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15 must-see films from the Toronto International Film Festival

A serious woman in a darkened barn, a colorful detective and a woman on a witness stand from standout films at TIFF '22.
“Women Talking” (with Rooney Mara), “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” (with Daniel Craig) and “Saint Omer” (with Guslagie Malanga) were three of the standout titles at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
(United Artists Releasing; Netflix; Srab Films)
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It was like a muscle memory, quick to come back. That feeling of hustling from theater to theater, waiting in lines and just being surrounded by other people that used to be an annual tradition as part of the Toronto International Film Festival but for many longtime attendees has been on hold since 2019.

The festival returned with a full-throated program of awards hopefuls, favorites from other fests and other assorted titles from around the world. As the mass of media made the way from one premiere to the next, sometimes shuffling out of a theater only to line back up for the next show in the same venue, it was still easy for movies to get lost in the undertow of so many screenings and events happening. Cannes winner “Triangle of Sadness” and Sundance winner “Nanny” both played well to audiences in the room but didn’t generate a lot of media attention simply because it wasn’t their moment to truly shine.

Even people who didn’t actually have feature films in the program still wanted to get in on the act. Taylor Swift appeared for a conversation along with her Oscar-eligible short film “All Too Well.” Damien Chazelle sat for a career-spanning conversation that included the premiere of the trailer for his not-yet-finished epic of Hollywood in the ‘20s, “Babylon,” due for release in December.

Darren Aronofsky’s “The Whale,” starring Brendan Fraser, arrived from its Venice premiere as arguably the most divisive film of the festival, with critics seemingly split on whether it was earnestly heartfelt or simplistically narrow-minded in its story of an obese man attempting to reconnect with his estranged daughter. Other notable films either world premiering in Toronto or arriving from other festivals included Florian Zeller’s “The Son,” Marie Kreutzer’s “Corsage,” Nicholas Stoller’s “Bros,” Michael Grandage’s “My Policeman,” Lila Neugebauer’s “Causeway,” Jerzy Skolimowski’s “EO” and Elegance Bratton’s “The Inspection.”

Below are five picks each from members of The Times’ on-the-ground coverage team in a mix of personal favorites and titles that simply cannot be overlooked from this year’s event.

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‘Aftersun’

A young girl rests in the arm of a man with a cast on his arm
Frankie Corio and Paul Mescal in “Aftersun.”
(A24 / TIFF)

Loosely drawn from personal experience, this gently gutting debut feature from the Scottish-born writer-director Charlotte Wells follows a father (Paul Mescal) and his adolescent daughter (Frankie Corio) on a summer vacation on the Turkish coast. Their sunny Mediterranean idyll soon reveals itself as a hazy glimpse into a bittersweet past, sometimes mediated by home-video footage and sometimes halted by eerie flash-forwards. But if “Aftersun” is a lament for the imperfections of memory, the movie itself is close to perfect: Even with years of doubtless complicated family history left offscreen, it somehow conjures a whole world of feeling. (Justin Chang)

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‘All the Beauty and the Bloodshed’

Only the second documentary ever to win the Venice International Film Festival’s top prize, this latest work directed by Laura Poitras (“Citizenfour,” “The Oath”) is both a sensitive, expansive portrait of the photographer Nan Goldin and a devastating excoriation of the Sackler family and other architects of America’s opioid crisis. How Poitras weaves these disparate threads together is the source of her movie’s power. Tracing Goldin’s history of family trauma, pioneering artwork and dogged activism, it’s both a lament for an incalculable human tragedy and a bracing reminder that there are many, many ways — some of which demand creativity as well as outrage — to hold evil accountable. (Chang)

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‘The Banshees of Inisherin’

Martin McDonagh continues his fruitful collaboration with Colin Farrell and several other repeat offenders in this rich and layered story of the falling out of two residents of a quirky, remote Irish town. While never losing its eye (and ear) for earthy detail, the film uncovers cracks beneath the surface, some dreadfully deep. The narrative evolves — its fond gaze turns steely and the story reveals itself a hideous metaphor for civil war. It’s funny, sad and chilling and contains superb work from Farrell, Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan, among others. Incredibly, Farrell has yet to be nominated for an Oscar; this should put a stop to that ráiméis. (Michael Ordoña)

