For those who don’t know Toronto, King Street West is normally a street lined with bars filled with people I’d rather avoid. It’s not particularly glamorous or special, rather it possesses a kind of energy that feels more reminiscent of high school (just with 19 to 35-year-olds instead). With that, this little 2×2 block radius is home to stages, theatres and Hooters, where Kristen Stewart took that picture in 2015. I think of this as like… the English or art classrooms, of the metaphorical King Street West High School. And once a year it is home to the Toronto International Film Festival.
There was a bit of magic in the air this September – maybe it’s because we’ve been getting lots of sunshine, maybe it was the anticipation of celebrity sightings, or discovering your new favourite film, or maybe it was the looming threat of COVID-19 lingering amongst the crowds that made it feel a little… risky. Whichever way you spun it, this year felt like a real festival and a special one at that, as it was my first, “Real”, festival. You can read about my previous TIFFs here.
Now! The movies! What you all came here for. This year I was lucky enough to attend nine (!!!) screenings. I’ll go through them all now in order of viewing. I don’t think I’ll rate them, nor will I get too plot-focused. I’ll try to keep things short (there are nine after all! and I’m already behind schedule) but I may revisit some of these once I have time to really think more about them.
In order of viewing:
- Weird: The Al Yankovic Story (Midnight Madness, World Premiere)
- dir. Eric Appel
I think everyone should experience a Midnight Madness screening at TIFF. They are so fun and so full of life that it’s difficult to compare them to anything else. For those unfamiliar (though I know you’re smart, you probably could have guessed this based on the name alone) Midnight Madness is a program run during the festival where the weirder, perhaps out-there, and often horror movies get shown at a midnight screening. The crowd is always fun, loud, and down to watch whatever.
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story was Midnight Madness night one, the perfect way to kick off the Madness. It’s a parody of MR. Parody, how much more mad do you want?
I think fans of Al will love it, (he was at the screening so we’re now on a first-name basis) you can tell he played a considerable role creatively in the making of this. His fingerprints are all over this from the very start to the very end of the credits, and I meant literally the very end. It’s so outrageous and fun, and weird.
My exposure to Weird Al prior to this, was through songs my friends and I watched in the very early days of YouTube – you know, along with Shoes, and (not great) MadTV sketches, and early LoneyIsland videos – and although I was aware that Weird Al was famous outside of the internet, I was naive in what that meant. While watching Weird, I could tell there were subtle/and not-so-subtle, nods to his early work and jokes for die-hard fans. However, it didn’t feel to me like I was ever not ‘in’ on the joke. I think part of Weird Al’s appeal is just that, he’s a little weirdo and if you allow yourself to jump in and be weird with him you’re both in on the joke, and in for a fun time. Lots of laughs were had and I think anyone looking for something absurd to watch should watch it.
Since this was the world premiere the cast joined us on stage for a Q&A (as you know since I’m on a first-name basis). Now, a Q&A at 2 am will always be a little rough… I think especially when you’re fielding questions from a room of nerds (I’m kidding,… kinda). During this time Al joked about a sequel (fans cheered) and Daniel Radcliffe spoke about the first scene they shot being My Belona, which I think if anything can, that scene sums up the movie quite perfectly (they also mentioned another take in which that Daniels wig comes off which will be quite hilarious if it makes some sore of the blooper reel or director’s cut).
Al ended with “Soundtrack in the works!” *Fans cheered*
- The Menu (World Premiere)
- dir. Mark Mylod
Now, this is interesting. And one I would recommend to friends who enjoy fun, dark/comedy/horror. There were lots of laughs to be had, and I think it’s one that most people will be able to enjoy. It felt clever and witty but never pretentious or inaccessible. At its core, it’s poking fun, and calling attention to the horrors of class through fine dining and the relationship between those who provide services and those that are expecting to be weighed on. It is good at what it does – though I did find myself wanting them to dig a little deeper into their message. I think they could have pushed it further in the third act, with that said… I’d rather have an ending that is lighter and better executed than botched in the name of making a political stance.
Stand-out performances for me were from Ralph Fiennes and Nicholas Hoult.
Anya Taylor-Joy, I often struggle to see her as someone who isn’t famous. I’m not sure if that makes sense or if anyone else feels this way. She was good in it, don’t get me wrong! I just … and I think it’s partly how her character was written but, it was just a bit hard for me to buy into her here. Nonetheless! Still a lot of fun.
The Q&A was nice. Director Mark Mylod was a little emotional returning to the stage and I think that’s special to see. I can’t imagine putting so much time and effort into something and then sitting in a theatre and watching said thing, in a massive crowd, it would be a lot, and that is not lost on me. A bit of an odd question from the audience was asked of Fiennes and how he felt about being typecast as a villain, his response was “I think he’s a good guy” you can make of that what you will.
