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Nate at TIFF
Nate Richard attended the Toronto International Film Festival, North America's premier preview of the season's award-contending movies, and offers his 2023 Ranked List.
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This year, for the first time, I was able to attend the Toronto International Film Festival (or TIFF for short). It was a lifelong dream of mine and I plan on making this a tradition moving forward as well as attending other film festivals in the future as well.
TIFF is known as one of “the big 5” film festivals, right alongside Sundance, Cannes, Venice, and Berlin, and in the past has screened best picture winners such as “12 Years a Slave,” “Nomadland,” “Green Book,” and “The Shape of Water.”
In the words of Ron Burgundy, “It’s kind of a big deal.”
I was able to cover the festival for Collider, which if you didn’t already know, is where I work as a resource editor as well as contributing reviews for different movies and shows. In total, I saw 23 of the films that played at the festival, 11 of which I reviewed for Collider.
I was seeing up to five movies a day. I was having the time of my life, but by the end, I’ll admit, I was kind of movied out. Twenty-three movies is usually what I’ll watch in a month, but to do it all in six days? I’m pretty proud of myself.
I initially had planned to do a series of vlogs, but because this was my first time at the festival, I never got the chance. Hopefully next year, I’ll be able to deliver on that end.
To make up for that, I’ll be ranking all 23 films I saw from worst to best. There were quite a few titles that I ended up missing, like this year’s People’s Choice winner “American Fiction,” “Sing Sing,” and “His Three Daughters.” All titles I regret not prioritizing. However, I still have plenty of great (and not-so-great) films, so without further ado, here’s the list:
23). Knox Goes Away — I’ve already reviewed Michael Keaton’s second directorial effort for Collider, which you can read here. The film follows a hitman (Keaton) with a fast-moving form of dementia who finds a shot at redemption when his estranged son (James Marsden) shows up at his doorstep one night. “Knox Goes Away,” is an absolute mess, the usually reliable Keaton and Marsden feel woefully miscast and the film’s slow pacing makes it a difficult watch.
22). Boy Kills World - Another one I reviewed for Collider, which you can read here, “Boy Kills World” was one of the films I was most excited to see, so imagine my heartbreak once I saw the film. The film stars Bill Skarsgård as a mute orphan who travels back to civilization to exact revenge on those responsible for his mother’s murder. As you probably just read, the main character is supposed to be mute, yet the main character still gives his voice-over narration throughout the entire film. It’s like the most obnoxious “Deadpool” rip-off ever conceived. There are some cool action set pieces, but it's not enough to save this film.
21). Wildcat -- Yet another film I reviewed for Collider, which you can read here (I promise you I was also able to review movies I liked, don’t worry!), “Wildcat” stems from Ethan and Maya Hawke and is a pseudo-biopic on author Flannery O’Connor. If you want a film where Jesus walks into the room and repeatedly says the n-word to a racist Laura Linney, then this is the film for you. Yeah, it’s that kind of movie. Moving on.
20). Lee -- Kate Winslet is one of the most talented actresses in Hollywood and Lee has been a years-in-the-making passion project of hers, where she plays the prolific war photographer Lee Miller. This is the woman who took a photo of herself in Hitler’s bathtub, the same day the dictator shot himself in his bunker. This should’ve been a captivating character study. Alas, this is about as bland as you can get in terms of biopics. Andy Samberg does give a surprisingly strong dramatic performance, but outside of that, there’s nothing memorable about this one. You can read my review on Collider.
19). Holiday -- This thriller produced by Luca Guadagnino has a lot of promise and boasts an impressive lead performance from Margherita Corradi. The film follows a young woman who has recently been released from prison after being accused of murdering her mother. While the film does offer some gripping moments, most of the film feels surface-level. Read my review on Collider.
18). Finestkind — Written and directed by Oscar-winner Brian Helgeland and produced by Taylor Sheridan, this crime drama focuses on two brothers played by Ben Foster and Toby Wallace, who work as fishermen in Boston as financial burdens begin to pile up, the two end up having to make some shady deals with an organized crime syndicate. While this film was entertaining, it suffers from an incredibly weak script full of wooden dialogue. The first hour of the film feels pointless and the story doesn’t ever pick up until the second act.
17). Next Goal Wins — I’ve always defended Taika Waititi; “Jojo Rabbit” was my favorite movie of 2019 and holds a very special place in my heart. However, “Next Goal Wins” is Waititi’s weakest film not named “Thor: Love & Thunder.” The film is based on a true story that finds an irritable soccer coach (Michael Fassbender) who is forced to coach the American Samoa soccer team, a team that has one of the biggest losing streaks in the history of the sport. “Next Goal Wins” is still a decent sports comedy, mainly thanks to its big heart and charismatic cast, but it ultimately feels too slight and formulaic to leave an impact.
16). The Burial -- Based on a true story, ‘The Burial’ finds a funeral home owner (Tommy Lee Jones) hiring a black lawyer (Jamie Foxx), to help win a case against a funeral business that has a track record of screwing over its clients. While the film suffers from a sloppy tone, never fully being able to balance the comedy and the hard-hitting drama, the film features Jamie Foxx’s best performance in years. Foxx is phenomenal, exuding his massive amount of charisma and as a result, makes this film as watchable as it is. Read my review on Collider.
15). Hell of a Summer -- “Stranger Things” star Finn Wolfhard co-directs this slasher comedy with his buddy Billy Bryk, which finds a group of twenty-something camp counselors who are being stalked by a masked killer. While the film admittingly feels quite tame in delivering its kills and many jokes don’t land, the film is wildly entertaining and has so much heart that it’s hard to resist. Read my full review on Collider.
