For the past ten years, every winner of the People’s Choice Award in Toronto has been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, and three—12 Years a Slave (2013), Green Book (2018), and Nomadland (2020)—have won. Steven Spielberg’s autobiographical The Fabelmans was already a critical favorite—having landed in best-of-TIFF 2022 roundups from Rolling Stone’s David Fear,Screen’s Tim Grierson, the Hollywood Reporter, the Guardian’s Wendy Ide,IndieWire, the Los Angeles Times, and Adam Nayman at the Ringer—when, on Sunday, it proved itself to be a winner with audiences, too.
The first runner-up for the People’s Choice Award was Women Talking, Sarah Polley’s adaptation of Miriam Toews’s 2018 novel, a fictionalized account of a real-life crime that took place over a period of four years in the late 2000s in a Mennonite community in Bolivia. More than a hundred women were drugged and raped by a handful of men. In Women Talking, once these men are identified and whisked away by the police, a cluster of women gather in a hayloft to sort out whether they should leave or stay.
“The premise is simple and suspenseful,” wrote the New York Times’s A. O. Scott when he caught Women Talking at Telluride, “but as the women debate their options, the complexity of their predicament becomes apparent. They understand clearly the nature of their oppression, and they also understand that it’s connected to everything and everyone they know and love: their faith; their community; their husbands, brothers, and sons. With a remarkable ensemble cast that includes Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy, Rooney Mara, Judith Ivey, and Frances McDormand, Women Talking can be described as a special kind of political thriller.” The film now heads to festivals in New York and London before opening in December.
In Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, the second runner-up and the second installment in Rian Johnson’s hit franchise, detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) finds himself invited to a gathering of ultra-rich “disrupters” played by Edward Norton, Kathryn Hahn, Janelle Monáe, Leslie Odom Jr., Kate Hudson, and Dave Bautista. “Glass Onion is bigger and more precisely designed than Knives Out ,” writes Vulture’s Alison Willmore, “but what makes it a more satisfying movie is that it sits with its characters more rather than immediately showing off their decay. Instead, theirs is the kind of hollowness that comes from a lifetime of smaller moral compromises, until suddenly you’re on a Greek island with some old friends, contemplating murder.” Glass Onion will see a limited theatrical release in November before landing on Netflix just in time for Christmas.
Around two hundred features and more than three dozen shorts screened in fourteen programs over eleven days in Toronto’s forty-seventh edition. “Cannes has the red carpet, Telluride has Oscar contenders, and Sundance has the next big thing, maybe,” writes the NYT’s Manohla Dargis. “Toronto has bulk.” The pandemic downsized the previous two editions, but this year the crowds were back and the theaters were full. Adam Nayman notes that “the unevenness of the movies on offer at TIFF 2022 was, itself, a kind of tradition: the inevitable byproduct of a festival that has always tried to be all things to all people.”
Let’s have a quick look at a few of the standouts that we haven’t touched on in our coverage of Cannes or Venice. Several other critical favorites, too, are lined up for New York, and we’ll be taking a closer look at those in the coming weeks.
Gala and Special Presentations
Toronto screened Gina Prince-Bythewood’s groundbreaking first feature, Love & Basketball (2000), and launched her latest, The Woman King, which Time’s Stephanie Zacharek calls “an action spectacle with a beating heart.” Viola Davis stars as Nanisca, the leader of the Agojie, the all-female army charged in 1823 with defending the West African kingdom of Dahomey. “Instead of shouting its radicalism, The Woman King simply embodies it,” writes Soraya Nadia McDonald at Andscape.
Some have grumbled on social media that the film downplays the kingdom’s role in the slave trade, but calls for a boycott have gotten nowhere. Since opening on Friday, The Woman King has done spectacularly well at the box office, exceeding industry insiders’ expectations. “I get concerns about historical accuracy,” tweets Racquel Gates, an associate professor of film at Columbia University, “but I really wish that folks could talk about film as art, with its own language, histories of representation, and structures of legibility.”
Wendy Ide’s “discovery of the festival” was Clement Virgo’s “masterful drama Brother, which follows two West Indian Canadian siblings over a period of nearly two decades. It’s superb: a wide-ranging piece, elegantly structured and thoughtfully measured in its pacing.” Writing for Sight and Sound,Adam Nayman notes that “Brother’s pressurized lyricism recalls the stylized approach of Virgo’s groundbreaking 1995 debut Rude—still one of the most brazenly accomplished movies ever produced in Toronto.”
Sebastián Lelio’s The Wonder, an adaptation of Emma Donaghue’s 2016 novel, is “a magnetic and mysterious little marvel rich in atmosphere and allure,” writes the Guardian’s Benjamin Lee. As an English nurse called to a small, famine-ravaged town in Ireland to investigate the case of a healthy eleven-year-old girl who claims not to have eaten for four months, Florence Pugh is “so totally in command here that it almost feels as if she’s directing the film from within, like everything around just falls perfectly in line with what she requires and realizes.”
