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October 2, 2023


Once again, the Toronto International Film Festival has come and gone. While the energy wasn't as strong this year, probably due to the lack of star power and buzzier titles, likely caused by the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike and the studios' unwillingness to pay their actors fairly, the lineup was, as always, a nice blend of genre filmmaking, independent discoveries, and international storytelling. Not everything was great…or even good…but there were enough winners to call this another successful TIFF.

This year, like the idiot I am, I pushed myself to watch an unhealthy amount of movies in 11 days: 49, to be exact. That may sound insane (because it is), but honestly, until the final days, the hungry cinephile in me couldn't get enough. If you can believe it, there are even some movies I regret missing, such as Ning Hao's The Movie Emperor, Ilker Çatak's The Teacher's Lounge, and Aki Kaurismäki's Fallen Leaves. And I'd be lying if I said I'm not still curious about Harmony Korine's Aggro Dr1ft. But alas, I saw 49, and I'm satisfied with that number.

Now that I've had the time to clear my head and properly process everything I saw, here is the ranking of all 49 movies that I saw at TIFF…

Also, in case you missed it, check out how Nick ranked the 38 movies he saw at the festival HERE.

49. NYAD On one hand, Nyad did produce some hard laughter; on the other hand, the movie is not supposed to be a comedy. It’s amazing how directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin direct the film with nothing to offer; however, whenever they try to go outside the box, the decisions are atrocious. Its mix of documentary-style formatting doesn’t work, and the movie doesn't give you anything beyond a feel-good ending. Jodie Foster and Rhys Ifans are good, but wow, Annette Bening is horrendous. Beyond being unintentionally hilarious, Nyad is a massive waste of time.

48. THEY SHOT THE PIANO PLAYER  They Shot the Piano Player is just baffling. Giving off the appearance of an animated documentary that features a voice performance from Jeff Goldblum, who sounds like he recorded his lines from bed, Piano Player tells us a lot about the subject while not giving us enough reason to care. While I assume this was intentional, the animation is very clunky, out of sync with the sound and voices, and overall just unappealing. I see the intent with this one, but I found myself way too disinterested.

47. KNOX GOES AWAY  I love Michael Keaton, but directing is not his thing. Knox Goes Away takes a somewhat interesting concept and goes nowhere with it. Admittedly, the ending is interesting, but to get there, we have to sit through dull storytelling, weak melodrama, and a very warped interpretation of what Alzheimer’s is. Michael Keaton's (for lack of a better term) Michael Keaton-isms don't work here, which just add to the film's noticeably dour tone. Failing as both a thriller and a character drama, Knox Goes Away doesn't have much, if anything, to offer.

46. PAIN HUSTLERS Pain Hustlers wants to be The Wolf of Wall Street so badly that it forgot to be good…at all. It wants to have it both ways in its approach to the opioid crisis: highlighting the depravity of the people pushing the drugs while also attempting a humanizing character study. Sadly, it fails at both, especially considering how tame the movie really is. In short, it’s too easy. It offers simple answers and takes quick shortcuts in how it handles the subject matter. If you want a good example of style over substance, look no further.

45. ORIGIN  There is an old rule in storytelling: Show, don't tell. Origin largely abandons that rule. Instead of delivering what should have been a documentary on the Caste system, writer/director Ava DuVernay opts for an aggressively unsubtle and borderline Hallmark approach to the narrative form. Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor is terrific, and she could gain something from this, but the way in which the message is presented is flatly directed, a structural disaster, and full of moments that are emotionally manipulative. The final thirty minutes, in particular…I'm not gonna lie…were horrendous. I had high hopes for this one, but I was very disappointed.

44. WILDCAT  I still don't believe that Wildcat is a movie and not a bizarre fever dream. The way the movie begins, I was into it; however, it collapses from there. Maya Hawke does some heavy lifting, but her father? Not so much. Co-writer/director Ethan Hawke's storytelling abilities reek of pretentiousness without giving reason to care about the subject. On top of that, there are countless baffling creative decisions that had me holding back laughter; not to mention, sadly,  a horrible Laura Linney performance. For what it's worth, Wildcat is a very funny movie, but not intentionally.

