TIFF 2022: a dozen film choices


Even in pre-pandemic times, it was impossible to use “normal” to describe anything happening at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The incredible buffet of cinematic offerings from around the world makes moviegoers want to indulge in excess, seeing as many movies as possible in a single day.

But tough choices must be made, especially with TIFF’s return to all-in-person screenings and a slate of films approaching the numbers of yesteryear: 203 features and 51 shorts from 63 countries.

And to help you with that task, here are, in alphabetical order, my top 12 picks of films to watch during the 11 days of the festival:

The Banshees of Inisherin

Who would have guessed that “ghost” was a thing in rural Ireland? That’s the theme of this latest film from writer/director Martin McDonagh (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), which brings together his “In Bruges” stars Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell for laughs and tears. It’s the story of a lifelong friend (Gleeson’s terse and secretive Colm) who abruptly dumps another (Farrell’s mystified and furious Pádraic. Sounds like a hoot but with McDonagh you know it’ll be okay further than that. Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan co-star.

Brother

Among the most anticipated world premieres of TIFF 2022 is this coming-of-age tale of two brothers, Toronto-based Clement Virgo’s first theatrical feature in 15 years (“Rude,” “Book of Negroes”). Based on the award-winning novel by David Chariandy and set evocatively in 1990s Scarborough, it stars Lamar Johnson (“The Hate U Give”) and Aaron Pierre (“The Underground Railroad”). Advanced word — and a top ranking in Star’s Chasing the Buzz poll — suggests this might be Virgo’s best work yet.

Decision to leave

Park Chan-Wook’s masterful neo-noir, Best Director winner at Cannes, places an obsessed cop and a suspicious widow between sleep and awake. Park Hae-Il’s cop is an insomniac detective who isn’t easily fooled, except perhaps in matters of the heart. The widow, played by Tang Wei (“Lust, Caution”), seems overly optimistic about the death of her mountaineer husband. I felt chills from “Vertigo” and “In the Mood for Love” plus an intense desire to see it again. Park encourages close inspection, with clues to plot twists.

Empire of Light

Roger Deakins’ radiant cinematography sparkles in the trailer for this aptly named drama directed and written by Sam Mendes (his first solo screenplay). Set in an English seaside town in the 1980s, it’s a meditation on the power of cinema and also a powerful (and racially charged) love story between the characters played by Olivia Colman and Micheal Ward, colleagues in a theater movies. Co-stars include Colin Firth and Toby Jones. With programming like this and its theme of cinephilia, this “Empire” could conquer the next Oscars.

HEY

Simply the saddest donkey since Bourriquet, friend of Winnie the Pooh, whose name is mentioned in the title. All this bundle of gray fur and unblinking brown eyes wants to do is live and perform at the circus with his devoted caregiver, Kasandra (Sandra Drzymalska). The universe conspires against EO, setting him on a journey through the Polish and Italian countryside where he will experience the best and worst of human behavior. The Polish master Jerzy Skolimowski staged this Cannes Jury Prize, a touching ode to empathy and nature.

The Fabelmans

Childhood dreams and aspirations are staples of Steven Spielberg’s cinema. Even more so in this drama based largely on his own childhood and family life, as a movie-mad kid growing up in post-war Arizona. Gabriel LaBelle (“The Predator”) plays young Sammy Fabelman (aka Spielberg) and Michelle Williams and Paul Dano play his parents; co-stars include Seth Rogen, Julia Butters and Judd Hirsch. It sounds like a trip inside the mind of the man who created “Jaws” and “ET” and I totally agree.

good night Oppy

It’s catnip for a space freak like me, and I suspect more than a few other TIFF enthusiasts. This documentary by Ryan White (“Ask Dr. Ruth”) shines the long-range spotlight on NASA’s robot rover Opportunity, which has been prowling the dunes of Mars for 15 years. Designed to survive just 90 days, it exceeded all expectations. The high-fidelity doc promises to show the Red Planet like we’ve never seen it before while introducing members of Oppy’s “family”, the scientist introduces the scientists who guide it 34 million miles away.

Living

This Oliver Hermanus remake of Akira Kurosawa’s classic “Ikiru” is set in the cold, gray England of 1953. Bill Nighy plays a buttoned-up bureaucrat, nicknamed “Mr. Zombie” for his solemn sleepwalking, who seeks serenity while as he faces his final days on Earth.Set in the grand lore of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Carol,” Nighy’s character Williams opts for a “yes” over a “no.” as darkness approaches The beautiful ending in both form and spirit makes “Living” a film for all seasons.

Lunar Reverie

Brett Morgen’s David Bowie documentary is cinematic jazz: part mad idolatry, part surreal scrapbook, all David, voiced by him. It’s a joy to see all aspects of Bowie’s art celebrated and to share his wild embrace of existence. The Bowie Estate has granted Morgen access to over five million pieces of the artist’s material, including previously unreleased music, paintings and concert films. It sometimes seems like he put them all in this movie, which is a lot to take in, even for die-hard Bowie fans. All the more reason to plan on seeing this on the Cinesphere IMAX screen.

Bizarre: the story of Al Yankovic

What’s not to love about an accordion maniac who cranks out pop hits with infectious parodies like “Like a Surgeon”, “My Bologna” and “Another One Rides the Bus” ? Even the rock stars we make fun of usually have the joke. Daniel Radcliffe plays “Weird Al” Yankovic in all his Hawaiian shirt glory, Rainn Wilson is his intense mentor, Dr. Demento and Evan Rachel Wood is an exuberant Madonna. The new trailer suggests it’s more of a mockumentary than a factual biopic, but that’s good.

The female king

Viola Davis stars as the leader of the Agojie, an all-female unit of fierce female warriors from the 1800s that protected the African kingdom of Dahomey. Gina Prince-Bythewood’s epic action drama, inspired by true events, looks like a real ratings exciter and potential awards contender. Oscar-winning Davis stars as General Nanisca, who is tirelessly dedicated to training recruits willing to risk body and soul in battle against an enemy who threatens their homeland and way of life. Co-stars include John Boyega and Lashana Lynch.

women who talk

A major “get” for TIFF is Sarah Polley’s first feature in a decade, which is expected to be an awards season contender. Filmed in Ontario at last year’s festival, it is based on a bestselling novel by fellow Canadian Miriam Toews. It is also based on the horrific true story of how Mennonite women in a Bolivian religious colony united against the men who drugged and raped them. Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Francis McDormand and Ben Whishaw co-star. It will be fascinating to see how Polley transforms the dialogue-heavy text into a screen story.

Short bonus: Palme d’or-winning hosts Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis (“Quand le jour se lève”) reunite for “The Flying Sailor,” the NFB’s weird but true story of a sailor who survived the explosion of the port of Halifax in 1917 despite blown kilometers of the construction site. Popeye has nothing against this guy.

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