In Zachary Wigon’s Sanctuary, Margaret Qualley plays Rebecca, a dominatrix whose wealthy john, Hal (Christopher Abbot), floats the idea of terminating what has been an amiable—and for Rebecca, lucrative—relationship. This leads to “an absurd form of contract renegotiation involving blackmail, humiliation, and sex at knifepoint,” writes Josh Lewis for Cinema Scope. “Wigon displays a pretty skilled hand for the formal dexterity and stage direction necessary to spin these two magnetic (and very funny) performances into an engrossing web of teasing, probing, and smirkingly vindictive behavior. The cumulative perversity of the shifting gendered and class power dynamics is sustained so well it’s actually hard not to feel like the eventual conclusions are a bit too easy and reductive, even if Sanctuary is still satisfyingly aberrant as an oddball romance.”
Black Ice, Hubert Davis’s study of racism in Canadian hockey, won the People’s Choice Documentary Award. The film “paints a chilling picture of just how toxic hockey culture is at all levels,” writes Courtney Small in POV Magazine.Black Ice premiered as a gala presentation, but the two runners-up screened in TIFF Docs, the program curated by Thom Powers, the artistic director of DOC NYC.
Stephanie Johnes’s Maya and the Wave is a profile of Maya Gabeira, a champion surfer from Brazil who was nearly killed by one of the giant waves off the Silver Coast of Portugal. “Johnes understands that focusing on the small details of the story makes the awesomeness of nature itself all the more overwhelming,” writes Madeleine Wall for Cinema Scope, where Angelo Muredda reviews Babak Payami’s 752 Is Not a Number.
On January 8, 2020, the Iranian military shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, killing all 176 people on board—including Canadian dentist Hamed Esmaeilion’s wife and daughter. 752 depicts “the fight for information and justice in the face of political and bureaucratic intransigence,” writes Muredda. “Namely, it shows that such fights fall to dogged individuals huddled over computers and phones, keeping the torch alive in the most banal settings during the worst times of their lives.”
Also in Cinema Scope,Brendan Boyle writes about the winner of the Amplify Voices Award for Best Canadian Feature Film. “Following the case of a thirteen-year-old girl who was raped by three men in Jharkand, India, To Kill a Tiger upsets all manner of clichés about narratives of sexual assault and criminal justice,” writes Boyle. “Director Nisha Pahuja takes her camera into some unfriendly settings, and the villagers and local authorities direct a startling number of unsure, hostile glances toward her lens, including a scene of confrontation that threatens physical violence . . . Pahuja’s film is a novelistic study of strength coexisting with self-doubt, of that inspirational byword, ‘perseverance’: a human frailty that endures.”
Sébastien Lifshitz’s Casa Susanna takes its name from the house in the Catskills where a community of men who dressed as women gathered in the 1950s and ’60s. This is “a sentimental queer-elder film” and “an archival resurfacing and reclamation of a previously invisible aspect of mid-century American life,” writes Mark Asch at Screen Slate. “There are allusions by some of the subjects to the effect that some of the women in the photos were prominent men in public life, but here, in these saturated Ektachrome snapshots, they are known only by their beehive wigs, their furls and heels, their shawls and head scarves, their cocktail dresses no doubt purchased under false pretenses from a high-end department store. They look as ironically glamorous as the women in a Sirk film, and why shouldn’t they?”
One of Manohla Dargis’s TIFF highlights was Sacha Jenkins’s Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues. “Drawing on Armstrong’s vast personal archive—including reels of his taped musings—the movie builds beautifully into a portrait of a genius as well as the country that he graced and that didn’t give him the love he deserved,” writes Dargis.
In his first dispatch to the Notebook from Toronto, Daniel Kasman noted that Platform, the competition launched in 2015, still “feels buried in the program and bizarrely has yet to locate its identity and focus festival excitement.” By contrast, the Berlinale’s Encounters competition “has vividly staked out clear cinematic terrain” after just three editions.
The winner of this year’s Platform Prize is Riceboy Sleeps, the second feature directed by actor Anthony Shim. The story of a mother and son who leave South Korea for Canada is “an affectionate, sharply-observed portrait of family life addressing wider issues of cultural identity, belonging and the challenges of the immigrant experience in 1990s Canada,” writes Allan Hunter in Screen. “It could almost be a companion piece to Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari.Riceboy Sleeps has less sun glow and sentimentality than that film, but it has a genuine warmth and conviction.”
