The Globe and Mail’s film festival writers present the highs, lows and all the moments in between from this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, which wraps up this weekend.
Best $450-million Ever Spent
As the streaming war rages on, Netflix arrived in Toronto bearing big-screen gifts that were actually small-screen Trojan horses: nine productions that the behemoth hoped would shake off a year’s worth of unwelcome headlines involving its share price and subscriber losses. While the Jessica Chastain thriller The Good Nurse got better-than-expected reviews, and opening-night film The Swimmers was received politely (at least compared with previous TIFF openers), it was Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery that nearly made every TIFF attendee forget that Netflix is supposed to be the theatrical experience’s No. 1 enemy. The Daniel Craig-led whodunnit rocked its world-premiere audience, so much so that there were several lines of dialogue drowned out by laughter and applause. Was Glass Onion’s charm worth the reported $450-million that Netflix spent on securing the rights to director Rian Johnson’s nascent franchise? That is a mystery that even Craig’s sleuth Benoit Blanc cannot hope to solve, at least not yet. BARRY HERTZ
Most Nauseating Trend
Every TIFF, there are always a handful of films that just so happen to feature either the same joke, soundtrack selection, or even supporting actor (give it up to Brady Corbet, who popped up in something like five different films at TIFF 2014). This year, the coincidences were sickening, truly: Triangle of Sadness, The Whale and The Swimmers all featured scenes of characters puking with abandon. In the case of Triangle, Swedish director Ruben Ostlund’s Palme d’Or-winning satire, the vomiting is so copious that the film’s marketing team felt that the film’s unique amount of spew needed to be displayed on the poster. (A solid case against truth in advertising.) Good luck with those after-parties, everybody. B.H.
Most Discussed Drama
Typically, the most frequently overheard conversation-starter at TIFF is, “What have you seen?” This year, it seemed that all anyone could ask was, “How did you get your ticket???” Complaining about TIFF’s ticketing system is a tradition almost as old as the 47-year-old festival itself, but this year’s digital-queue woes seemed especially awful for everyone: the press, industry guests, TIFF members and the general public. It was a situation so pervasive – at least two major studios had trouble sending tickets to critics through their online Ticketmaster accounts, resorting instead to deploying good ol’ fashioned humans to sort the situation out on the ground – that rumours quickly spread. It was Taylor Swift fans who caused the system to crash! No, wait, it was Harry Styles devotees! Or maybe Ticketmaster is just uniformly terrible! TIFF has promised to improve the system next year – so don’t get any ideas, Russian hackers. B.H.
Second-Most Discussed Drama
Once you actually secure your TIFF tickets, typically you’re able to use them to see a movie. But this year, fate (or other forces) had a different idea, with two films being scratched from the program at the last minute. First, TIFF pulled the drama Sparta, after a Der Spiegel article was published alleging that children were exposed to violence and nudity on-set. A few days later, director Vera Drew pulled her film, the Batman-skewering comedy The People’s Joker, hours after its Midnight Madness premiere, due to “rights issues.” B.H.
Most Delightful Surprise
The crowd at most TIFF press-and-industry screenings heads to the exit the second the credits roll. But then sometimes a stinger or out-take will appear, leaving people lingering in the aisles in case they are missing something. That’s the case with Marie Kreutzer’s Corsage, a bio pic about Elisabeth of Austria, the 19th-century empress famed for her wasp wait and long hair. As the credits roll, Vicky Krieps’s whimsical royal begins to dance, twirling wildly as her unbraided tresses swirl around her. And then, a little joke about facial hair appears, picking up on a gag from the beginning of the film. So stick around: the movie isn’t over until the thin lady dances. KATE TAYLOR
Most Uncomfortable Environment
Sitting in a screening surrounded by movie fans can be a difficult experience these days. Last year, the film festival had capacity limits and enforced masking at its reduced number of in-person screenings, events that felt super safe. But when the Ontario government lifted all restrictions in the spring, TIFF followed suit. Although the province is currently reporting more than 8,000 new COVID cases a week, this year’s audiences behaved as though the pandemic were history, with many screenings jammed to capacity. TIFF staff and volunteers were mainly masked but audience members were overwhelmingly not. K.T.
Most Pleasantly Surprising Press Strategy
I was skeptical about TIFF’s new press-and-industry screening strategy – compensating for fewer press screenings by giving us 20 tickets to public screenings instead of the customary 10 – but it ended up reawakening my dormant inner fan. The sister actresses from The Swimmers, standing on stage next to the real Syrian sisters who they were playing. The cast of The Woman King in the balcony at Roy Thomson Hall, whooping and stomping at every kick-butt moment (“A-go-jie! Wu zu!”). Steven Spielberg at The Fabelmans, looking almost shy. Billy Eichner at Bros, giddy that a major studio was releasing his R-rated gay rom-com in 3,000 theatres across North America. “I’m super emotional,” Eichner said. You know what? Me too. JOHANNA SCHNELLER
Most Satisfying Moments
There’s something satisfying about watching an artist deliver a film that they know is good. To see a working actor like Judith Ivey shine at age 70 in Sarah Polley’s Women Talking (such an electrifying film, not a syllable wasted). To sit three rows from Hillary Clinton, here with her AppleTV+ series Gutsy, and watch her discuss with such grace the dangers – to their own supporters – of political leaders “who are rewarded for creating a sense of chaos that sets people against each other.” And to see The Woman King’s Viola Davis at Twitter’s #TakeUpSpace panel urging her fellow Black artists to resist betraying “your inner voice, your warrior fuel” in order to get work – well, it was almost worth getting COVID. Because yeah, I got COVID at TIFF. J.S.
From This Place and Rice Boy Sleeps to Brother and Black Ice, it was a joy to watch Canadian films that truly take you into the lives of ordinary, everyday people. The beautiful, tender and often heartbreaking films move you, leaving lasting impressions. APARITA BHANDARI
Most Welcome Relief
For some reason, I was feeling anxious on the fourth day of TIFF. Throngs of people, the daily commute, life in general. It was overwhelming. Nevertheless, I stayed in my seat for Oliver Hermanus’s Living, a remake of the Kurosawa classic Ikiru. Soon, I was lost in the beauty of this sumptuous movie starring Bill Nighy as a taciturn bureaucrat who decides to upturn his life when delivered a dire diagnosis. Even if temporarily, I was reminded of the power of art to transport you out of life’s humdrum. A.B.