43. LEE There seems to be this misconception in Hollywood that a movie can coast on just the power of its true story. Lee is another victim of this mentality because, while the story of Lee Miller is interesting, the film does nothing to distinguish itself beyond great performances from Kate Winslet and Andy Samberg. It tries to comment on sexism and war, but that doesn't go anywhere beyond finger-wagging. Motivations aren't entirely clear, and the film falls victim to a bizarre framing device that confuses more than delivers. I'm probably gonna forget Lee very quickly.

42. WORKING CLASS GOES TO HELL To put it bluntly, Working Class Goes to Hell is a disappointing movie. The worst crime a movie can commit is wasting a good concept with mediocrity, which is what is especially done here. As a horror movie, jump scares are present, but it's not fully reliant on them, mostly relying on tension and scary imagery. However, as a social satire, it falls aggressively flat. Its messaging is, at best, agreeable; at worst, oversimplified yet confusing. The decisions made in the end are just baffling too, and interesting political commentaries are not enough to save this from being another spineless horror film.

41. DUMB MONEY  It’s not a good sign that my first thought after watching Dumb Money was, “I’ve seen worse.” The story itself is fascinating, and if handled correctly, it could’ve been the funny and entertaining middle finger to Wall Street it aspires to be. Instead, the film overextends itself with needless and underdeveloped subplots that don’t do much to enhance what we know already. With the events of the film happening very recently, the movie’s presentation is way too dull to distinguish itself or justify its existence, making me think it’s going to become irrelevant almost immediately.

40. DICKS: THE MUSICAL I can't remember the last time a movie had me in the palm of its hand then completely lost me by the end. Dicks: The Musical is a film that dials the absurdism up to a thousand and never dials it down. Initially, I loved it. I was laughing a lot while enjoying the musical numbers and just how unapologetically queer the film is. But, eventually, the film’s non-stop insanity just exhausted me. Sadly, there are only so many sex jokes and sewer boys I can take in a minute, let alone 90.

39. GONZO GIRL  The pieces are present for Gonzo Girl, but it ultimately falls flat, even if director Patricia Arquette shows loads of potential behind the camera. The film is well shot and the pacing works, but the real highlights are the magnetic performances of Willem Dafoe and Camila Morrone. Both come close to overdoing it, but never cross that line, instead working off each other incredibly. Sadly, the writing is not up to their level, as the movie is mostly just screaming obscenities and cocaine use. It very quickly becomes tiresome and too mean-spirited to enjoy.

38. MOTHER COUCH  I'll always respect a movie for taking swings, but Mother Couch misses the mark. While the entire cast delivers great performances, especially Ewan McGregor, its messaging on parenthood and family dynamics are way too obvious to warrant the surrealist rabbit hole the movie chooses to take us down. It attempts to use imagery and just plain weirdness (I still don't really know what Taylor Russell's character was doing) to trick us into thinking the movie is deeper than it actually is, but in the end, it mostly just left me pretty perplexed as to what I just watched.

37. NAGA I understood some of what NAGA was going for, but overall, I left feeling dissatisfied. Writer/director Meshal Aljaser fills the movie with unrelenting tension, and there are moments that genuinely had me at the edge of my seat (Adwa Bader's performance certainly helps). However, as the movie keeps going, it doesn’t feel like it is offering much other than thrills. I didn't like the student film vibe, and while I got the message, the tone didn't feel correct for what it was saying. It's not all bad, but there just wasn’t enough that worked for me.

36. THE END WE START FROM  I found myself mostly confused by The End We Start From, and not nearly emotionally invested enough to forgive that. Jodie Comer is fantastic, portraying a tender mother and a fighting survivor with deft nuance. That said, the world-building around her isn't great. I found it hard to wrap my head around what happened in this world to create a borderline dystopian society. On top of that, some of the characterizations felt rushed and unnatural. If you wanna watch The End We Start From for Jodie Comer, go ahead; otherwise, it's skippable.

35. THE QUEEN OF MY DREAMS  The Queen of My Dreams is by no means a perfect film. It's a little wonky, structurally speaking, and in the end, it doesn't get at anything deeper than what's on the surface. To make things worse, the subplot about the younger years of our protagonist in the third act is just poorly written. Thankfully, it has a wickedly charming dual lead performance from Amrit Kaur and is a lovely celebration of Pakistani culture and cinema. The film’s familial bond is likely to tug at the heartstrings as well, making this a worthwhile experience overall.

