David Bowie and robot life on Mars among 12 don't-miss films at #TIFF22
The trippy David Bowie saga "Moonage Daydream" and the story of the long-running Mars rover Opportunity in "Good Night, Oppy" are among the anticipated gems at the 47th Toronto International Film Festival, Sept. 8-18.
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 movie lovers want to indulge in excess, by seeing as many movies as can be packed into a single day.
But hard choices have to be made, especially with TIFF returning to fully in-person screenings and a film roster that approaches the numbers of yore: 203 features and 51 shorts from 63 countries.
And to assist you in that task, here in alphabetical order are my hot 12 picks of the flicks to watch during the fest’s 11-day run:
⭑ The Banshees of Inisherin
Who would have sussed that “ghosting” was a thing in rural Ireland? That’s the theme of this latest from writer/director Martin McDonagh (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), which reunites his “In Bruges” stars Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell for laughs and tears. It’s the story of one lifelong friend (Gleeson’s terse and secretive Colm) who abruptly dumps another (Farrell’s mystified and furious Pádraic. It sounds like a hoot but with McDonagh, you know it will go deeper than that. Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan co-star.
Among the most-anticipated world premieres of TIFF 2022 is this coming-of-age tale of two brothers, the first theatrical feature in 15 years by Toronto’s Clement Virgo (“Rude,” “Book of Negroes”). Based on David Chariandy’s prizewinning novel and evocatively set in the Scarborough of the 1990s, it stars Lamar Johnson (“The Hate U Give”) and Aaron Pierre (“The Underground Railroad”). Advance word — and a top ranking in the Star’s Chasing the Buzz poll — suggests this may be Virgo’s best work yet.
⭑ Decision to Leave
Cannes Best Director winner Park Chan-Wook’s masterful neo-noir sets an obsessed cop and a suspicious widow in the realm between sleep and wakefulness. Park Hae-Il’s cop is an insomniac homicide gumshoe who isn’t easily fooled, except perhaps in matters of the heart. The widow, played by Tang Wei (“Lust, Caution”), seems too sanguine about her mountaineering husband’s demise. I felt shivers of “Vertigo” and “In the Mood for Love,” plus an intense desire to see it again. Park encourages close inspection, with hints to plot twists.
⭑ Empire of Light
Roger Deakins’ radiant cinematography shimmers 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 fraught) love story between characters played by Olivia Colman and Micheal Ward, co-workers in a movie theatre. Co-stars include Colin Firth and Toby Jones. With a lineup like that and its cinephilia theme, this “Empire” could conquer the next Oscars.
Simply the saddest donkey since Winnie the Pooh’s friend Eeyore, whose name is hinted at in the title. All this bundle of grey fur and unblinking brown eyes wants to do is live and perform at the circus with his devoted carer, Kasandra (Sandra Drzymalska). The universe conspires against EO, setting him on a voyage through the Polish and Italian countrysides where he’ll experience the best and worst of human behaviour. Polish master Jerzy Skolimowski directed this Cannes Jury Prize winner, an affecting ode to empathy and nature.
⭑ The Fabelmans
Childhood dreams and aspirations are staples of Steven Spielberg’s cinema. All the more so in this drama based in large part on his own childhood and family life, as a movie-mad kid growing up in postwar Arizona. Gabriel LaBelle (“The Predator”) plays young Sammy Fabelman (a.k.a. Spielberg) and Michelle Williams and Paul Dano play his parents; co-stars include Seth Rogen, Julia Butters and Judd Hirsch. Sounds like a trip inside the mind of the man who made “Jaws” and “E.T.” and I’m all in.
⭑ Good Night Oppy
This is catnip for a space nut like me, and I suspect more than a few other TIFF-goers. This doc by Ryan White (“Ask Dr. Ruth”) shines a long-distance 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 has exceeded all expectations. The high-fidelity doc promises to show the red planet like we’ve never seen it while also introducing members of Oppy’s “family,” the scientist introduces the scientists who are guiding it from 34 million miles away.
This Oliver Hermanus remake of Akira Kurosawa’s life-reckoning classic “Ikiru” is set in the grey and cold England of 1953. Bill Nighy plays a buttoned-down bureaucrat, nicknamed “Mr. Zombie” for his solemn somnambulism, who seeks serenity as he faces his final days on Earth. Unfolding in the grand tradition of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Carol,” Nighy’s character Williams opts for “yes” over “no” as darkness approaches. The beautiful outcome in both form and spirit makes “Living” a film for all seasons.
⭑ Moonage Daydream
Brett Morgen’s David Bowie doc is cinema jazz: part mad idolatry, part surreal scrapbook, all David, voiced by him. It’s a joy to see every aspect of Bowie’s art celebrated, and to share his wild embrace of existence. The Bowie estate granted Morgen access to more than five million pieces of the artist’s materials, including music, paintings and unseen concert films. It seems at times like he’s put all of them into this movie, which is a lot to take in, even for hardcore Bowie fans. All the more reason to plan to see this on the Cinesphere IMAX screen.
⭑ Weird: The Al Yankovic Story
What’s not to like about an accordion-playing madman who sends up pop hits with such infectious parodies as “Like a Surgeon,” “My Bologna” and “Another One Rides the Bus”? Even the rock stars being made fun of generally get the joke. Daniel Radcliffe plays “Weird Al” Yankovic in all his Hawaiian-shirted glory, Rainn Wilson is his intense mentor Dr. Demento and Evan Rachel Wood is a rambunctious Madonna. The new trailer suggest it’s more mockumentary than factual biopic, but that’s all the better.
⭑ The Woman King
Viola Davis stars as head of the Agojie, an all-female unit of fierce warriors in the 1800s who protected the African Kingdom of Dahomey. Gina Prince-Bythewood’s epic action drama, inspired by real events, looks to be a genuine audience rouser and potential awards candidate. The Oscar-winning Davis plays General Nanisca, who is unswervingly dedicated to training recruits eager to risk body and soul in a battle against an enemy that threatens their homeland and way of life. Co-stars include John Boyega and Lashana Lynch.
⭑ Women Talking
A major “get” for TIFF is Sarah Polley’s first feature in a decade, expected to be an awards season contender. Shot in Ontario during last year’s fest, it’s based on a bestselling novel by fellow Canadian Miriam Toews. It’s also based on the true and horrifying 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-rich text into a screen story.
Bonus short: Palme d’Or-winning animators Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis (“When the Day Breaks”) reteam for “The Flying Sailor,” the strange-but-true NFB story of a mariner who survived the 1917 Halifax Harbour explosion despite being blown kilometres from the site. Popeye has nothing on this guy. 🌓
(Originally published in the Toronto Star.)