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“Chasing the Buzz”🐝 2023: hive mind spills on the hottest TIFF films

Nicolas Cage stars in “Dream Scenario,” a horror comedy by Kristoffer Borgli world-premiering at TIFF 2023 about a man who suddenly finds himself appearing in the dreams of people around the world. The film ties with “The Royal Hotel” in the Star’s “Chasing the Buzz” poll for the movie that film buffs say they’re most looking forward to at the fest.

Peter Howell

Movie Critic

Films about terrors imagined and real top our annual “Chasing the Buzz” survey of what’s exciting cinéastes headed to the Toronto International Film Festival, running Thursday to Sept. 17.

Kristoffer Borgli’s “Dream Scenario,” a nightmarish comedy world premiering at TIFF, stars Nicolas Cage as an inadvertent global dream invader. Kitty Green’s “The Royal Hotel,” a thriller about young women facing threatening males in the Australian Outback, will have its Canadian premiere at the fest. Both films took a leading three votes from the 34 participants in the Toronto Star’s annual pre-TIFF poll of film critics, writers, programmers, scholars and regular movie lovers. Judging from their comments about these films and others, it’s clear they’re seeking cinematic jolts to the senses. Critic Matt Neglia said he’s expecting “anxiety-driven horror and dark comedy” from “Dream Scenario,” which opens the competitive Platform program at the fest. TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey said “The Royal Hotel,” starring Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick as travellers on a dangerous path, finds writer/director Green forcefully addressing gender dynamics, as she did with her #MeToo film “The Assistant.” “I love a movie that gets audiences talking and sparks a thousand different opinions. Kitty Green’s latest provocation is the one,” Bailey said. As usual, there were a crowd of votes right behind the leaders in our poll: a dozen pictures nabbed two votes apiece and 38 had single votes. A total of 51 films (and one TV series) rocked the hive this year, which we hope will assist you in selecting from the more than 200 features coming to TIFF ’23. Previous polls have given early alerts on such eventual Oscar and/or Canadian Screen Award winners as “Nomadland,” “The Shape of Water,” “Moonlight” and “Brother.” Our 34 panellists each named the TIFF-bound film that most excites them, with brief explanations why. They also each named a “wild card” film, no explanations given, to expand the selection and your minds. Now let’s get buzzing:


★ Dream Scenario (Kristoffer Borgli) — “Co-produced by Ari Aster and starring Nicolas Cage, Kristoffer Borgli’s new film sounds like it will mix anxiety-driven horror and dark comedy to create a buzzed-about experience at this year’s festival.” Matt Neglia, editor-in-chief, Next Best Picture (Wild card: “The End We Start From”)

— “Nicolas Cage plays a dyspeptic professor who inadvertently winds up in the dreams of every person in the world. It’s exactly the kind of oddball surrealism that suits Cage’s latest slew of gonzo roles as he transforms them into an art form of his own making, and it looks like a blast.” Eric Kohn, freelance critic (Wild card: “The Daughters of Fire”) The other vote for “Dream Scenario” is a wild card pick.

★ The Royal Hotel (Kitty Green) (All three votes for “The Royal Hotel” are wild card picks.) MOVIES WITH TWO VOTES 🐝🐝

★ Backspot (D.W. Waterson) “Head over heels to seeing ‘Backspot’! Can’t wait to see the relationships, the pain and the joy of this competitive sport told through a queer lens.” maxine bailey, executive director, Canadian Film Centre (Wild card: “Bria Mack Gets a Life”) (The other vote for “Backspot” is a wild card pick.)

★ The Boy and the Heron (Hayao Mayazaki) — “Toronto audiences will be the first outside of Japan to see this dazzling, hand-made masterpiece. It’s a reminder of the power of this art form we love.” Cameron Bailey, TIFF CEO (Wild card: “The Royal Hotel”)

— “Hayao Miyazaki: What more is there to say? The Japanese master has come out of retirement for one final movie and it’s premiering at TIFF.” Jordan Ruimy, critic, World of Reel (Wild card: “The Royal Hotel”)

★ Bria Mack Gets a Life (Sasha Leigh Henry, Kelly Fyffe-Marshall) — “Sasha Leigh Henry’s short film ‘Sinking Ship’ was an absolute delight. I cannot wait to see her bring that film’s mixture of humour and social commentary to ‘Bria Mack Gets a Life.’” Courtney Small, critic, Frameline (Wild card: “Kanaval”) (The other vote for “Bria Mack Gets a Life” is a wild card pick.)

★ The Contestant (Clair Titley) — “The most WTF documentary in the lineup, telling the history of a Japanese reality TV contestant who was isolated naked to a room for 15 months, not realizing it was all filmed for a weekly show.” Thom Powers, TIFF Docs programmer (Wild card: “In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon.”) (The other vote for “The Contestant” is a wild card pick.)

