October 21, 2022
WRITTEN BY: NICK
With Bitesize Breakdown sending three writers to TIFF this year, we decided that each of our individual feature articles should be done in a different style. With that in mind, I wanted to recap my festival experience with a daily journal.
All said and done, I saw nearly 40 movies in 11 days. I walked away with some highs that I fully expect to make my “Best of 2022” list, and while there were some lows too, there were few things I actively hated. That said, my favorite takeaway is all the wonderful people I got to meet: fellow critics, eager film fans, and the TIFF volunteers and coordinators. Plus, this was the first time three Bitesizers had been in the same city at the same time (one of which I was meeting in person for the first time). They all made my first TIFF a memorable experience, and they’re just another reason I’m already looking forward to next year.
Now, please follow along with the Week One perspective of a first time TIFF critic, and come back on Monday to close out the experience with Week Two. Enjoy the ride...
My first film of TIFF was always going to have the unenviable task of setting the tone for the rest of the festival. It would be the film I ranked all other movies against, and, perhaps unfairly, a film saddled with a certain level of hype regardless of what it was. For me, that film was Nanny. I added this film to my schedule based on another critic’s recommendation, and even though it didn't quite work for me, I understand where the recommendation came from. Anna Diop is spectacular in the lead role, and her chemistry with co-star Sinqua Walls is magical. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t take advantage of this fact while managing to introduce too many ideas and commit to none of them at the same time.
My opening night closed out with Elegance Bratton’s The Inspection. This was one of my most anticipated films, and it did not disappoint. Bratton crafted an incredibly heartfelt and personal story, which became even more clear as the director shed tears at the Q&A following its debut. In fact, it’s evident on screen that this film clearly meant something to the entire cast and crew. Of the films I caught that neither of my fellow Bitesize writers were able to, this was easily their biggest mistake.
WEIRD: THE AL YANKOVIC STORY
Weird was probably one of the more intriguing films of the festival, so I was happy to start Day Two with an early morning screening of it. The idea of an Al Yankovic biopic is curious enough, but then you add Daniel Radcliffe in the starring role… and, oh, did I mention it’s being released as a Roku Original? It all makes Weird an apt title. Although I liked it more than I loved it, this film was 10 years in the making, so it just seeing the light of day is a great story.
Due to scheduling, Roost was a film I almost had to cut, but I’m so happy I found a window for it. It’s not the thriller it’s promoted as, but it is a well-acted drama that kept me locked in through its entirety. Kyle Gallner is the standout, making this the second festival film he’s made a splash with after fellow Bitesize writer Quentin raved about Dinner in America from Fantasia Film Festival 2020.
Clement Virgo’s Brother brought Day Two to an end. Growing up just outside of Toronto, I was particularly interested in this film since I know the area and people of Scarborough extremely well. Aaron Pierre especially captures the Scarborough vibe with his character; but there is something missing that just doesn’t make the film feel quite like the suburb I know. I had hoped the neighborhood would be more of a central character, but instead it feels a little generic. I’m aware that’s going to be a niche opinion since I’m from the area, and I expect others will enjoy it more without viewing it through that lens.
THE WOMAN KING
After five films, the festival had been very heavy on the drama, lacking anything to really get me out of my seat. Enter The Woman King. Gina Prince-Bythewood's feature is filled with badass women doing badass things, and I loved every minute of it. The performances are great across the board, while the film itself is enriched by the culture and history of the Dahomey warriors, a group I admittedly knew nothing about but came to learn are basically the real-life version of the Dora Milaje from Black Panther. The Woman King is also rife with awards-worthy and career-best showings from a number of actors, and I hope to see some acknowledgement of that come awards season.
BLACK ICE Red Carpet
Due to a lengthy break between films, I was able to cover the Red Carpet for the documentary Black Ice. I saw the film before the festival, so it won’t be included here (review to come), but everyone at TIFF deserves kudos for how easy they made it for Press, particularly creating a memorable first carpet experience for yours truly. I had the pleasure of speaking with fellow critic Peter Gray on Press Row, where we saw the likes of NHLers PK Subban, Wayne Simonds, and Anthony Duclair…names lesser known to the Australian critic as our sport isn’t quite as popular in his neck of the woods. I even got to discuss diversity in hockey with current Stanley Cup Champion and former Toronto Maple Leaf Nazem Kadri. Toss in a surprise appearance by Hayden Christensen, and it was an unforgettable experience.
After covering the Black Ice premiere and watching the stars arrive for Glass Onion‘s Red Carpet (more on that film tomorrow), it was time for The Menu. I knew this devilish tale would be right up my alley, and I was correct. The writing supersedes any one performance, so you feel like you’re being taken on the same ride as the characters in the movie. It’s fantastic! Also, it was the only premiere that made it feel special to be there. There were gift bags with travel mugs waiting on our seats when we arrived, and upon the film’s conclusion, they were handing out food from the film’s menu via a local food truck. That’s how it’s done. This is one of the biggest film festivals in the world, and going that extra mile is something more films should have considered.
GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY
With the success of Knives Out, Glass Onion had a ton to live up to. Sure, you have the highly anticipated return of Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) combined with a new cast of characters, but could the mystery surpass its predecessor’s? Yes, yes it could. Rian Johnson’s follow-up is a funnier film that may not reach the heights of the original, but it doesn’t fall short by much. It’s a great sign that Blanc has a lot of legs since Craig seems eager to take on yet another successful franchise. I expect this movie to break some Netflix records when it’s released later this year, and I already can’t wait for the next entry. It should also be noted that, at the Q&A following this 9am screening, Daniel Craig was admittedly hungover from the global premiere the night before, and watching him struggle to answer questions was genuinely hilarious.
WENDELL & WILD
Following the highs of Glass Onion, I almost immediately went into a screening for Wendell & Wild. My interest piqued when I heard there was a stop-motion children’s horror film being brought to life by the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas and emerging horror icon Jordan Peele. Sadly, this was a bit of a letdown. Yes, kids likely will enjoy it, but it felt familiar in all the cliché ways you'd want to avoid. I certainly didn’t hate it, and I have an infinite amount of respect for stop-motion animators, but the film itself doesn't match the quality of the visuals.
THE GOOD NURSE
Another entry from my most anticipated list was The Good Nurse. The true story of a nurse suspected of killing his patients, led by Oscar winners Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne, seemed like a slam dunk. Nope. The film is dreary and devoid of personality, with a tone similar to Netflix’s The Unforgivable. However, unlike that film, the central performances can’t make up for the film’s many issues since they are relatively uninspired. On multiple occasions, I found myself sitting in the theatre actively waiting for the film to end. The fact that they wasted the story of maybe the most prolific serial killer in history on this slog is indefensible.
Day Four closed with my first Midnight Madness screening of the festival. The crowd at these showings are different animals. It’s a rowdy environment where people like to have fun, react loudly (a little too often) throughout the film, and relish in the fact that we’re all watching something in a packed house at 1am. It was a good environment in which to see Sick, a relatively generic slasher film with a COVID twist. It’s nothing special as a movie, but it was a fun way to end the day.
This concludes Week One. If you thought that was a lot of films, just wait until Week Two when I finally get to see festival juggernauts The Whale, The Son, and The Fabelmans. Two I loved, one I hated. Tune in on Monday to find out which one was which!
Photo Credits: TIFF