The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) officially begins tomorrow and runs until September 17th. There are a number of films playing at the festival which had their world premieres at either Berlin, SXSW, Cannes, Telluride, or Venice, but we’re mostly looking forward to the TIFF-specific world premieres. Here is a list of 20 world premieres the Next Best Picture team is looking forward to watching at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (presented in alphabetical order).
The number one reason to see “American Fiction” is its leading man. Jeffrey Wright has become one of the world’s most versatile and magnetic actors to watch on screen. His performance in this particular TIFF world premiere is said to be “beautifully nuanced” as he plays a respected author and professor of English literature whose feelings on race begin to clash with his students as his personal life crumbles around him. Cord Jefferson’s directorial debut is said to be “a timely reflection on the fictions we tell ourselves about race, progress, and community.” Wright is joined by Sterling K. Brown, Issa Rae, and Erika Alexander in supporting roles. Expect to hear this one get debated and discussed a lot following its world premiere.
As a dyed-in-the-wool theater person, I love movies about the theater world. Anand Tucker’s “The Critic” looks like exactly the kind of deliciously backstabby behind-the-scenes drama that I live for. In a desperate bid to keep his job, theatre critic Jimmy Erskine (Ian McKellen) concocts a scheme to entrap his new boss at the London Chronicle (Mark Strong) and Nina Land (Gemma Arterton), an actress for whom the married Jimmy carries a torch. But Jimmy is also hiding his homosexuality at a time when doing so was getting increasingly dangerous; will he be able to successfully enact his plot without sacrificing himself in the process? Adapted by Patrick Marber (“Notes on a Scandal” & “Closer”) from Anthony Quinn’s novel, with a cast that also includes Ben Barnes, Lesley Manville, Aldred Enoch, and Romola Garai, “The Critic” looks like it could be the kind of handsomely-mounted high-minded crowdpleaser that TIFF is known for at its best.
A late addition to this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Nicolas Cage stars as a listless family man and tenured professor who discovers he has begun to appear in other people’s dreams. While this late-career surge for Cage has been fascinating to watch unfold with memorable performances in “Mandy,” “Pig,” and “The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent,” there are other aspects of this film that have caught our attention. The film is directed by Kristoffer Borgli (“Sick Of Myself”), co-produced by Ari Aster (“Beau is Afraid“), and features supporting performances from Julianne Nicholson and Michael Cera. We expect this dark, surreal comedy to make some waves at this year’s festival, with many talking about Cage’s performance.
“Dumb Money” stars Paul Dano as a YouTuber by the name of Roaring Kitty. How could we not be excited based on that alone? Since making “I, Tonya,” director Craig Gillespie has excelled at making energetic films about stupid people making villainous decisions. “Dumb Money” brings Gillespie’s unique style to the GameStop short-squeeze of January 2021, initiated by Roaring Kitty (real name Keith Gill). It’s an absurd story to a degree, but one that legitimately impacted our financial systems in America. Gillespie is exactly the director to balance the absurdity and the seriousness in equal measure. The film also stars a massive ensemble of heavy hitters: Seth Rogen, Nick Offerman, Vincent D’Onofrio, Pete Davidson, Sebastian Stan, America Ferrera, Shailene Woodley, and more. While I often feel that true stories could benefit from more time separation between the real events and the film version, the GameStop saga resonates with a large portion of America who feels that the stock market only benefits the rich and powerful. Much like “The Big Short” in 2015, “Dumb Money” has a chance to make light of the disparity between the 1% and the 99%. Will it be able to repeat that film’s awards success as well?
