Want to get a sneak peek at what could be best picture at next year’s Oscars? Pay attention to the Toronto International Film Festival.
After last year’s events were all affected by COVID-19, the fall film-festival season is back in somewhat full swing in Venice, Telluride and now Toronto (running through Sept. 18), which is a hybrid in-person/online affair this year. Whatever the presentation, the Toronto fest has played hosted to the last six best-picture winners, including 2021’s “Nomadland.” So all eyes are going to be on the hottest movies, including the movie musical “Dear Evan Hansen,” biopic “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” with Jessica Chastain, the sci-fi epic “Dune” and “Spencer,” which has won Kristen Stewart raves so far as Princess Diana.
Like the 2020 edition, we’ll be watching from afar and keeping readers up to date on the coolest stuff we see (ranked, of course):
Oscars 2022:Kristen Stewart vaults to the front of the best-actress race as Princess Diana
7. ‘Mothering Sunday’
Talky and a little bland but full of young love (and steamy early 20th-century sexual energy), director Eva Husson’s well-acted period drama stars Odessa Young as Jane Fairchild, an English house maid to a high-class couple (Colin Firth and Olivia Colman) who gets time off on a particularly nice Mother’s Day in 1924. She meets up with her secret lover Paul (Josh O’Connor), a dude working at a nearby manor house who’s engaged to his posh childhood friend (Emma D’Arcy). There’s not nearly enough Firth or Colman, though Jane’s story is deftly told over multiple decades as it weaves together a constant sense of foreboding tragedy but also the birth of a writer’s spirit.
6. ‘Kicking Blood’
The thoughtful Canadian horror film uses vampirism as a metaphor for addiction and it totally works. An immortal life and drinking human blood to get high just isn’t working for anymore for Anna (Alanna Bale), who works at a library by day while attacking victims – and not usually nice sorts – by night. She takes in Robbie (Luke Bilyk), a suicidal alcoholic, when he needs it the most, and him getting sober and trying to turn his life around inspires Anna to rethink her own vices as well as the high-class vampires she parties with in her pack.
5. ‘A Banquet’
The pre-apocalyptic streak of “Donnie Darko” meets family drama in director Ruth Paxton’s female-led psychological horror. Jessica Alexander impresses as a young woman who stops eating after a night of partying leads to her believe there’s a cataclysmic event incoming and her body is now a vessel for what’s on the way. Worried, her widowed mom (Sienna Guillory) becomes obsessed with getting her to consume something, even a few peas – there’s a number of culinary closeups that’ll make you lose your appetite – though weeks go by and she doesn’t lose any weight. It’s a thought-provoking, often chilling take on parent/teen dynamics and eating disorders.
Directed by Yeon Sang-ho (“Train to Busan”), the six-episode Netflix supernatural drama gets a try-out in Toronto and it’s a cool spin on the police procedural where South Korean detectives investigate people being told by angels they’re going to die and demonic monsters coming to drag them to hell in rather public and freaky fashion. A widowed cop (Yang Ik-june), a broadcast journalist (Park Jeong-min) and lawyer (Kim Hyun-joo) investigate the public’s growing concern and obsession with the “sinners” being chosen and the involvement of a popular religious group with a charismatic young leader (Yoo Ah-in).
Written and directed by Julia Ducournau (who did the fantastic “Raw”), this wild and extremely weird French thriller – which won the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes – gives new meaning to the term “auto erotica.” Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), who has titanium plate in her head from when she was in a nasty highway accident as a kid, is a well-known dancer who twerks on a flame-bedecked Cadillac, has “sex” with the four-wheeled machine and becomes pregnant. (No, really.) Alexia also happens to be a serial killer, but this insane tale of murder and disturbing body horror has a heart, too, displayed when an on-the-lam Alexia meets a troubled aging fire captain (Vincent Lindon) and both find themselves needing one another.
2. ‘The Guilty’
Director Antoine Fuqua’s ultra-tense remake of the 2018 Danish thriller will keep your stomach in a knot for most of its 90 minutes – before the inevitable gut punch. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a hot-tempered LAPD detective demoted to 911 operator duty, and a call comes in from a woman seemingly in grave danger that sends his night into an emotional tailspin. An impressive voice cast, including Riley Keough and Peter Sarsgaard, literally phone it in as the various important players the cop deals with, and Gyllenhaal deftly navigates a stirring character arc in a twisty story of both accountability and redemption.
This week marked the 50th anniversary of the infamous rebellion at Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York, and director Stanley Nelson’s absorbing documentary is a deep dive on the incident where 1,000 inmates took guards hostage during a five-day standoff that ended in a bloody clash with police. In interviews with former prisoners, the timely film discusses the virulent racism and violence that led to the uprising from the mostly Black and brown population against the all-white guards but also the society that developed during the rebellion, where Muslim convicts kept guards safe from others who wanted to harm them. As one recalls of the tumultuous time, “It’s us vs. them.”
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Toronto Film Festival’s best movies, ranked