★ Fitting In (Molly McGlynn) — “Molly has an incredible ability to examine complicated and timely issues with sensitivity, nuance and awesome humour. From short films to digital series to features, it’s exciting watching her build an impressive body of work.” Ashleigh Rains, director, Canadian Film Fest (Wild card: “Fingernails”)

— “I’ve been waiting for Molly McGlynn’s sophomore film for six years. I’m hoping for the same balance of emotion and humour as her first feature.” Teri Hart, entertainment producer, Super Channel (Wild card: “Sing Sing”)

★ Perfect Days (Wim Wenders) — “This is a contemplative movie that examines the simple pleasures in life. Music, literature and nature are showcased, but this poetic, profound film celebrates finding contentment in all aspects of life.” Richard Crouse, host, “Pop Life” (Wild card: “Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-Believe”) (The other vote for “Perfect Days” is a wild card pick.)

★ Seven Veils (Atom Egoyan) — “Looking forward to Atom Egoyan’s always penetrating and dense psychological dissection of a director grappling with her demons as she mounts a production of an opera.” Piers Handling, former TIFF CEO (Wild card: “I Am Sirat”)

— “I’m anticipating this will be a true festival hit. Placing the production of the highly sexual biblical opera ‘Salome,’ which Egoyan has directed onstage, at the heart of a psychological thriller starring Amanda Seyfried is a stroke of brilliance.” Marc Glassman, critic, Classical 96.3 FM (Wild card: “Tautuktavuk (What We See)”)

★ Snow Leopard (Pema Tseden) “It’s the most respectable humanist Tibetan director Pema Tseden’s last film. He is dearly missed!” Alice Shih, critic, Fairchild Radio (Wild card: “Evil Does Not Exist”) (The other vote for “Snow Leopard” is a wild card pick.)

★ Woman of the Hour (Anna Kendrick) — “As a big fan of actor Anna Kendrick, I’m excited to see her vision from behind the camera. Plus, what a fascinating story to choose for your directorial debut: a serial killer on a dating show. And this actually happened? I’m all in.” Hillary Butler, critic, Live for Films (Wild Card: “Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person”)

— “I’m game for this: ’70s pop culture, game show kitsch and the most bizarre true-crime exploitation drama to arrive since the invention of the podcast. Add Anna Kendrick as director and star you got yourself a movie!” Thom Ernst, critic, and (Wild card: “Wildcat”)

★ I Am Sirat (Deepa Mehta, Sirat Taneja)

(Both votes for “I Am Sirat” are wild card picks.)

★ Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-Believe (Robert McCallum) (Both votes for “Mr. Dressup” are wild card picks.)

★ Sing Sing (Greg Kwedar) (Both votes for “Sing Sing” are wild card picks.)


★ The Holdovers (Alexander Payne) — “Hooray! The long awaited reunion of Paul Giamatti and director Alexander Payne (‘Sideways’). What the heck took so long? Might have to grab a glass of Cabernet for old time’s sake to watch this one. Cheers!” Bonnie Laufer, critic, Sirius XM “The Breakdown” (Wild card: “Quiz Lady”)

★ Flora and Son (John Carney) — “John Carney is a genius at storytelling with music at the core in what promises to be another hit from one of Ireland’s most treasured filmmakers.” Michèle Maheux, former TIFF executive director (Wild card: “Sing Sing”)

★ North Star (Kristin Scott Thomas) — “Directorial debut by powerhouse Kristin Scott Thomas. I am very much looking forward to seeing what Thomas creates with a phenomenal cast that includes Sienna Miller, Freida Pinto and Scarlett Johansson.” Jacqueline Valencia, critic, Critical Focus (Wild card: “He Thought He Died”)

★ Last Summer (Catherine Breillat) — “Catherine Breillat, a fearless and subversive writer/director, explores power, desire and consent, adapting the story of an ambitious, passionate and skillful woman who wants it all —including control.” Greg Cruse, cinephile and TIFF-goer since 1992 (Wild card: “Sira”)

★ The Movie Teller (Lone Scherfig) — “Lone Scherfig is a master at capturing the painful, sometimes comic tensions between innocence and experience (see ‘Italian for Beginners’ and ‘An Education’). This film, about a young woman who retells movies to her fellow villagers who can’t afford to go, sounds like it’s totally in her wheelhouse.” Steve Gravestock, former TIFF programmer (Wild card: “I Am Sirat”)

★ Next Goal Wins (Taika Waititi) — “Taika Waititi films have a way of finding profundity in the absurd. His heartfelt and hilarious look at the world’s worst soccer team is guaranteed to be one of TIFF ’23’s most charming feel-good films.” Victor Stiff, senior critic, That Shelf (Wild card: “Frybread Face and Me”)

★ Aggro Dr1ft (Harmony Korine) — “Some might consider Harmony Korine a polarizing filmmaker, but if you’re willing to give his infrared-filmed story about a haunted assassin a go, ‘Aggro Dr1ft’ is sure to be unlike anything else you’ll see at the festival.” Matt Rorabeck, critic and co-host, “Untitled Movie Podcast” (Wild card: “Poolman”)