5

‘Broker’

This South Korean production by Japanese master Hirokazu Kore-eda sets itself a near-Nabokovian challenge: to make you empathize, if not sympathize, with characters on a quest it’s impossible to root for. They’re human traffickers intent on selling a baby. Kore-eda’s storytelling is so skillful, with unexpected humor and heart, the characters explored with such immediacy and depth in strong performances (led by “Parasite” star Song Kang-ho), you can’t help but understand these people and feel their humanity. “Broker” contains the single most moving scene I’ve witnessed this year — in its own way as quietly and deeply touching as the signature moment from “Never Rarely Sometimes Always.” (Ordoña)

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‘Decision to Leave’

A man and a woman talk
Park Hae-il and Tang Wei in “Decision to Leave.”
(CJ ENM Co., Ltd., Moho Film)

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An atmospheric noir by one of today’s true masters, Park Chan-wook. Though the South Korean film definitely fits the Western noir form, it does not adhere to Hollywood clichés; it’s sexy without the usual devices and twisty without the customary cogs showing. As usual, Park commands the frame and effortlessly builds ambience and tension in this romantic mystery. Both leads (Park Hae-il and Tang Wei of Ang Lee’s underrated “Lust, Caution”) are top notch, with Tang nailing her femme fatale. The ending is the most haunting I’ve seen in a while. (Ordoña)

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‘Empire of Light’

The festival’s other “most personal film by an Oscar-winning director” may well be Sam Mendes’ best. The ‘80s period piece is a heady brew of lust, love, race relations in the face of Britain’s National Front, the power of cinema and the persistent demon of mental illness. Olivia Colman turns in a terrific performance, even by her lofty standards, with painfully resonant peaks and valleys. Co-lead Micheal Ward (“Small Axe: Lovers Rock”) deserves serious awards buzz. It’s not directly autobiographical, but is rife with telling details and textures — one feels the winter in this seaside town and can almost smell the popcorn in the theater lobby. It feels like a memory play about imagined events cultivated from seeds of reality. (Ordoña)

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‘The Eternal Daughter’

Tilda Swinton plays both a mother and a daughter staying at a ramshackle Welsh hotel that might be haunted — what more do you really need to know? OK, fine: “The Eternal Daughter” is the latest work from the English filmmaker Joanna Hogg, and it’s very much a companion piece to her masterful “The Souvenir” (2019) and “The Souvenir Part II” (2021). That means it’s deeply informed by its maker’s personal experience, which ties it to a few other movies on this list, though Hogg’s wry wit and sly use of genre place it in a spooky — and finally, deeply moving — class by itself. (Chang)

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‘The Fabelmans’

From the moment it was first announced that Steven Spielberg would be making his first appearance at TIFF, the world premiere of his new “The Fabelmans” was among the most anticipated films of the festival. And it did not disappoint, earning mostly glowing reviews for its semi-autobiographical story co-written by the filmmaker himself (along with his now-regular collaborator Tony Kushner) about his childhood and how he came to fall in love with and dedicate his life to the making of movies. Michelle Williams and Paul Dano play the young man’s parents, with Gabriel LaBelle as Spielberg’s teenage stand-in. (Mark Olsen)

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Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Fabelmans’ and Alejandro Iñárritu’s ‘Bardo’ are among an unexpected rush of self-reflexive films due for release this year.

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‘Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery’

People sit around a swanky dining table
“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” written and directed by Rian Johnson.
(TIFF)

A worthy sequel, fun and lively. It gives the impression that all involved were enjoying themselves. The cameos are a kick. The all-star cast fits together nicely; if there’s a standout, it’s Kate Hudson, who gets most of the laugh lines and nails them with ace comic chops. It’s a tribute to writer-director Rian Johnson that, while following the format of the first film, the sequel stays fresh and engaging (though one hopes the next installment will upend some of those conventions to our surprise and delight). One of the better popcorn movies of the year so far. (Ordoña)

Fresh from the world premiere of his “Knives Out” sequel, Johnson explains the origins of Benoit Blanc and why he wants his Netflix film in theaters.

