Four of the best films we saw at Toronto International Film Festival

click to enlarge Four of the best films we saw at Toronto International Film Festival
Some of the TIFF faces that should find their way to our screens soon.

This year's Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) was one of stark contrasts. There were a few stunning films that may rank among 2023's best when it's time to make year-end lists, but there were also several utterly baffling misfires that could easily find themselves among the year's worst. After taking in as many of these movies as possible, here are the ones to keep an eye out for in the months ahead.


Already the winner of the Palme d'Or and the equally important Palm Dog Award (for best canine performance) at this year's Cannes Film Festival, Justine Triet's precise drama Anatomy of a Fall was also one of the best movies to screen at TIFF. The film places us in the life of the acclaimed writer Sandra Voyter who is suspected of her husband's murder after what was initially believed to be a deadly fall from the top of their home. Played by a sensational Sandra Hüller, she must take part in a highly scrutinized trial that will pick apart her relationship and career piece by piece in pursuit of an ever-elusive truth. The result is an understated film that revels in ambiguity, bringing into focus a life now defined by a sudden death while constantly challenging us to give ourselves over to the fact that some questions may never have answers.


Bertrand Bonello's slippery science fiction story was rejected by Cannes, but it's his best work yet and one of the most interesting films of the year. At the center of this tale is Gabrielle, played by Léa Seydoux (No Time to Die), who is trying to make sense of her life across three points in time: 1910, 2014 and 2044. In each era, she is drawn to the same man — George MacKay's shifting Louis, though dread is taking hold of her mind and distorting the world itself. Little should be said about precisely what this looks like so as to preserve the experience, but there are some bold pivots that push Gabrielle and the viewer right up to the brink. It all results in a formally thrilling yet increasingly terrifying work with an absolute showstopper of an ending.


The film that was said to be the last from director Hayao Miyazaki (though now may not be), The Boy and the Heron is his first feature since 2013's The Wind Rises. While this latest vision echoes elements of his past films, it also feels alive in a way that places it up there among the Studio Ghibli mastermind's best to date. Following one of the most haunting sequences of the director's oeuvre — one that viscerally captures the all-consuming terror of a fire — we accompany a boy named Mahito who is struggling with the loss of his mother. When the troubled teenager is approached by a talking heron and whisked away into a magical world that is hidden from ours, Miyazaki immerses us in a melancholic yet mesmerizing experience all its own. Whether or not this is truly the director's last film, it is a magnificent one.


Jonathan Glazer's restrained analysis of evil may not be his best work (as 2013's Under the Skin still exists), but it is a cinematic achievement. It's also agonizing to watch. Drawing loosely from the novel of the same name by the late author Martin Amis, the movie observes a commandant of Auschwitz as he lives with his family in sickening serenity while overseeing atrocity right next door. None of this violence is ever explicitly seen, but it is almost constantly heard, in spite of the characters' efforts to ignore the noise. It makes for one of the most horrifying films of the year, with the repetition and routine of the family cutting straight through the bone the longer that we sit with them. As Glazer unflinchingly explores, to grow numb to such violence and compartmentalize it away is to create the conditions that can make immense cruelty commonplace. It is not easy to watch, but this type of thing never should be. ♦

Backcountry Film Festival @ Garland Theater

Thu., Nov. 30, 6-9 p.m.
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