After the screening, there was a food truck handing out free food to those who just watched the movie. I thought it was a poetic way to end the experience, even if a bit ironic.
- My Policeman (World Premiere)
- dir. Michael Grandage
An artist, a police officer and a homophobe, an absolute cursed throuple on paper… however, make for a decent film.
Listen… you already know I was at the My Policeman world premiere (EEE!) but not only was a there but I somehow someway ended up purchasing second-row tickets (thank you TIFF for letting members buy early <3) so I very much looked Harry Styles and Emma Corrin in the EYES. Amazing. 10/10 for that. Check out my Instagram for the picture of Harry and Emma.
I thought the movie was good! I think there are a lot of people on either end of the spectrum. There are Harry stans that are mainly there to see Harry have sex on screen (valid) and there are people who were never going to like it because they’ve already made up their mind about Harry and his acting and they just want to be able to talk shit (less valid). I thought he was good. I think the director, Michael Grandage, knew what he was doing and played into his strengths, and worked around some of his challenges as a new actor. By no stretch was it bad in my opinion, perhaps it wasn’t my favourite queer romance film, but it doesn’t need to be.
Emma Corrin is always a stand-out, and I hope we get to see more of them soon. I think for an actor to play someone so iconic and beloved as Diana, and then turn around and play someone so complicated in their empathy, speaks to a level of skill and talent we don’t normally see. They were captivating and honest, and they have my heart!
I shed a tear at the ending, it really was touching, I don’t know… hate it if you must, but I think it was nice.
- Sick (Midnight Madness: World Premiere)
- dir.John Hyams
If you’re reading this you probably know how much I love Scream (1996)! It’s a fan fav for a reason. It’s cult-y and smart and has all the right horror elements. So when I saw that Kevin Williamson was a part of another project, I signed up without any second thoughts.
Sick is if Scream… took place during COVID… and also … wasn’t Scream. Lol. It was very fun! It got a lot of laughs and ‘WOOOOs’ from the audience. I think it was well done and well acted. And was definitely a movie to see in that kind of ‘midnight madness’ or perhaps sleepover crowd. But I don’t think it’s a movie I’d come back to because of the COVID-ness of it. It feels a bit time capsule-y, which is fun and fine when you’re talking about the early 2000s fashion choices and maybe less so when you’re talking about a pandemic we’re still in. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it. But I’d be weary to recommend it if I didn’t know how the person I was recommending it to would feel about it. It’s not that I think it’s insensitive, but it is an overt reminder and a take on the anger felt by many during the last 3 years, which I understand – may not be everyone’s thing right now.
If anyone was going to do it (make a horror movie about Covid) – and you know people are going to do it – I’m glad it was them, because these guys are so good at what they do. They do know how to make something entertaining. John talked about how they wanted to try and do a movie where there was the first act, and then an extended second, and that’s really what it is. No lulls, once you’re in, you’re in. The rest of their talk contained spoilers, so I’ll just leave it at that.
- Aftersun (North American Premiere)
- dir. Charlotte Wells
An absolutely stunning piece of work. No notes. Like honestly – I don’t have any notes on my phone. It was such a stand-out for me. A really, really lovely film. Full of simple snapshots that ultimately leave you feeling heartbroken and at peace all at once. This one stuck with me and was tough to shake (not that I wanted to) Paul mescal is…. hot. Ok, let us just get that out of the way. But also is such a talented dude.
Charlotte spoke about how personal the film was, and also how in ways it isn’t and I think the simplicity of the plot helps with that. You could take the most personal moment of your life but if you isolate it, and the feelings, it becomes its own thing and I think it’s beautiful that in Charlotte’s case it became something so… I seriously don’t even have the words!
I think anyone who has complex relationships with a parent, with their younger self, or is just simply able to empathize with those feelings will enjoy it. Anyone who wants to see Paul Mescal being a dad will definitely enjoy it. And I just think everyone should see this movie and then afterwards we should all sit on the beach in silence and just listen to the waves and softly cry, as that’s what ultimately this film begs you to do. I can’t explain it.
- Triangle of Sadness (North American Premiere)
- dir. Ruben Östlund
Another comedy/horror that I think lends itself more to being an absurd comedy. It doesn’t shy away from being violent, edgy, or downright gross. I think there’s both a lot to say about this movie but at the same time, it also feels like everything that needed to be said was said within it (it was a 140-minute film after all). As I said, the film doesn’t shy away from anything, visually or within the dialogue. Opinions, shit, and shitty opinions are all fair game. But I must say, it worked. It was really fun. I don’t know if it’s as thought-provoking as Ruban Östlund wants it to be… but I guess that depends on who’s watching.