14). The End We Start From -- A unique apocalyptic tale, “The End We Start From” follows a young mother (Jodie Comer) who is separated from her husband (Joel Fry) and is in search of a haven for her and her baby. A slow-burn drama, “The End We Start From” focuses more on its leading lady above all else, creating a vulnerable and emotional drama that’s beautifully shot and features a brilliant lead performance from Comer. Read my full review on Collider.
13). Quiz Lady -- Awkwafina and Sandra Oh play estranged sisters in this road comedy who embark on a road trip to get the quiz-show-obsessed younger sister to compete on a gameshow hosted by an Alex Trebek-like host (Will Ferrell). Extremely sweet and funny, “Quiz Lady” works because it has its two leading ladies playing against type. Oh and Awkwafina have irresistible chemistry and the film has a massive heart that may or may not get you a bit teary-eyed once the credits roll.
12). Dumb Money — Craig Gillespie directs this ripped-from-the-headlines dramedy that chronicles the true story of how a group of Redditors were able to get even with Wall Street by buying stocks in GameStop. Featuring a vast ensemble that includes Paul Dano, Pete Davidson, America Ferrera and Seth Rogen, “Dumb Money” is extremely entertaining, often funny, and is relentless in its takedown on Wall Street.
11). Reptile — I may be in the minority with Grant Singer’s directorial debut “Reptile,” a crime thriller that finds Benicio Del Toro playing a disgraced detective investigating the murder of a young woman and the possible involvement of her real-estate agent boyfriend (Justin Timberlake). While generic, “Reptile” has Del Toro doing what he does best as an actor, and there are enough twists and turns to keep the audience guessing until the end. Read my full review on Collider.
10). Ezra — Tony Goldwyn directs this dramedy that finds Bobby Cannavale and Rose Byrne as recently divorced parents who are at odds over how to raise their autistic 11-year-old son. As manipulative as it sounds, “Ezra” is a genuine, honest, and often funny look at what it's like to raise a kid on the spectrum. Robert de Niro, Rainn Wilson, Whoopi Goldberg and Vera Farmiga also co-star in the film, each bringing their receptive personalities to the film. Read my full review on Collider.
9). The Zone of Interest — Jonathan Glazer’s experimental holocaust drama follows a German family trying to live their dream life in their home that is right outside of the Auschwitz concentration camp. While far from an easy watch, “The Zone of Interest” is one of the most important films you’ll see or hear. It’s haunting and emotionally draining, and while its arthouse nature may not be for everyone, Glazer’s direction is respectful to history.
8). Dream Scenario -- Nicolas Cage stars in this dark comedy where a schlubby professor becomes an overnight celebrity after appearing in everyone’s dreams. The film is like “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” but instead of Freddy Krueger, it's Nicolas Cage playing an ordinary guy. With plenty of laughs and social commentary, “Dream Scenario” is one of the more unique films you’ll see all year. There are also some excellent cameos that I dare not spoil.
7). Kill — This Indian action film follows two commandos who face off against an army of deranged and insane bandits, to save one of their girlfriends. It is one of the most violent action movies in years, and its ballsiness, hyper-stylized, and graphic violence make this one a must for any action-movie fan. Read my full review on Collider.
6). Woman of the Hour — Anna Kendrick’s directorial debut is gripping, darkly comic, and tense. The film is based on a stranger-than-fiction true story of the time a serial killer (Daniel Zovatto) was able to sneak his way onto “The Dating Game” and win a date with an aspiring actress (Anna Kendrick). It’s one of the most impressive directorial debuts in years and Kendrick solidifies herself as a filmmaker to watch out for.
5). The Boy and the Heron — What was once believed to be the final movie of Hayao Miyazaki’s career, “The Boy and the Heron” is a film that has been shrouded in secrecy, so to avoid spoiling anything, I’ll refrain from any plot details. What I will say is that Miyazaki’s latest is brimming with gorgeous animation and a fantastical yet deeply human story.
4). Flora and Son -- John Carney’s latest music-themed dramedy finds a single mother (Eve Hewson) trying to raise her delinquent (Orén Kinlan), upon taking guitar lessons from an American guitarist (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the mother-and-son begin to bond over their love of music. Carney has always been able to deliver some crowd-pleasing dramedies that aren’t afraid to tug at the heartstrings and “Flora and Son” is no different.
3). Hit Man — Richard Linklater’s latest film is loosely based on a true story and follows a college professor (Glen Powell) who has a side gig posing as a hitman for the police, who breaks protocol to help a woman (Adria Arjona) escape the clutches of her abusive boyfriend. It’s part romantic comedy, part Coen Brothers crime caper, and features some electric and sexy chemistry between Powell and Arjona.
2). Anatomy of a Fall -- Justine Triet’s courtroom drama follows a mother (Sandra Hüller) who has been indicted over the death of her husband. Uniquely told and with an exceptional lead performance from Hüller, “Anatomy of a Fall” is one of the most engaging and impactful movies you’ll see all year.
1). The Holdovers -- Alexander Payne’s latest film stars Paul Giamatti as a professor at a private school who is forced to stay back over the Christmas holiday to watch over a rebellious teen (Dominic Sessa). Made to look like it's a lost film from the ‘70s, “The Holdovers” may just be Payne’s best film to date featuring a trio of winning performances from Giamatti, Sessa and Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and a massive heart. Don’t miss this one.