Toronto Film Festival highlights from One Life to The Boy and the Heron

Film festival season is in full swing. We recently presented you with the highlights of the 2023 Venice Film Festival and the 2023 Telluride Film Festival.

We now arrive at 2023's Toronto International Film Festival, or TIFF for short. Here are some review highlights of buzzed-about titles that could be spearheading the forthcoming award season.


1. Dumb Money (released September 22nd)

This amusing and insightful comedy-drama is based on the true story of a group of rag-tag investors from the Reddit page called r/WallStreetBets. They banded together to put the squeeze on at least two hedge funds that had bet that GameStop shares would fall.

I, Tonya and Cruella helmer Craig Gillespie brings his characteristic sense of fun to bear on a story that is equal parts audacious and shocking. Paul Dano leads a strong ensemble that also includes Seth Rogen, America Ferrara, Pete Davidson, Anthony Ramos and Nick Offerman.

"Dumb Money, touching on questions of the authority of personality and the importance of nonfinancial—even completely irrational—motives in the investment world, offers a gleeful romp through strange and treacherous territory that merits a closer, more careful look," writes Richard Brody for The New Yorker.

Don't forget about our Unlimited screening of Dumb Money on September 18th.

2. One Life (released January 1st 2024)

Anthony Hopkins portrays humanitarian Nicholas Winton in this account of Winton's wartime 'kindertransport' achievement. As a younger man, Winton (played in flashback by Johnny Flynn) travelled to Czechoslovakia and was moved by the plight of child refugees suffering under Nazi occupation.

He then organised a daring mission to transport as many children as possible out of the country to safety. Several decades later, the elderly Winton's achievements were broadcast to the world on Esther Rantzen's 'This Life' TV show.

Anchored by Hopkins' performance, the actor already flush from his recent Oscar win for The Father (his second overall), the film sports an excellent supporting cast including Helena Bonham Carter, Jonathan Pryce, Lena Olin and Romola Garai.

"Practically single-handedly, the actor rescues One Life from the brink of hagiography by introducing thorny paradoxes to the character, which turn every one of his scenes and interactions into an emotional highwire act," writes Siddhant Adlakha for Mashable.

"It’s a must-watch performance on par with his Oscar-winning role in The Father, as he makes a meal out of the subtle ways in which an elderly gentleman who’s seen untold horrors (and has bottled them all up) might bristle at the thought of his internal contradictions or of a spotlight being cast on them — contradictions that only grow and fester by the end.

3. Dream Scenario

The Nicolas Cage-aissance continues in the wake of the critically acclaimed and experimental movies Pig and The Extraordinary Weight of Massive Talent. The singular actor joins forces with indie film powerhouse label A24 and producer Ari Aster, whose own A24 success stories include Hereditary and Midsommar.

Cage goes schlubby in the manner of 2002's Adaptation to play dorky college professor Paul who realises that he's a part of people's dreams. Expect a trenchant and witty critique of celebrity culture in this offbeat satire that also stars Julianne Nicholson and Michael Cera.

"Cage turns Paul’s default mode of pathetic self-absorbed snivelling into the stuff of high art, in a performance that may bring to mind his anxiety-ridden turn in Spike Jonze’s Adaptation, especially considering the Kaufman-esque surrealism of the narrative," observes Mark Hanson for Slant

"But a closer point of reference would be his titular role in Gore Verbinski’s The Weather Man, one of Cage’s best and most underrated performances. Like his doofus meteorologist Dave Spritz in that film, Paul Matthews strives for greatness and recognition in a vain attempt to win the favor of his exasperated family, instead only pushing them, and everyone else in his orbit, farther away."


4. The Boy and the Heron

Renowned Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki is one of the founders of the revered Studio Ghibli. The veteran artist was said to have retired, but he's reneged on this claim twice before. True to form, Miyazaki now re-emerges after a 10-year absence with this visually luscious and evocative parable.

The film centres on a young boy named Mahito Maki who discovers an abandoned tower in his new town and enters a fantastical world with a talking grey heron.

If the title seems to be inspired by the 1937 novel of the same name, then everything else would appear to be original: it promises to be both fantastically surreal and emotionally direct in the manner of past Miyazaki masterworks like Spirited Away.

The Guardian's Benjamin Lee describes it as a "sweet and soulful" goodbye to a pioneering animator (assuming that this is indeed Miyazaki's final project).

Lee adds: "This is an uncommonly mature and joyous meditation on death and legacy, one that paints death as a new beginning, a transition to another time and place, where nothing actual seems final. For a filmmaker like Miyazaki, that’s the perfect note to go out on."

5. Monster

Hirokazu Kore-eda is renowned as one of Japan's finest filmmakers, capable of turning a surgical yet gently humanist eye to complex social scenarios. Earlier this year, we screened his most recent drama, Broker, and back in 2018 Kore-eda scored a significant artistic success with Shoplifters.

The filmmaker's latest project again toys with the manifest nuances of interaction, class and subjective point of view. Monster centres on a mother who blames her son's school teacher for the abrupt change in his behaviour. But all is not as it seems as multiple points of view emerge to help explain the mystery.

Already a critical hit at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, where The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw lauded the film's "intricacy and complexity", Monster has now landed with a splash of critical acclaim at Toronto.

Raves Brian Tallerico for "Monster is another striking piece of work from a master, a movie that’s so carefully calibrated that you get lost in these characters, forgetting they're performers and not people caught up in a genuinely traumatic chapter of life."

6. The Zone of Interest

British filmmaker Jonathan Glazer doesn't make films very often but when he does, they're often electric and scalp-prickling experiences. Glazer has inverted Ben Kingsley's screen persona in the crime drama Sexy Beast and cast Scarlett Johansson as a humanoid alien adrift in Glasgow in Under the Skin.

He now tackles a loose adaptation of the late Martin Amis' wartime novel The Zone of Interest. But, as ever, Glazer is out to fashion an audio-visual nightmare, which this time plunges audiences into the terror of the Holocaust without ever playing on the front foot with crass, tasteless imagery.

The movie focuses on Auschwitz camp commandant Rudolf Höss whose family life continues unabated even as the Jews are persecuted and murdered in the concentration camp adjoining his home. Critics say the movie is deeply unnerving and does a superb job of honouring the traumatic memory of the Holocaust.

"The Zone of Interest is a formalized and frightening Holocaust film, largely for the ways it displays the Höss family as merely human beings," writes Maureen Lee Lenker for Entertainment Weekly.

"It's a stark reminder of our complicity and the capacity for great evil in the most mundane of circumstances. I'll never forget the experience of watching it, even if I can't ever bring myself to endure it again."


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