After a two year (in-person) hiatus the Toronto International Film Fest (TIFF) was back in full swing.
If you didn’t know TIFF is a big deal and is essentially the road to awards season. Each year studios showcase their best films in hopes of nabbing a few nominations, and this year was one for the record books. Steven Spielberg brought his first-ever film to TIFF (The Fabelman’s), while Tyler Perry debuted arguably his best film ever with A Jazzman’s Blues. There were also 13 African American directors debuting films including Sanaa Lathan with her directorial debut On The Come Up. We saw some 13 films over the course of 4 days. Here’s 7 titles we loved and couldn’t stop talking about long after the lights came up.
The Woman King
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Cast: Viola Davis, John Boyega, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim and Thuso Mbedu.
Why you should see it: Simply put “The Woman King” slays. Viola Davis is kicking butt and taking names. The film is based on true events and is set in the West African kingdom of Dahomey (which is current day Benin). Davis plays General Nanisca, the head of the all female military unit called the Agoji. While there has been some controversy surrounding the accuracy of this film and how its watering down the part this tribe played in the Atlantic slave trade, in my opinion, this is a film about sisterhood and the beauty and strength that black women have possessed for centuries.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen
Why you should see it: Steven Spielberg finally turns the camera on himself, and it was worth the wait. Looking back on his formative years in the 1950s and ’60s, the director and screenwriter Tony Kushner chart how a sensitive kid survived geographical relocations, familial strife and anti-Semitic bullies thanks to the power of the movies. Spielberg has alluded to what sounded like an upbringing with its share of tumult over the years, but to see him re-enact the agony and the ecstasy of his early life — and to feel like he’s finally at a place where he can do so with empathy and forgiveness — was to witness American cinema’s great escapist looking inward. Imagine American Graffiti crossed with a Eugene O’Neill play and a primal-scream therapy session, and you’re halfway there. Plus it’s blessed with a casting-coup and a parting visual gag that’s absolutely rapturous.
Director: Michael Grandage
Cast: Harry Styles, Emma Corrin, Rupert Everett, Linus Roache, Gina McKee, David Dawson
Why You Should See It: Two words … Harry Styles.Between this and Don’t Worry Darling Styles will have a true moment this fall. This tale of forbidden romance and changing social conventions follows three people — policeman Tom (Harry Styles/Linus Roache), teacher Marion (Emma Corrin/Gina McKee), and museum curator Patrick (David Dawson/Rupert Everett) — and their emotional journey spanning decades. Whether or not Styles can be a true leading man (or an Oscar contender, for that matter) remains to be seen but in My Policeman, he shines.
On The Come Up
Director: Sanaa Lathan
Cast: Jamila Gray, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Sanaa Lathan, Mike Epps, Michael Cooper Jr, Miles Gutierrez-Riley
Why You Should See It: Sanaa Lathan — whose father is director Stan Lathan — proves the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree with her solid directorial debut. The film follows 16-year-old Bri (Gray), living in the fictional inner city of Garden Heights as she pursues her dreams of becoming a famous rapper. Its a coming-of-age tale with lots of heart thanks to the budding romance between Bri and her best-friend (Cooper Jr). Randolph’s powerful portrayal and story arc brings the drama, while Lathan also gives a passionate performance as Bri’s mother and recovering addict.
Director: Nikyatu Jusu
Cast: Anna Diop, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Spector, Sinqua Walls, Rose Decker, Leslie Uggams
Why You Should See It: Dripping in aquatic imagery, Nanny is a film that moves freely through life and dream space with a few jump scares in between. The film tells the story of Aisha (Anna Diop), a Senegalese nanny for Rose (Rose Decker), the daughter of a wealthy white New York couple (Michelle Monaghan & Morgan Spector ) whose control issues and general anxiety make it difficult for Aisha to do her job. Nanny builds on the themes of motherhood, focusing on the pain of being separated from your child while having to take care of another one.
Director: Elegance Bratton
Cast: Jeremy Pope, Gabrielle Union, Bokeem Woodbine, Raul Castillo, Aaron Dominguez
Why You Should See It: Bratton makes his directorial debut with this deeply moving story inspired by his own life. In the film a young, gay Black man (Pope), rejected by his mother (Union) and with few options for his future, decides to join the Marines, doing whatever it takes to succeed in a system that would cast him aside. Pope commands the screen with his gut-wrenching performance as Ellis French, Union digs deep and gives a portrayal like we’ve never seen from her before, and Woodbine will have you on the edge of your seat with his pulse pounding portrayal as commander Laws.
Director & Screenwriter: Rian Johnson
Cast: Daniel Craig, Ethan Hawke, Edward Norton, Kathryn Hahn, Kate Hudson, Janelle Monáe, Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick, Dave Bautista
Why You Should See It: Simply put Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is spectacular — from start to finish. The sequel to 2109’s Knives Out made it’s debut at the Toronto Film Festival and received a rousing round of applause. Director Rian Johnson begged critics and audiences not to spoil plot details online. Here’s what we can say: Johnson’s script targets the absurdity and stupidity of the rich and famous. Norton plays the mogul, Miles Bron, whose company is involved in scientific research and space travel. Bron invites a group of old friends to be his guests on a private island where they will play a murder mystery game with their host as the victim. Of course, an actual murder must be looming and thankfully detective Benoit Blanc (played by Craig) is back to solve the crime.
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