34. HELL OF A SUMMER  I'm glad I watched Hell of a Summer with a Midnight Madness crowd because it certainly helped my perception of the movie, especially because time has not treated this movie well. My initial viewing experience was a lot of fun. I laughed a lot, and I thought the slasher aspects were interesting at times. However, the film’s flaws…namely, the weak structure, the shallow Gen-Z commentary, and the way the movie reveals its mystery out of thin air…makes the rest of the movie tensionless, which, in hindsight, has begun to overshadow the fun I had.

33. SLY As a lifelong fan of Sylvester Stallone, it saddens me to say that Sly is predictably self-pandering. I wanted a deeper look at his life, not just his career, but the movie takes most of its runtime to talk about how Stallone created his famous franchises (a lot of the movie is just about Rocky). As a fan, that's fun, but it's not worth my time when I'm after a little bit more. Not that his personal life isn't touched on at all, but not nearly enough to be insightful. Is it an easy watch? Absolutely. Will I watch it again, though? Probably not.

32. ROBOT DREAMS  There is something to admire about the simple existence of Robot Dreams. An animated movie about the friendship between a robot and a dog that is told entirely with no dialogue feels like a relic of the past, and yet here it is. The animation is colourful and enticing throughout, while the themes of loneliness and the human desire to reach out make for an endearing watch. Unfortunately, while the movie feels like a short film stretched to feature length due to increasingly repetitive subplots that could have easily been removed, the final scene alone makes the experience worth it.

31. FINGERNAILS  Fingernails has a great premise, but the film never lives up to it. A good chunk of the movie is fleshing out the central idea regarding this test that can calculate love, and because it spends so much time on that, the broader implications of what writer/director Christos Nikou is trying to say about the human desire to feel loved falls through the cracks. Not that this is a bad movie, as Jessie Buckley is as excellent as always and the ideas presented are good ones, but I wish it offered something more.

30. LES INDÉSIRABLES Look, director/co-writer Ladj Ly's intentions for Les Indésirables are clear. It's a very well-made criticism of France's racial inequality and displacement system that can feel riveting at times. However, at a point, Ly's obvious anger felt more like we were being shouted at. There isn’t enough to sink your teeth into as the point comes across fairly quickly; then there is another hour left, ultimately leaving you with a harrowing yet repetitive film. It's unfortunately the kind of film that is less interested in teaching and more in getting a reaction.

29. NEXT GOAL WINS After years of delays, I've finally seen Next Goal Wins's solid, I guess. If you're not into co-writer/director Taika Watiti's sense of humour, this isn't gonna change your mind; however, as someone who is into his style, I found the film quite funny. As a crowd pleaser, Next Goal Wins works, and the film boasts a funny cast, led by an amazing Michael Fassbender, but the writing is quite weak in terms of characterization and story structure. Plus, its portrayal of American Samoa as careless goofballs is a little reckless. Although it's a good time, it’s not necessary viewing.

28. FRYBREAD FACE AND ME Culture and family play a big part in Frybread Face and Me, but the movie doesn't offer enough beyond that to make the experience worthwhile. It's not bad, though. Its look at Navajo-American life is compelling as we learn about their culture, while the family dynamic can be endearing, if not a little confused at times in terms of how we're supposed to feel about the relationship. However, as a coming-of-age comedy, it doesn't really land. The jokes miss a lot, the pacing is off, and the ensemble gives mixed results. Overall, it’s not something I'd ever return to.

27. FITTING IN Fitting In is, at worst, a well-intentioned film that just misses the mark in its execution. The film's strongest asset has got to be Maddie Ziegler, whose raw and authentic performance gives the film and subject the realism it requires. Not that director/writer Molly McGlynn didn’t do that, as the tragicomedy tone worked for the film, but its wonky set up and underdeveloped subplots leave a lot to be desired. That all said, I do believe this film is successful at examining the insecurities of young women in an entertaining and unique coming-of-age way.