★ Dumb Money (Craig Gillespie) — “Comedy based on the unbelievable GameStop-Gate stock market punk, from the director of ‘I, Tonya’ and starring Paul Dano (atop a strong comedic cast), who has barely hinted at all he can deliver onscreen. Shades of ‘The Big Short.’ They do this right and it’s a People’s Choice winner.” Jim Slotek, critic and editor, Original-Cin (Wild card: “Dream Scenario”)

★ Menus-Plaisirs Les Troisgros (Frederick Wiseman) — “Catch me at this four-hour documentary by Frederick Wiseman, which will provide foodies with a presumably leisurely paced experience following the anxiety-inducing feat of TV’s ‘The Bear.’” Jerry Nadarajah, movie lover (Wild card: “Gonzo Girl”)

★ The Zone of Interest (Jonathan Glazer) — “The banality of evil in the hands of Jonathan Glazer won’t necessarily be an easy watch, but I wouldn’t miss one of his movies.” Karen Gordon, critic, Original-Cin (Wild card: “Perfect Days”)

★ Wicked Little Letters (Thea Sharrock) — “Funny, smart, psychologically intricate and based on a true story, it’s Olivia Colman and Jesse Buckley at the top of their game, not to be missed.” Jane Schoettle, TIFF lead programmer, Special Presentations (Wild card: “Snow Leopard”)

★ American Fiction (Cord Jefferson)

—“Jeffrey Wright’s consistent brilliance makes this a no-brainer. He’s a professor of literature dismayed by students’ ‘sensitivities’; his novels are deemed ‘not Black enough.’ An act of defiance is a hit, but at what price?” Anne Brodie, critic, What She Said (Wild card: “The Royal Hotel”)

★ Lee (Ellen Kuras) — “It’s about time someone told the story of model-turned-WWII photojournalist Lee Miller and how by refusing to be remembered as just an artist’s muse, she changed war photography forever. We’re lucky Kate Winslet is the one sinking her teeth into this role.” Rachel West, senior critic, That Shelf (Wild card: “The Promised Land”)

★ The New Boy (Warwick Thornton) — “Cate Blanchett’s work of the last few years brilliantly confronts contemporary tensions, so this story of a nun and a spiritually gifted Indigenous child is a high contender for me.” Sherry Coman, critic, Journal of Religion & Film (Wild card: “Chuck Chuck Baby)

★ Hit Man (Richard Linklater) — “Long-time fan of director Richard Linklater, so a movie described as a ‘peppy sunlit neo-noir’ and a ‘surprising delight’? Colour me intrigued!” Astrid Lange, library and research specialist, Toronto Star (Wild Card: “Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-Believe”)

★ Orlando, My Political Biography (Paul Preciado) — “I can’t wait for Toronto audiences to see Paul Preciado’s ‘Orlando, My Political Biography,’ a brilliant unpacking of gender possibilities that’s so inventive in form and style that it announces a new trans cinema.” B Ruby Rich, editor at large, Film Quarterly (Wild Card: “La Chimera”)

★ Solo (Sophie Dupuis) — “Walk onto the red carpet purse first with this euphoric drag drama. Director Sophie Dupuis promises to bring the glamour to TIFF ’23 with a richly cinematic portrait of the ballroom scene, while Théodore Pellerin’s a-star-is-born performance is sure to be a TIFF talking point. 10s, 10s, 10s across the board!” Pat Mullen, publisher, POV Magazine (Wild card: “The Contestant”)

★ El Rapto (The Rescue) (Daniela Goggi) — “Director/co-writer Daniela Goggi, who is from Argentina, comes into her own with her new film.” Maria Alejandra Sosa, TIFF director of communications (Wild card: “Backspot”)

The remaining one-vote films, all wild card picks, are: “Arthur&Diana” (Sara Summa); “Chuck Chuck Baby” (Janis Pugh); “The Daughters of Fire” (Pedro Costa); “The End We Start From” (Mahalia Belo); “Evil Does Not Exist” (Ryûsuke Hamaguchi); “Fingernails” (Christos Nikou); “Frybread Face and Me” (Billy Luther); “Gonzo Girl” (Patricia Arquette); “He Thought He Died” (Isiah Medina); “Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person” (Ariane Louis-Seize); “Kanaval” (Henri Pardo); “La Chimera” (Alice Rohrwacher); “In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon” (Alex Gibney); “The Peasants” (DK Welchman, Hugh Welchman); “Poolman” (Chris Pine); “Sira” (Apolline Traoré); “The Promised Land” (Nikolaj Arcel); “Tautuktavuk (What We See)” (Carol Kunnuk, Lucy Tulugarjuk); “Quiz Lady” (Jessica Yu); “Wildcat” (Ethan Hawke). 🌓

(Originally published in the Toronto Star.)


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