THE END WE START FROM
Jodie Comer alone is enough reason for me to anticipate a project. In Mahalia Belo’s feature directorial debut, “The End We Start From,” Comer plays a young mother driven out of London by devastating floods, which turn her family’s world of familiarity into one of uncertainty. Adapted from Megan Hunter’s 2017 debut novel of the same name, the apocalyptic thriller sounds like a compelling leading role for Comer, highlighting her extraordinary range. The film is also co-written by Alice Birch, who has quickly become one of my favorite screenwriters in the industry. From penning a wicked Florence Pugh double feature (2016’s “Lady Macbeth” and 2022’s “The Wonder“) to wildly different miniseries (2020’s “Normal People” and 2023’s “Dead Ringers”), Birch has covered an exciting breadth of material. On paper, “The End We Start From” seems to continue in the vein of character-driven projects seeped in universal themes. An added bonus is the film’s strong cast, including Katherine Waterston and Mark Strong.
Writer Brian Helgeland has crafted some of the best crime-thrillers around, namely “L.A. Confidential” and “Mystic River.” While his work as a director hasn’t reached the same level of acclaim, “Finestkind” could be a return to what he does best. Ben Foster and Toby Wallace star as estranged brothers who, along with a local fishing crew, strike a deal with the Boston crime syndicate to pay off their debts. Jenna Ortega plays a “mysterious woman” also tangled up in the deal. Ortega’s rise has been remarkable to watch, and the recent Emmy nominee could use some truly grown-up material to work with outside of horror flicks and teen shows. With a cast featuring Tommy Lee Jones and producer Taylor Sheridan, “Finestkind” could be another in a long line of phenomenal Boston-set thrillers, a genre few of us get tired of. Paramount+ will distribute the film, though it’s unclear if they will deliver a theatrical release alongside streaming.
Another book-to-screen adaptation on my radar is Patricia Arquette’s feature directorial debut “Gonzo Girl,” set to premiere in the festival’s discovery program. The film is based on Cheryl Della Pietra’s 2015 semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, which accounts for when Pietra was an assistant to Hunter S. Thompson. The story follows fading novelist Walker Reade (Willem Dafoe) and his new assistant/aspiring writer Alley Russo (Camila Morrone). “Gonzo Girl” has me at Dafoe, an all-time favorite actor whose eclectic choices and commitment to the craft never cease to keep things exciting. The film sounds to be another versatile role for him to sink his teeth into. Beyond Dafoe’s involvement, one of the film’s most anticipatory features is his co-star Camila Morrone. Showing her talent in projects such as “Mickey and the Bear” and her Emmy-nominated turn in “Daisy Jones and the Six” (a series her performance is the heart of), Morrone is an intriguing actor on the rise. Her and Dafoe’s chemistry should be an engaging watch.
HIS THREE DAUGHTERS
Writer-director Azazel Jacobs has made quite a name for himself with his last two features, “The Lovers” and “French Exit.” Both are idiosyncratic in different ways; they provided tremendous showcases for their respective performing ensembles, but especially for their leads – Debra Winger, Tracy Letts, and Michelle Pfeiffer, respectively. He’s secured himself a trio of talented performers to lead his latest: Carrie Coon, Natasha Lyonne, and Elizabeth Olsen play sisters forced together in their father’s house when his health worsens to the point that they have to start preparing for the end. Coon, Lyonne, and Olsen are all such fantastic, prickly performers that sparks are sure to fly when they share the screen, and if Jacobs’s previous films have taught us anything, it’s to expect the off-kilter and unexpected, which may make them the perfect collaborators for him.
KNOX GOES AWAY
With “The Killer” and “Hit Man” all releasing during this fall film festival season, hitmen seem to be all the rage right now in Hollywood. That continues here with “Knox Goes Away,” which is directed by and starring Micheal Keaton as he plays a hitman who is losing his memory. His son, played by James Marsden, needs to work with his ailing father to cover up a messy crime before the fast-acting dementia renders Knox useless to finish this final job. Considering this genre has seen many stories told within it, “Knox Goes Away” sounds like it will be fresh and compelling in its simple but emotionally driven approach to the story. Al Pacino is also said to have a supporting role in it.