26. A DIFFICULT YEAR  There is a great movie hidden in A Difficult Year. It’s admittedly hilarious at times, and the performances by Pio Marmaï, Jonathan Cohen, and especially Noémie Merlant are compelling, which almost drives the film to reach its potential. However, the film is lacking in some key areas. The political message of faux activism is very shallow, and it doesn’t make any observations beyond 'it's bad.’ Plus, the characters are one-dimensional, and the plot is way too thin to feel any of the emotional stakes that we are supposed to feel. I would’ve loved to see a better movie with this concept.

25. LA CHIMERA La Chimera has a lot boiling underneath that sadly never reaches the surface, but it still features more than enough to make up for it. The ensemble works wonders, namely the film's lead, Josh O’Connor, whose grit makes him hard to look away from. Alice Rohrwacher’s direction makes the film engaging too, as does the picturesque portrait of the Italian countryside from cinematographer Hélène Louvart. Unfortunately, the crime aspect of the film and its deeper implications don’t result in anything larger than seemingly intended, and the note it ends on isn’t satisfying enough to justify the journey, making me feel very conflicted overall.

24. WOMAN OF THE HOUR  Colour me surprised because Woman of the Hour is quite good. Some moments certainly feel like they were only there to pad the runtime since they didn't add anything we didn't already know or because they felt unearned, but Anna Kendrick's direction gives way to not only a freakishly intense final twenty minutes, but also a thrilling commentary on how men are able to manipulate women. Kendrick is as delightful as she always is, and Daniel Zovatto is as charming as he is creepy, and though not without its flaws, Woman of the Hour is a hell of a debut.

23. THE BOY AND THE HERON  Hayao Miyazaki's latest feature, The Boy and the Heron, is another wonder from the legendary filmmaker, but one that unfortunately falls just short of greatness. Like Miyazaki's other films, the animation is stunning to look at, with every single frame a sight to behold as it takes you to a universe that shows Miyazaki's imagination holds no equal. While its themes of grief are well written, the film throws a bit too much at the viewer to get the message across, making the film less thought-provoking and more overwhelming. It’s another win for Miyazaki, but not amongst his best.

22. RUSTIN  I guarantee you've seen the nuts and bolts of Rustin before, but something about this film works better than most average biopics. Maybe it's just how incredible Bayard Rustin's (Colman Domingo) story of being a forgotten yet important part of the civil rights movement is… Or maybe it's Domingo's instantly charming performance that both devastates and empowers at the same time… Or maybe it's the frenetic energy the film offers in telling this story… or the quick and snappy dialogue that adds layers of surprising entertainment. Whatever it is, it made Rustin work.

21. MEMORY It's wild how much the performances of great actors can elevate a film, but in the case of Memory, that's exactly what Jessica Chastain’s and Peter Sarsgaard’s do. Their nuance in approaching these heavy roles is something to marvel at. Not that Memory isn’t great without them, mind you. Writer/director Michel Franco's deft hand at going about the subjects is delicate and precise, and though I don't see his slow-moving nature working for you if it hasn't before, it works for me. And, again, even if you're not totally into the plot, you still have two incredible performances that are beyond worthwhile.


One can look at Wicked Little Letters and go, “Oh, look, another charming British comedy.” And there is some truth to that. However, it goes beyond that to deliver more poignancy than I expected. Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley are both amazing (they always are), but I loved the whole ensemble. Each actor is committed to this bizarre story that intrigues and delights at the same time. The structure isn't completely sound, but with what lies at the end of Wicked Little Letters, it’s hard to not at least smile.


I didn't fully know what I expected out of The Burial, but it wasn't this. I'm not saying it's unlike anything out there (believe me, that's not the case), but I wasn't expecting something this funny to hold this much weight. Tommy Lee Jones is mostly just being Tommy Lee Jones (not bad, just expected), but Jamie Foxx and Alan Ruck are particularly hard to keep my eyes off of. This is a breezy watch, for sure, but the dramatic depth this film had in its storytelling caught me off guard and left me emotionally satisfied.


Not many directors can make an elongated wood-chopping sequence captivating, but that's what Ryûsuke Hamaguchi pulls off in Evil Does Not Exist as he takes on the environmental crisis with care and insight. The landscapes of the film are stunningly well shot, and the characters on both sides are handled with depth in a way that doesn't villainize anyone. Unfortunately, the final ten minutes take a turn for the worst, feeling like a completely different film that ditches the subtly for thrills. All in all, a once brilliant film that falls flat in the end.


