Follow along with my coverage of TIFF 2022 here.]
In less than two weeks, I will be attending the 2022 Toronto Film Festival (TIFF) in an official capacity, reviewing films for Geek Vibes Nation. TIFF is one of the world’s biggest film festivals and a marquee event in the awards season calendar. The Festival has hosted several past Best Picture Oscar winners, and its People’s Choice Award has become a powerful bellwether. (At least one nominee every year since 2012 has been nominated for Best Picture; three have won.)
As someone who cares about film awards, especially the Oscars, I’ve always wanted to attend TIFF and see the films emerging as frontrunners. Words cannot adequately express my excitement and my gratitude. (I am acutely aware of that statement’s irony.) What I can do, however, is share the films I’m most excited to see and eventually cover. My plans are subject to change. (I currently plan to see 19 films in total.) The following films, though, are the ones I’m most interested in seeing first.
The Woman King
I am so excited for The Woman King, I extended my Toronto stay just in case it premiered early. Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball, Beyond The Lights), the film tells the real-life story of General Nanisca, played by Viola Davis. Nanisca is the leader of an African all-female army protecting the Dahomey Kingdom in the 1800s. The film bears all the flourishes of a sweeping historical epic, rare territory for Prince-Bythewood and her grounded, emotional character stories. The Woman King seems like the perfect leap into high-level blockbuster fare for her, especially with the ferociously regal (and Oscar-winning) Davis on the front lines.
Less than a year after West Side Story, Steven Spielberg is back. For The Fabelmans, the legendary filmmaker is turning his camera inward. The film is described as Spielberg’s “most personal,” a reflection of his childhood in Arizona and his love of filmmaking. The Fabelmans boasts an ensemble cast, including Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, and Gabriel LaBelle as the young Spielberg stand-in Sammy Fabelman. The potency of Spielberg’s closely-held projects is well-documented, and with this being his first-ever TIFF appearance, the anticipation is immense. A betting person would pencil The Fabelmans in as an across-the-board awards contender after its premiere.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Three years after Knives Out became a critical and commercial smash hit, Benoit Blanc is back. Netflix paid a gigantic $469 million for Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (and its follow-up), so a lot is riding on Rain Johnson’s wacky murder mystery. Daniel Craig returns with a sprawling ensemble including Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., and Kate Hudson. There aren’t many details, but we can expect plenty of hijinks and biting dialogue. If anything, Glass Onion will be one of the most fun high-profile entries at TIFF.
Harry Styles currently has two films garnering early awards buzz during festival season: Don’t Worry Darling and My Policeman. The former has devolved into a PR disaster days before its Venice premiere, leaving its chances spotty. That leaves My Policeman, about a closeted policeman having an affair with a museum curator. The film’s reputation isn’t spotless, thanks to Styles’ eyebrow-raising comments in Rolling Stone about its gay love scenes. However, it might be Styles’ strongest Oscar shot. The cast, including Emma Corrin and Rupert Everett, will be honored with at the Festival’s Tribute Awards, another awards bellwether. If the attendee reaction is as strong as the TIFF programmers’ was, then My Policeman could be an awards season breakout.
Speaking of the TIFF Tribute Awards, Brendan Fraser will also be honored at the ceremony, for his performance in The Whale. Darren Aronofsky’s film is being heavily touted as an awards heavy-hitter, with much attention focused on Fraser. He plays a 600-pound man reconnecting with his daughter (Sadie Sink) after abandoning their family for his recently-deceased male lover. The Whale will be Fraser’s biggest role since his comeback after several health issues and the revelation he was sexually assaulted by HFPA president Phillip Berk in 2003. The film could serve as a Matthew McConaughey-like renaissance for the beloved actor, culminating in an Oscar nomination.
The Western world may primarily know Lee Jung-jae from his Emmy-nominated role in Squid Game, but he’s dominated South Korean film and TV for decades with high-octane thrillers. Now, against the backdrop of global fame, Jung-jae is making his directorial debut with Hunt, a spy action film set in 1980s South Korea. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May and released in South Korea in August. If Jung-jae triumphs at the Emmys, I expect Hunt to explode out the gate with several studios bidding for distribution rights. (Netflix is probably first in line already.)
If one person could derail Brendan Fraser, or Austin Butler, on their path to a Best Actor Oscar, it’s Hugh Jackman. The actor could complete his EGOT with The Son, Florian Zeller’s followup to his Oscar-winning directorial debut The Father. The stars are well-aligned for Jackman, quite literally. Like The Father, The Son is an adaptation of Zeller’s stage play. It also co-stars Anthony Hopkins, who famously beat the late Chadwick Boseman for the Best Actor Oscar last year. Throw in Laura Dern, another recent Oscar winner, and you’ve got the makings for a searing, Oscar-friendly family drama. Jackman is a well-liked figure within the Academy and in Hollywood, and The Son could pave the way for a long-awaited coronation.
Aftersun caught my attention after premiering at Cannes in May. The film stars Paul Mescal (Normal People, The Lost Daughter) as a young father on vacation in Turkey with his daughter. Critics praised the film as sensuous and evocative, and further evidence that Mescal is one of Hollywood’s most promising new talents. The Best Actor category is stacked this year (see above), but A24 appears to be staging a methodical festival rollout. Assuming its momentum holds through TIFF and the New York Film Festival, Mescal could be a serious contender.
Another high-profile Cannes debut, Corsage tells the story of Empress Elisabeth “Sisi” of Austria, played by Vicky Krieps. Critics lauded the film in May for its contemporary approach to Eastern European royal life and visual splendor, with Krieps tying for Best Performance at the Festival. In a landscape saturated with British royals (specifically Princess Diana), it’s interesting to see another monarchal figure gain some spotlight. Elisabeth is a tragic, defiant figure in her own right, (this YouTube video offers a compelling primer) and her story will likely resonate.
Bros, starring Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane, will break new ground at the Festival. It is the first gay romantic comedy from a major movie studio featuring an entirely LGBTQ principal cast. It is rare for queer romances on film to be free from pain and trauma, so Bros will be a much-needed salve, if the trailer is any indication. While not the first gay romantic comedy this year (Fire Island made waves this past summer), Bros will likely be the biggest. (And if you need a further seal of approval, Mariah Carey held the film’s first screening. That’s probably a more significant sign-off than TIFF’s programming team.)