscovering something pure within pop myth-making itself.
“The Greatest Beer Run Ever”: Don’t be fooled by the title. Or the director. Or the star. This comic drama finds Peter Farrelly in “Green Book” mode, further distancing himself from the “Dumb and Dumber” comedies on which he made his name, with Zac Efron again proving his versatile talents in the true story of a gung-ho American who goes on a fool’s errand and learns what the Vietnam War is really all about.
“Weird: The Al Yankovic Story”: The story of musician “Weird Al” Yankovic co-written by the man himself, “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” looks to turn the conventions of the musical biopic on its head in much the same way that Yankovic’s uproarious song parodies created something outrageous and fresh from the familiar. Directed and co-written by Eric Appel, the film stars Daniel Radcliffe as Yankovic and Evan Rachel Wood as Madonna.
“The Menu”: The setup may not be the most appetizing: Food snobs gather for the haute-est of cuisine, only to be fed plates full of crow – or worse. What excites the palate is the bounty of gourmet ingredients: Writers from the Onion and “Succession”; director Mark Mylod (“Succession,” “Game of Thrones”); Ralph Fiennes as the chef; and guests including Nicholas Hoult, Janet McTeer, John Leguizamo and Anya Taylor-Joy.
“Catherine Called Birdy”: Having returned to feature films earlier this year with “Sharp Stick,” writer-director Lena Dunham now turns in an adaptation of Karen Cushman’s novel “Catherine Called Birdy” not entirely unlike if “Girls” were set in the Middle Ages. With a rebellious energy and comedy-of-manners plotting, a teenage girl (Bella Ramsey) does all she can to not be given away in marriage by her father (Andrew Scott) as she confronts the expectations of those around her and the kind of life she can be allowed for herself.
“Sick”: With savage precision and a dark sense of humor, director John Hyams (“Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning”) orchestrates a brutal Gen Z home-invasion slasher, in which two college students (Gideon Adlon and Beth Million) find their COVID quarantine at a remote lake house interrupted by a knife-wielding killer. Slick, taut and actually scary, this Midnight Madness entry written by Katelyn Crabb from a story by “Scream” scribe Kevin Williamson is sure to have audiences wincing in their seats as well as wrestling with the thorny implications of its early pandemic setting.
“Chevalier”: The first new feature from director Stephen Williams in some 27 years, “Chevalier” is from a screenplay by Stefani Robinson, noted for her dynamic television work on “Atlanta” and elsewhere, so this promises to be no conventional period costume tale. Inspired by a true story, Kelvin Harrison Jr. stars as a Black composer and violinist striving for acclaim in Paris at the time of Mozart.
“Sidney”: Directed by Reginald Hudlin and produced by Oprah Winfrey, “Sidney” explore the life and legacy of Sidney Poitier as both an artist and an activist, with words from the likes of Winfrey, Harry Belafonte, Spike Lee, Quincy Jones, Halle Berry, Barbra Streisand and Denzel Washington. Interview footage with Poitier himself, as well as his family, reminiscing about his life and career, gives the film an intimate feel.
“The Swimmers”: Selected as the festival’s opening-night film and directed by Sally El Hosaini, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jack Thorne, “Swimmers” is based on the true story of two sisters who leave their life in Syria for Europe in hopes of pursing their dreams of being Olympics swimmers.
“On the Come Up”: The directing debut of actor Sanaa Lathan, “On the Come Up” is set in the world of battle rap, where rappers go head-to-head in freestyle competitions. Bri (Jamila C. Gray) is the daughter of a local legend and feels the weight of her father’s legacy as she tries to establish a name for herself while navigating the tricky world of the music industry, including a manager named Supreme (Method Man) who may or may not have her best interests in mind. Lathan also appears as Bri’s mother, a recovering addict.
“The Grab”: The supplies of food and water on our planet have rapidly become a finite resource, and the race is on for who will control these precious resources moving into uncertain global realities. Filmmaker Gabriella Cowperthwaite, best known for “Blackfish,” turns in a documentary paced like a sleek, complex international thriller, where nothing less than the future of the world is at stake.
“The Blackening”: “Ride Along” and “Barbershop” helmer Tim Story takes a stab at horror in this cabin-in-the-woods comedy slasher based on the 3Peat Comedy sketch of the same name. Skewering genre tropes and racial stereotypes, an all-Black ensemble (including co-writer Dewayne Perkins, Antoinette Robinson, Sinqua Walls, Grace Byers, X Mayo, Melvin Gregg and Jermaine Fowler) plays old college friends forced to play a racist board game one fateful Juneteenth weekend, with deadly consequences.
“All Quiet on the Western Front”: Some works are so powerful and urgent they bear repeat interpretation; in the proper hands, Erich Maria Remarque’s classic antiwar novel is one. Directed by Edward Berger with a cast that includes Daniel Bruhl in a supporting role, this is the first German adaptation and was already selected as the country’s submission for the international feature Oscar.
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