From “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” to “David Byrne’s American Utopia,” cinematographer Ellen Kuras has a unique eye for visual storytelling. How fitting that Kuras’s feature narrative directorial debut tells the story of a woman who expresses her perspective through artistry. “Lee” follows a glimpse into the life of model and photojournalist Lee Miller (Kate Winslet) during World War II. From a historical standpoint alone, the film sounds full of fascinating material. There is also a potentially strong narrative about a former muse stepping behind the camera to expose hard-hitting truths. Plenty about “Lee” catches my eye, first and foremost, Winslet’s return to the big screen for a passion project that took years to make. She is accompanied by a starry supporting cast (Alexander Skarsgård! Josh O’Connor! Marion Cotillard!) Plus, a dynamic crew including Oscar winners Mikkel, E.G. Nielsen (“Sound of Metal” editor), and Michael O’Connor (“The Duchess” costume designer). The film also reunites Winslet and Kuras in an exciting new capacity, nearly 20 years after “Eternal Sunshine.” The former’s expressive physicality and the latter’s vivid visual language could turn out to be a match made in heaven.
French filmmaker Ladj Ly exploded onto the scene with his 2019 film “Les Misérables,” which won a Jury Prize at Cannes and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best International Feature. His next film, “Les Indésirables,” isn’t a sequel to his first film but a clear spiritual successor. Much like “Les Misérables,” “Les Indésirables” covers the fallout of police violence that spirals into something bigger. A young doctor is appointed mayor of a suburb of Paris after the death of the previous mayor, and he vows to “clean up” the city from “undesirables.” Though the movie was in production before the massive protests Paris experienced this June, Ly’s film will surely touch a raw nerve. France has yet to select their submission for International Feature, but if the reaction is strong at TIFF, “Les Indésirables” could be their pick.
While many stars may not be at TIFF due to the SAG-AFRTRA and WGA strikes, that doesn’t mean the movies programmed for this year’s film festival aren’t packed with them. “Mother, Couch” is one of the most intriguing titles on this list, with a cast that includes Taylor Russell, Ewan McGregor, Ellen Burstyn, F. Murray Abraham, Lara Flynn Boyle, and Rhys Ifans. The film follows three estranged children who come together when their mother refuses to move from a couch in a furniture store. This bizarre directorial debut feature from director Niclas Larsson sounds like it will blend surrealism with star-studded drama (led by McGregor, who is said to give a “penetrating performance”) to create an entry that will linger for viewers at this year’s TIFF.
NEXT GOAL WINS
Taika Waititi has had an interesting few years. He won an Oscar for “Jojo Rabbit,” but “Thor: Love & Thunder” scored some of the worst reviews in the MCU. The internet seemed to sour on him a bit in the last year after he was seemingly everywhere for a couple of years. Regardless, Waititi’s non-MCU projects have been nothing but wonderful thus far, and “Next Goal Wins” seems like a perfect fit for his brand of humor. Based on the documentary of the same name, “Next Goal Wins,” tells the story of Coach Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender), tasked with coaching the American Samoa national football team, considered the worst in the world. Much like “Cool Runnings” before it, “Next Goal Wins” has the makings of a charming, hilarious underdog story. The film also stars Elisabeth Moss, Will Arnett, Oscar Knightley, Uli Latukefu, and more. If all goes well, this could be a significant crowdpleaser when it releases wide on November 17, 2023.
This year’s festival is packed with directorial efforts from actors-turned-directors, and among them is Kristin Scott Thomas’s “North Star.” While it’s fair to exercise cautious optimism with any directorial debut, “North Star” has quite a bit going for it. Co-starring Scarlett Johansson and Sienna Miller, this female-led ensemble promises to be a charming family story about three sisters who come together for their mother’s third wedding and are forced to face their current relationship woes – and the men of their past – head-on. Scott Thomas has had an illustrious career, and here she’s throwing herself all in as a triple threat, directing, co-writing, and co-starring as the family’s matriarch.
