A bombastic bawdy musical, a feel-good soccer-driven popcorn flick and what may be the last film from a revered Japanese auteur are among the cinematic highlights set for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
While ongoing Hollywood labour strikes have cast uncertainty over who will show up on the red carpet, the big screen is sure to feature plenty of star-packed ventures and intriguing flicks to choose from.
Here’s a look at 10 titles that have caught the attention of Canadian Press reporters who will be on the circuit Sept. 7 to 17.
“Aggro Dr1ft” — If the marketing gimmick of “shot entirely in infrared” fails to capture interest in the experimental film “Aggro Dr1ft,” the name Harmony Korine just might. Hardly satisfied with keeping things risk-free, the U.S. director behind limit-testing films such as “Kids,” “Gummo” and “Spring Breakers” has built a career out of being divisive, if not interesting. In what TIFF describes as a sensory experiment, “Aggro Dr1ft” follows an assassin named BO in the hunt for a demonic Floridian crime lord. It’s ideal Midnight Madness fare.
“The Boy and the Heron” — Despite his historical allergy to retirement, Hayao Miyazaki’s opening TIFF animated film “The Boy and the Heron” is what Studio Ghibli is hailing as the director’s last. In this coming-of-age story written by Miyazaki, a boy loses his mother during the Second World War and embarks on a journey into a magical world with a grey heron. With a sold-out North American TIFF premiere, it signals a crowd-drawing comeback to Miyazaki’s renowned legacy.
“Dicks: The Musical” — The bombastic trailer for this Midnight Madness opener explodes with unabashed queer jubilation as it introduces its heroes: a pair of (sort of) identical twins who meet as adults and plot to reunite their divorced parents. Deranged dance routines and salacious sing-alongs abound, with stars Aaron Jackson and Josh Sharp reprising the unhinged sibling characters born from their two-man stage show. “Borat” director Larry Charles helms a cast including Nathan Lane, Megan Mullally and Megan Thee Stallion, with narration by Bowen Yang as God, natch.
“Dream Scenario” — The offbeat premise of this A24 comedy seems tailor made for the broad range of Nicolas Cage, a TIFF favourite best known of late for a spotty but prolific spurt of B-fare. Cage stars as a hapless academic bewildered to learn he is appearing in strangers’ dreams – initially as banal backdrop, but increasingly as an aggressive night terror. Billed as a “satirical swipe at celebrity and groupthink,” this flick promises to spark circuit chatter and a new chapter of Cage’s career.
“Dumb Money” — In this financial bio-drama by “I, Tonya” director Craig Gillespie, Paul Dano stars as real-life analyst Keith Gill who turned a $53,000 investment into millions by promoting GameStop’s stock on social media and Reddit. As the story went, it ignited a grassroots investor revolution against hedge-fund control that would serve as a trending topic among chronically online traders for months. The film is part of a wave of GameStop-related projects that include TV series, documentaries and movies.
“Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-Believe” – Children’s TV staple Ernie Coombs gets the doc treatment in this portrait of a kindly American transplant who inspired multiple generations to imagine and dream. Canadian director Robert McCallum promises to explore well beyond Mr. Dressup’s famous “tickle trunk” of costumes and crafts, puppets and tales, by offering up archival interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and memories shared by famous fans including Michael J. Fox, Eric McCormack, Bif Naked, Fred Penner, Barenaked Ladies, Graham Greene and Scott Thompson.
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“Next Goal Wins” — Nothing wins over TIFF audiences quite like feel-good comedies and underdog stories and director Taika Waititi’s latest effort counts as both, potentially making it one of the fest’s standout movies. Four years after Waititi picked up the People’s Choice Award for “Jojo Rabbit,” he returns with a sports comedy starring Michael Fassbender as a Dutch-American football (ahem, soccer) manager who lands in American Samoa to lead a losing local team in a qualifying run for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Think “Ted Lasso” with an Asia-Pacific spin.
“Quiz Lady” — Sandra Oh and Awkwafina play against type in this comedy about two sisters who have to pay off their mother’s gambling debts and recover a kidnapped pug, using a trivia show to drum up the cash. Awkwafina takes on the role of Anne, a quiet devotee of the TV game show, while a purple-haired Oh plays her chaotic sister. The film comes from Jessica Yu, who co-wrote and directed 2007’s “Ping Pong Playa.”
“Woman of the Hour” — Anna Kendrick’s directorial debut takes a non-linear look at the true story of Rodney Alcala, a serial killer who made an infamous appearance on a dating game show in the 1970s. The film promises to examine how women interact with men to keep themselves safe. Kendrick also stars in the film alongside Daniel Zovatto, best known for playing a cult leader in HBO Max/Crave’s “Station Eleven.”
“Zone of Interest” — Since the release of the 2013 sci-fi horror flick “Under the Skin,” director Jonathan Glazer has treated audiences to just two short films: “Strasbourg 1518,” inspired by a case of dance mania in the 16th century, and the genuinely unsettling thriller “The Fall.” With his knack for the disturbing comes this left-field festival risk: a romance set against the backdrop of the Holocaust in which a Nazi officer falls for the commander’s wife at Auschwitz.
Honourable mentions go to: “Boy Kills World,” “Close To You,” “Knox Goes Away,” “Monster,” “Stop Making Sense” and “Wicked Little Letters.”
— By David Friend, Noel Ransome, Cassandra Szklarski and Nicole Thompson in Toronto
© 2023 The Canadian Press
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