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‘How to Blow Up a Pipeline’

Picked up by Neon as one of the few high-profile acquisitions out of this year’s festival, Daniel Goldhaber’s “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” is a fictional adaptation of Andreas Malm’s 2021 nonfiction manifesto on political action. With a cast that includes Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck and Kristine Froseth, the film plays as part educational essay, part procedural heist thriller. At a moment when the world can seem out of control, it is exciting to discover a work so committed to engaging with the contradictions of contemporary life. (Olsen)

12

‘One Fine Morning’

A woman and a girl sit with their hands resting on their palms
Léa Seydoux and Camille Leban Martins in “One Fine Morning.”
(Carole Bethuel / Les Films Pelléas / Sony Classics)

Like “Aftersun,” this Paris-set drama flew a little under the radar months ago at Cannes but was well worth discovering — or rediscovering — in Toronto. After taking a wry metafictional detour with “Bergman Island,” Mia Hansen-Løve returns to the fine-grained form of her earlier dramas (“Eden,” “Things to Come”) with this portrait of a single woman caring for family members old and young and tentatively embracing another chance at love. She’s played by Léa Seydoux in one of her strongest performances, delivered with a limpid grace and an emotional openness that’s wholly matched by the exquisite delicacy of Hansen-Løve’s filmmaking. (Chang)

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‘Other People’s Children’

French writer-director Rebecca Zlotowski has long seemed on the cusp of something greater, and “Other People’s Children” is her most fully realized film yet, a bittersweet tale of self-examination and discovery. A Parisian schoolteacher (Virginie Efira) begins dating a man (Roschdy Zem) with a young daughter and soon the little girl is a part of her life too. Decisions that long ago seemed settled are suddenly upended. Fans of last year’s “The Worst Person in the World,” should keep an eye out for this one; the two films even end with different versions of the same song. (Olsen)

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‘Saint Omer’

This finely constructed narrative debut from the documentary filmmaker Alice Diop is named after a small French town where, in 2016, a Senegalese-born woman stood accused of killing her 15-month-old daughter. The real-life court proceedings heavily inform Diop’s movie, but the questions and insights she elicits — about the entwined burdens of motherhood and daughterhood, about the everyday diminution and dehumanization of Black women in white societies — are the work of an extraordinarily subtle and searching dramatist. Beautifully acted by a cast led by Kayije Kagame and Guslagie Malanga, “Saint Omer” won second prize at the Venice International Film Festival; here’s hoping it finds the large global audience it deserves. (Chang)

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‘The Woman King’

Woman warrior in a wheat field
Viola Davis in “The Woman King.”
(Ilze Kitshoff / Sony Pictures)

Combining the sensitivity and nuance of a historical epic with the all-out energy of an action picture, Gina Prince-Bythewood’s “The Woman King” is a rousing, crowd-pleasing movie that also finds moments of real emotional sensitivity and doesn’t shy away from the trickier aspects of its story of the female warriors of the African kingdom of Dahomey. Viola Davis finds a whole new gear in an intensely physical, demanding performance, and there is a real sense of shared, battle-tested camaraderie among the other fighters, including Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch and Sheila Atim. (Olsen)

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‘Women Talking’

The words “What follows is an act of female imagination” appear onscreen near the beginning of writer-director Sarah Polley’s adaptation of Miriam Toews’ 2018 novel and apply equally to the story within the film or the film itself. With an ensemble that includes Frances McDormand, Rooney Mara, Claire Foy and Jessie Buckley, Polley’s dynamic direction never allows the film to feel claustrophobic or stage-bound, even as much of the runtime centers around a debate in a barn. Having realized they were being systematically sexually assaulted by the men of their small religious community, these women must decide on one of three options — do nothing, stay and fight or leave. (Olsen)

Sarah Polley, Frances McDormand, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley and more stars of ‘Women Talking’ reflect on the industry sea change that led to their warmly received festival breakout.

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