TIFF 2023: The Preview

Ten movies I'm looking forward to at this year's Toronto International Film Festival.

TIFF 2023: The Preview

FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out – is the curse that accompanies every film festival. This year’s Toronto International Film Festival, 200+ titles strong, begins today and runs through Sept. 17, and already my planned screening schedule is full of conflicts and cross-outs. Can I catch the new Hamaguchi at another time if I go see the new Miyazaki instead? Should I watch the Big Pharma crime drama starring Emily Blunt and Chris Evans if it’s coming to Netflix in October? Am I chagrined that the wild new movie from Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Favourite”) that apparently vaults Emma Stone to the front of the Oscar race is only showing at the Venice Film Festival and not TIFF? You bet I am.

But you places your bets and you takes your chances, and Toronto is always a premier showcase whatever you see, whether it’s the season’s most overhyped awards bait or a tiny film from faraway that arrives seeking a distributor and leaves still seeking one. (At least you saw it, and it may drift like a phantom in your memory forever.) Toronto 2023 is going to be a strange one, because the red carpet will be barren of actors, who are striking in L.A. and N.Y. for a livable piece of the future. For some festivalgoers, that will be enough reason to stay home; for those of us who come to town not for parties, publicity tours, or photo ops, the movies will have to suffice. Anyway, a suspiciously high number of films directed by stars are in the TIFF mix this year, and as directors, they are under no proviso to stay away: Viggo Mortensen, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Michael Keaton, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Ethan Hawke will all be in Toronto with their respective films. So glitz there will be and perhaps some decent cinema. Here are ten films – and one ringer -- I’m juggling my schedule like crazy to catch.

“American Fiction” – It’s always good news when Jeffrey Wright (above) gets a lead role, and this adaptation of Percival Everett’s novel “Erasure,” about a respected author whose work is deemed “not Black enough” and who pens a pseudonymous novel of “da hood” in revenge, sounds like a witty satire of our cultural thirst for authenticity. Director Cord Jefferson makes his film debut after a solid TV directing career (“Watchmen,” “Succession,” etc.)

“The Boy and The Heron” – Is this the last feature film from Hayao Miyazaki (“Spirited Away,” “My Neighbor Totoro”)? The previous Miyazaki, “The Wind Rises” in 2013, was already supposed to be the last Miyazaki, but Japan’s master animator, now 82, is contradictory by temperament and has announced his retirement more times than we can remember. It’s all good as long as he keeps deciding to put his surreal dreamscapes onto film.

“Dream Scenario” – From writer-director Kristoffer Borgli and producer Ari Aster, a Charlie Kaufman-esque tale of a milquetoast professor (Nicolas Cage, above) who suddenly starts appearing in everyone’s nightly dreams. Julianne Nicholson, Michael Cera, and Dylan Baker co-star. In theaters Nov. 10.

“Evil Does Not Exist” – Japan’s Ryūsuke Hamaguchi owned 2021’s year-end lists with his heartsore double whammy of “Drive My Car” and “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy.” He’s pulled another two-fer this year, but only one of his new films will be at Toronto: An eco-fable about a corporation’s takeover of a pristine woodland that, typically for this director, becomes a more poetic meditation on human folly. (The other Hamaguchi, “Gift,” will debut at Film Fest Gent.)

“His Three Daughters” – It’s been a critic’s pleasure watching Azazel Jacobs develop his fluky, elliptical narrative style across two decades from “The GoodTimes Kid” (2005) through the great “Momma’s Man” (2008) to 2020’s “French Exit” with Michelle Pfeiffer. That last was an acquired taste (I quite liked it), but the new one sounds more universal, with Natasha Lyonne, Carrie Coon, and Elizabeth Olsen (above) as sisters who come together when their father’s health fades. A tribute perhaps to the filmmaker’s own father, experimental film legend Ken Jacobs? We’ll see.

“Hit Man” – A new Richard Linklater film is always cause for celebration in these parts, and the news that “Hit Man” stars Glen Powell (above), one of the best things in the director’s “Everybody Wants Some!!,” raises expectations even higher. It’s the true tale of a Houston college professor turned undercover cop who posed as a contract killer. Variety called it a “screwball underworld romantic philosophical thriller comedy noir,” which sounds about par for Linklater and right up my alley.

“Les Indésirables” – As writer-director of 2020’s “Les Miserables” and writer of 2022’s “Athena,” Ladj Ly has demonstrated a scorching working knowledge of France’s immigrant underclass – he makes urban dramas that are really war films. In his latest, an idealistic doctor and a Malian activist vie for political control of a working-class Paris suburb. Ly has a truly great movie in him, and this may be it.

“Silver Dollar Road” – The Haitian-born filmmaker Raoul Peck has made a documentary (1990) and a feature film (2020) on the life of Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba, the 2016 Best Documentary Oscar nominee “I Am Not Your Negro,” on the life of James Baldwin, and 2017’s “The Young Karl Marx,” about, um, the young Karl Marx. (He also served as Haiti’s Minister of Culture in the 1990s.) His new documentary “Silver Dollar Road” foregoes historical figures for a North Carolina family trying to save their land, Black-owned for generations, from developers. It’ll be in theaters Oct. 13, on Amazon Prime Oct. 20.

“Wicked Little Letters” – In 1920s small-town England, someone is writing obscene poison-pen letters to the locals, and the social paranoia is off the charts. Jessie Buckley and Olivia Colman (above) star, and that, my friends, is reason enough to watch any movie.

“Woman of the Hour” – Actress Anna Kendrick, one of this critic’s longtime favorites, directs her first feature film and it is, not surprisingly… odd. It’s the true story of Dating Game contestant and serial killer Rodney Alcala, with Daniel Zovatto as Alcala and Kendrick as Cheryl Bradshaw, the woman who won a date with him. There’s a fine line between camp comedy and suspense drama to be walked here, and it will be interesting to see if the director can finesse it.

“Stop Making Sense” – The Talking Heads documentary – the greatest concert movie ever? – turns 40 this year, and TIFF is showcasing a Monday Sept. 11 screening ahead of a scheduled theatrical re-release. Sadly, the late director Jonathan Demme won’t be there, but all four band members will be on stage for the first time in 20 years for a post-film Q&A. Given some of the … tart … things drummer Chris Frantz has had to say over the decades about lead singer David Byrne, it should be an interesting night.

Watch this space over the next week for festival reports from TIFF 2023.

Comments? Please don’t hesitate to weigh in. We love to hear your thoughts here at the Watch List.

If you enjoyed this edition of Ty Burr’s Watch List, feel free to pass it along to others.

If you’re not a paying subscriber and would like to sign up for additional postings and to join the discussions — or just help underwrite this enterprise, for which the author would be eternally grateful — here’s how.

You can give a paid Watch List gift subscription to your movie-mad friends —

Or refer friends to the Watch List and get credit for new subscribers. When you use the referral link below, or the “Share” button on any post, you'll:

  • Get a 1 month comp for 3 referrals
  • Get a 3 month comp for 5 referrals
  • Get a 6 month comp for 25 referrals. Simply send the link in a text, email, or share it on social media with friends.

There’s a leaderboard where you can track your shares. To learn more, check out Substack’s FAQ.