Stéphane Lafleur’s Viking, in which a group of Canadians have been selected for the similarities of their psychological profiles with those of American astronauts on a mission to Mars, scored a Special Mention for Best Canadian Feature Film. Writing for In Review Online, Michael Sicinski notes that Viking will likely draw comparisons to Nathan Fielder’s The Rehearsal. “While I don’t think it’s productive to argue ‘who wore it better’ in this case, one thing is clear,” he writes. “By creating a fictional scenario in which individuals are trapped inside a simulacrum of reality, Lafleur avoids the ethical dilemmas that have made Fielder’s show such a hot topic within the mediasphere. If Viking is not as dangerous as The Rehearsal, it does what only art can do: provide a closed framework for philosophical investigation within an environment of relative safety.”
For Mark Hanson at Slant, few films “feel as excitingly jacked in to the current social climate as How to Blow Up a Pipeline. Based on last year’s controversial manifesto by Andreas Malm, which argued for violent sabotage as the only viable method to effectively fight climate change, director Daniel Goldhaber’s fictionalized adaptation firmly puts the ‘how’ back in the book’s title in thrillingly dramatizing what these actions could and probably should look like.”
Another critical favorite in the program was Emily, the screenwriting and directorial debut from Frances O’Connor, the star of Patricia Rozema’s Mansfield Park (1999) and Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001). Little is known about the life of Emily Brontë, who wrote one novel, Wuthering Heights, before she died at thirty, but Emily is “a ravishing period drama that plays fast and loose with the facts in order to paint a portrait of the author that bleeds with the same heart-in-its-hands emotionality she had to suffuse into her work,” writes IndieWire’s David Ehrlich. At the Playlist, Jason Bailey finds that there are “occasional missteps, a semi-cringe scene here or there, closing notes that feel a bit too pat and easy. But this is niggling. With Emily, Frances O’Connor has crafted a first film that feels like the work of an accomplished master.”
In 2010, Eric Appel made a Funny or Die trailer for a movie that didn’t exist, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. Yankovic screened it at concerts and fans demanded to see the full feature, so Appel and Yankovic wrote it—and won the People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award. Weird, starring Daniel Radcliffe, “is to music biopics what Weird Al’s ditties are to whatever Top 40 tunes he twists and transforms,” writes David Fear: “a wacky, nerdy, near-juvenile parody version that somehow, through the sheer willingness to dare to be stupid, comes off as better than the real thing.”
The first runner-up, Pearl, cowritten by director Ti West and star Mia Goth, is a prequel to X, the story of a porn film crew whose members are taken out one by one on a Texas farm in 1979. Pearl takes us back to 1918, and a “working knowledge of X isn’t required to enjoy the stylish bloodbath,” writes the Telegraph’s Robbie Collin. “Goth is straightforwardly tremendous, and gets to move through the considerable breadth of her talent even within individual shots. The last one here is a scorcher, veering from vaudevillian daftness to Lynchian unease and back again multiple times, and Goth’s face is the only thing in it. Now that’s range.” Martin Scorsese is a fan: “Pearl makes for a wild, mesmerizing, deeply—and I mean deeply—disturbing 102 minutes.”
As Rafael Motamayor notes at IndieWire, Tim Story’s The Blackening, the second runner-up, “asks a simple question: If the Black character is always the first to go in a horror movie, what happens when the whole cast is Black?” The Blackening is “the first great horror parody of the post-Get Out era.”
Moyra Davey’s Horse Opera “expands on many of the conceptual tropes that have guided her photographs and video works for the past decade,” writes Sicinski in Cinema Scope. Made at the height of the pandemic, the film is “explicitly about the divide between sociality and isolation, the home and the world,” and it “suggests that the virus may have returned the very idea of social interaction to something primal, a need that culture cannot satisfy.”
Antoine Bourges’s Concrete Valley, which focuses on a Syrian family that has recently settled in Toronto, is “an oblique, deceptively placid study of the emasculation of exile,” writes Mark Asch at the Playlist. “The undertones of its low-key drama eventually harmonize into an urgent and nuanced consideration of the desire to be useful—it’s a study of restless masculinity forced into a lower, more passive status and the question, left open-ended, of what Canada has to offer new immigrants beyond charity.”
Kurt Walker’s short film I Thought the World of You is “a speculative, ghostly dream about the life of a mid-’80s outsider musician who recorded two records under the pseudonym Lewis,” writes Chloe Lizotte in the Notebook. The film “perfectly captures the hauntology of dollar-bin, vanity-pressing gold.”
Also in the Notebook, Daniel Kasman recommends Sharon Lockhart’s Eventide, which “echoes with loneliness and despair as much as it does with perseverance, curiosity, and wonder”; Tacita Dean’s Fata Morgana, in which “the world appears inside out, and, in one particularly exquisite image, an entire city seems to appear in a golden pond sunk in the desert sands”; and Fox Maxy’s F1ghting Looks Different 2 Me Now, whose “purest achievement is that of understanding an often forgotten fundamental of cinema: Pointing the camera is at once an act of questioning what it films and an act of claiming—or reclaiming—it.”
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