I found myself really loving Fair Play, something I did not expect to say before seeing it. It starts as an erotic thriller, which I had mixed feelings about, but the psycho-sensual tension between Alden Ehrenreich and Phoebe Dynevor kept me on my toes. As the film goes on, however, it makes a 180 and begins to really captivate as it viciously examines domestic and gender dynamics in the workplace. And Ehrenreich, in particular, really gets to shine. Fair Play went places I had no idea it was gonna go, and it made the movie for me.


Does every narrative beat in The Royal Hotel work? Not necessarily. However, Kitty Green's latest film takes you on a thrill ride that rarely ever lets up. Scenes are tension-filled to an uncomfortable degree from start to finish, all in service of its themes of toxic masculinity and male fragility, anchored by great performances from Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick. The ending left me a little perplexed, if not slightly dissatisfied, but the film's commentaries and approach kept me thinking long after the credits rolled.

15. KILL

Fun fact: This was my first Midnight Madness premiere at TIFF, and I believe I made the right choice starting with KILL. To put it plainly, KILL is like The Raid on a train. The first act has its fair share of violence, but in the second act, it never stops. The kills are ultra gory, slick, stylized, and messy in the best ways possible. Now, you'd think with a movie like that, it would mainly rely on its kill count, but there's a shocking emotional throughline to compliment the gore. KILL is simply a killer good time.


Now, I'm not saying I don't dream about Nicolas Cage on a regular basis, but Dream Scenario takes that idea to new extremes. Cage puts a new spin on his holds-nothing-back persona for more laid-back chaos in a film that's wildly funny yet thought-provoking. Its commentary on cancel culture offers mixed results, but its stance on the current state of fame hits hard. The absurdism of the plot is very entertaining, but by the third act, it wears a little thin. Still, Dream Scenario is fun and poignant, and who doesn't love some Cage mayhem?


Director Hirokazu Kore-eda once again shows his knack for quietly devastating storytelling with Monster. Its framing device can be initially jarring since it tells the same story through three perspectives, but the impact is never blunted. By the film's fantastic third act, you get what Kore-eda is saying, and all you need to do is sit back and let the haunting beauty of Monster suck you in and leave you a blubbering mess. The film comes together to make for many shocking reveals that turn its dark subject matter into a tender tale that's hard not to fall for.


At face value, Concrete Utopia seems like a fun disaster flick, which set all my expectations going into it. However, I was not prepared for the emotional force and the politics it presented. I can't say it has the most unique messaging about class warfare or dictators, but I couldn't help but get sucked into its atmosphere almost instantly, thanks to the incredible cast, the jaw-dropping production design, and the emotionally satisfying finale. At first, Concrete Utopia may seem familiar, but it wound up being a remarkably unique experience.


The Green Border is an incredible film and a powerful call to action. Through a horrifying black-and-white lens, co-writer/director Agnieszka Holland takes us to the mortifying reality that is the refugee crisis at the border between Poland and Belarus. The film is guided by three plots (a family, a border guard, and an activist), and while some have more weight to them than others, all of them expose something both revealing and painful. The Green Border is a hard watch, no question about it, but it's one that's necessary and worthwhile.


Perfect Days is proof that, sometimes, less absolutely equals more. A fascinating character study, the movie follows the protagonist through his day-to-day life, and the film holds nothing back in showing the less-than-ideal yet mundane situation he’s in; however, through Wim Wenders’ nuanced direction and Kôji Yakusho’s subtle performance, even the 20-minute-long sequences of Yakusho cleaning bathrooms reveal a poetic truth. Due to the film’s patient and purposefully repetitive nature, I can’t say it’s a film that’ll appeal to everyone, but the final shot alone made the journey worth it.


His Three Daughters is a mature, heartbreaking, and bittersweet analysis of family and grief that had me blubbering. Azazel Jacobs' writing and direction ground the film to a point of uncomfortable familiarity as it examines its subjects and the past and current trauma they’ve experienced, all of which is anchored by three magnificent performances from Carrie Coon, Elizabeth Olsen, and especially Natasha Lyonne. The dynamic between the three gives way to something that devastates beyond the central premise in a way that'll make it hard not to hurt your heart at least a little bit. It was an amazing way to end the festival.