There is no shortage of stories surrounding the Holocaust, and this year’s edition of the festival features a few new additions to the canon of films on the subject. “One Life” is high on our radar mainly because of its star, two-time Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins plays Nicholas Winton, a British stockbroker featured on a BBC program in 1988 that highlighted his previously unrecognized humanitarian efforts in the leadup to WWII, which included saving 669 children from the Nazis. It’s an incredible story that deserves this kind of spotlight, especially in today’s climate. Director James Hawes’s resume mostly includes work for the BBC and a few episodes of “Black Mirror.” Still, he’s attracted a great cast – Johnny Flynn (“Emma.“) plays the younger Winton, Helena Bonham Carter plays his mother, and Lena Olin plays his wife, for starters – which gives hope that the material is worthy of the tremendous talents attached.
David Yates, best known for having directed many of the films in the Harry Potter universe, is finally out of Potter prison – and we’re all here for it! There have been a ton of films and miniseries in the past few years about the opioid epidemic (“Painkiller,” “American Pain,” “Dopesick” etc.), but “Pain Hustlers” looks like it may introduce a new spin on a familiar story. Taking on the real-life story about two pharmaceutical drug reps in Central Florida who find themselves entangled in the opioid epidemic, “Pain Hustlers” boasts a star-studded cast made up of Chris Evans, Emily Blunt, Andy Garcia, and Catherine O’Hara in this capitalism-gone-wrong crime drama from Netflix.
Sometimes, you can simply tell from a still image that you’re in for a good time. The sunny, laid-back first look of Chris Pine in his feature directorial debut “Poolman” has me sold. Among the many actor-turned-director films premiering at the festival this year, “Poolman” stands out with its noir elements and overall story. The film follows a daydreaming pool cleaner named Darren Barrenman, who uncovers a water heist in the city of Los Angeles and involves a crew of characters in the conspiracy. Pine has shown fun, variety, and consistency in his performances over the years, exploring genres from indie and sci-fi to comedy and adventure. His role in “Poolman” seems to be a prime showcase for his charismatic screen presence and an opportunity to discover his directorial abilities. Plus, the film’s wonderful ensemble cast includes Annette Bening, Danny DeVito, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. “Poolman” has a prime opportunity to make an enjoyable splash at the festival.
The first film announced for this year’s TIFF was one that caused instant excitement: The new film from Atom Egoyan, reuniting with his “Chloe” star Amanda Seyfried as a theater director reckoning with her past trauma while remounting a production of the opera “Salome.” A collaboration with the Canadian Opera Company using the (somewhat controversial) production of “Salome,” which Egoyan himself directed for the company earlier this year, “Seven Veils” seems to fall right into Egoyan’s favored theme of hidden truths coming to light, with Seyfried getting a cinematic role worthy of her dramatic talents after her Emmy-winning turn in “The Dropout.” Egoyan has admittedly been in a bit of a slump in recent years, but that means that the time is ripe for a comeback, and who doesn’t love a good comeback story?
WICKED LITTLE LETTERS
When there’s a movie starring Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley, you have to stop and take notice. I’ve always been a fan of stories that dramatize the minutiae of small-town life, and “Wicked Little Letters” seems to be a film that does just that – with a side of mischievous British bite. Part dark comedy, part mystery, “Wicked Little Letters” has all the makings of a potential festival hit.
WOMAN OF THE HOUR
Despite all the seasoned directors making their way to TIFF this year, Anna Kendrick’s directorial debut, “Woman of the Hour,” very well may be my most anticipated. Billed as “the stranger-than-fiction story of Rodney Alcala’s appearance on The Dating Game in the middle of his 1970s murder spree”, this film seems to tick off all the boxes of what I’m craving: true crime, Anna Kendrick (who also stars in the film), and an insane story that perfectly illustrates the absolute hell that is modern dating.
What are you most looking forward to at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival? Anything you’d specifically like to hear our take on when we attend? Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.