I will say there’s an interesting feeling in the room when a film, which starts as commentary on the modelling industry and becomes an extreme analysis on class and power at large is directed by a very famous and critically awarded director, is being screened to an audience At a film festival… In moments when I laughed, and so did the others around me, I couldn’t help but wonder if we laughing for the same reasons.
Stand-out performances by Dolly De Leon, Woody Harrelson and the late Charlbi Dean Kriek.
I think a lot of people will like it, and a lot of people will… not like it. But that’s what makes it fun, and at the end of the day is part of the game.
- dir. Jerzy Skolimonwski
A sad, beautiful, tragic and ultimately a Donkey I would die for.
I love EO and I felt motherly instincts towards protecting him during the entire film, and that feeling never went away. EO was the most original in its screenplay and storytelling that I think I saw at the festival – I mean, this movie is POV: you’re a donkey, how much more original do you want?
After leaving feeling a little bit heavier than I did before – I did find it interesting to read up on donkeys in literature afterwards. There seemingly were a lot of Donkeys in movies this year?? Did anyone else notice this?? Anyways, I skimmed the Wikipedia section on Donkey’s within a biblical context, as I felt there was probably more to the film and some of its imagery than I released. I don’t have anything concrete to share now other than wow, definitely check it out if you have a chance and let me know if you picked up on anything I didn’t!
- dir. Jaume Balagueró
I do want to dance with Ester Expósito, yes. Thank you.
This movie is a lot of fun! Jaume Balagueró is such an interesting director for me, I loved Veronica because it felt like it was just a little bit more interesting than typical possession/demonic films. Venus is like that as well… it could be something basic, but Balagueró makes it fun, there’s just something more to it. I’m not sure it’s flawless, but it’s fun!
A stand out to me was also his personality. I’ll be honest I wasn’t expecting him and Ester at our screening because it had premiered the night before. But there they were! And they were both so sweet and funny – he was the most personable director we heard. He seemed very humble and very casual and it was just refreshing since the movie was also kinda like that you know? We didn’t just watch some intense drama, we watched a fun horror movie! When asked about why his films always have buildings or houses as central plot points he said something like “I don’t know… I guess I just like buildings…. I live in a building… so you know” and perfect. Thank you. That was the perfect answer.
I would recommend this to anyone reading this, especially if you’re a fan of his other movies! It’s a horror meets crime thriller, gory, witchy and badass all in one.
- Baby Ruby
- dir. Bess Wohl
Probably … not the film for you if you’ve just had a baby or are thinking about having a baby lol
But I LOVE Noémie Merlant and I would do anything for her, and she is brilliant at capturing the complex emotions when it comes to motherhood and postpartum. I thought the story was interesting, and the execution was well landed. It didn’t even feel to me campy or over-the-top dramatic, which it could have very easily could have. At the same time, within all of its horror and madness, it felt very honest. The film reminded me a bit of Rosemary’s Baby (1968)…meets Tully (2018)… meets the ever-so-polarizing Mother! (2017) For the record, I loved all three (minus, of course, Polanski himself, fuck that guy)
The more I sit with this one, the more I really really love it.
Now I’d be remised if I didn’t mention celebrity sightings, you can visit my Instagram for photos – stand-out Q&A sightings were Harry Styles, Emma Corrin, Paul Mascal, and Ester Expósito, Kevin Williamson, Daniel Radcliff and Weird Al, and Harris Dickinson, Dolly De Leon and Ruban Östlund, and of course virtual Anya!
One of the most special TIFF moments for me is a moment that is special way beyond TIFF, a life-special kinda moment. This is going to sound insane to anyone who is not a fan of Taylor Swift or who has no idea of how much she means to me. But she means a lot. Like. A lot, a lot. I’ve been crying about her since I was a middle schooler, I cry every time I’ve seen her get on stage, and I cried at even the thought of her being in Toronto after not seeing her since the Reputation tour. And there she was! In Toronto. INCHES away from me. I’m tearing up as I type this.
Also seen: Billy Eichner (he was really on the street and everything) arriving at what I imagine was lunch, Viola Davis leaving a panel discussion for Women King, and Finn Wolfhard- was seated a few rows behind me at the Triangle of sadness premiere. And Sadie Sink came out briefly with Taylor.
And that’s all folks! Phew – My TIFF round-up is complete. She was late, but she arrived.
I’m not sure how people write long thoughtful reviews after one screening, especially when the energy is like that of a festival. I just was in awe the whole time, and on a wavelength that made it difficult to form thoughts afterwards. I guess I just felt overwhelmingly very lucky to have been able to attend and to be around so many like-minded people, who just at the very end of the day love telling stories just as much – if not more than me.
Hopefully, I’ll see ya soon for another blog and see ya next year for TIFF🖤