The surprise of the festival has got to be Sing Sing. What could've been sappy Oscar-bait turns into something truly beautiful as it examines the humanity that can be found somewhere so deeply dehumanizing. Colman Domingo shines alongside an incredible ensemble (mostly comprised of real-life former inmates), all of whom come together with director Greg Kwedar and his co-writer Clint Bentley to make something devastating yet hopeful about the healing power of art. Quietly powerful in its approach to the subjects at hand, Sing Sing might present answers that could be seen as easy, but it’s effective nonetheless.


Even before the studio logos appeared, I was already into what The Holdovers had to offer. For the first half, I was enthralled by director Alexander Payne's 70s aesthetic and the sharp, almost screwball comedy script (written by David Hemingson). Dominic Sessa and Da'Vine Joy Randolph shine too, but Paul Giamatti gives a performance with so many layers that you can't help but love him despite his grouchiness. The much more mature second act, however, is what stuck with me the most. While still funny, it offers a devastating yet sweet portrait of loneliness that will leave audiences satisfied.


American Fiction juggles comedy, family drama, and social-racial politics amazingly considering this is writer/director Cord Jefferson’s first feature. The film is hilarious throughout, with a healthy blend of absurdism and slice-of-life humour. While the family drama plot can seem familiar (not in the way I imagine was intended), the way it blends with the commentary on how black people are depicted in the media and in culture was nothing short of brilliant. I foresee the ending dividing people, but I thought it was incredible. American Fiction is, at worst, a familiar comedy; at best, an ingenious satire.


About Dry Grasses is proof that when your movie is captivating enough, it’s never too long. Sitting at just under 200 minutes, this film is almost all dialogue, which sounds jarring, but it felt as if it breezed by. Director/co-writer Nuri Bilge Ceylan fills the runtime with fascinating conversations that make the concept, which can seem very simple, become a brilliant character study. Deniz Celiloglu is particularly breathtaking in the lead role, and certain moments in the film are so shocking that I had to stop myself from audibly gasping. It’s the rare three-hour feature that I'd be delighted to return to.


The Zone of Interest is a haunting portrait of the Holocaust that will stay with any audience member willing to take the journey. Writer/director Jonathan Glazer presents an analysis of evil, and how some of the most atrocious human beings can look so normal. While the film revels in the mundane to an uncomfortable degree, Glazer is not afraid to get experimental on us, presenting the audience a challenging way to view humanity in all its ugliness. I left this movie feeling disturbed and angry, yet awestruck at the brave approach to this subject matter.


Do you love movies? Yes? Then you'll love Hit Man. There isn't a lot to not love about it, to be honest. Co-writer/director Richard Linklater's latest produces belly laughs nearly non-stop, thanks to sharp writing and instantly lovable characters. Glen Powell's leading man charm is dialed up to 1000, and his chemistry with Adria Arjona is so good that I felt like I was intruding sometimes. As the film keeps going, the plot gets more and more interesting and entertaining, making for a film so calculated, so creative, and so sexy, that it must be seen to believe.


In the beginning, How to Have Sex presents us with a lucid and fun coming-of-age sex comedy, and a very energetic one at that. Eventually, however, the film takes a drastic turn into a fascinating study of modern hook-up culture and the dynamic young women have when approaching it. In her feature debut, writer/director Molly Manning Walker announces her arrival to the scene with devastating nuance and astounding visuals. The film also features a performance that I hope turns Mia McKenna-Bruce into a star. How to Have Sex is a stomach-turning accomplishment that must be seen to believe.

1. ANATOMY OF A FALL I'm still in awe of what Anatomy of a Fall pulled off. Co-writer/director Justine Triet crafted a mystery/courtroom procedural that needed every single moment to work or else it would fall apart. I can’t believe she pulled it off. Everything we learn about the case, we learn through Sandra Hüller's character, and Hüller is more than up to the task, giving a breathtaking performance. For a film that's mostly dialogue, the two-and-a-half-hour runtime breezes by, and by the end, the portrait of dysfunctional domestic relationships stays with you as you question everything you've been told. A true work of art.

Photo Credits: Toronto International Film Festival

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