Every year CGMagazine creates the Best of TIFF list after heading into the Toronto International Film Festival with a group of staff members who enjoy films surrounding a variety of genres, topics and demographics. This year, Brendan Frye, Shakyl Lambert and Dayna Eileen took on TIFF 2023, and to say their favourites varied would be an understatement.
For TIFF 2023, our team covered more than 45 films over the 10-day festival, and many of those reviews are already available on our site. Some of our favourites so far that won’t be seen on this list are The Critic with Ian McKellen and the star-studded Dumb Money. Some of our less-than-loved titles this year include Reptile with Benicio Del Toro and Justin Timberlake, Wildcat from Ethan and Maya Hawke and Joanna Arnow’s That Feeling that the Time For Doing Something Has Passed.
With all those films under our belt, there were definitely some standouts. This year saw an unprecedented number of true stories, and these came in all genres, including true crime, comedy and drama. Midnight Madness was back and as interesting as ever, of course, with a title like Dicks: The Musical, how could it not be? After everything we saw, our writers each chose their favourites to bring you the Best of TIFF 2023. It should be noted that Hit Man made it to all three writer’s lists, so it is safe to say that Hit Man is our favourite pick for TIFF 2023!
Glen Powell is a mega-star in the making. If his scene-stealing turn in Top Gun: Maverick started the conversation, his performance in Hit Man all but certifies it. The new Richard Linklater comedy about a philosophy professor pretending to be a hitman in order to entrap criminals has Powell in rare comedic form, displaying white-hot charisma on par with some of the biggest A-listers of our time.
In addition, the incredible chemistry on display between Powell and major standout Adria Arjona (playing a would-be client he falls for) makes for one of the hottest pairs to hit the screen in years. Add on a darkly hilarious script and a perfect balance between its various genres, you’ve got not only Linklater’s best movie in a decade but also one of the best crowd-pleasers to hit TIFF 2023.
Every year at TIFF, I’m always looking forward to Midnight Madness’ genre-filled offerings the most. Easily the best of this year’s lineup, KILL is a vicious adrenaline rush that doesn’t let up from the second it drops its mid-movie title card. The movie is about a commando who must protect the love of his life and her family after bandits invade the train they’re travelling on.
KILL makes very clear comparisons to The Raid and Snowpiercer, the latter even sharing an action choreographer in Se-Yeong Oh. However, its uniquely cultural lens gives it a chance to stand out from those other films by adding a dose of classic Bollywood melodrama but not skimping any bit on the brutality. There are even points where the movie may as well turn into a horror flick, the way lead actor Lakshya (making a very impressive debut) mows down these bandits. All of this and more lands KILL on our Best of TIFF 2023 list.
I came into Robot Dreams expecting to enjoy an enjoyable animated story of an anthropomorphic dog and his robot friend in New York City. I didn’t expect to be walking out of the film on the brink of tears. The new feature from Spanish director Pablo Berger tackles loneliness, our search for connection and the enduring power of friendship, as well as the bittersweet moments when some of those friendships eventually end, all without a word of dialogue.
It’s a movie that wears its heart on its sleeve, and it’s impossible not to be charmed by it, making it a perfect addition to the Best of TIFF 2023 list. It’s also guaranteed to keep “September” by Earth Wind and Fire stuck in your head long after the credits roll.
It is hard to deny that Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron is one of the best movies at this year’s TIFF, adding another stunning yet complex piece to his legendary portfolio. Set against the backdrop of WWII, the film follows 12-year-old Mahito, coping with his mother’s loss. Initially grounded in the harsh realities of war, the narrative unexpectedly morphs into a surreal adventure guided by a mysterious heron. The film weaves a rich tapestry of themes—loss, human complexity, and existential dilemmas—into its intricate storytelling and breathtaking visuals.
Notably, Miyazaki challenges conventional cinematic norms, offering a fluid, sometimes erratic, narrative that demands viewer engagement and reflection. The film confronts both the beauty and ugliness of existence, encapsulating Miyazaki’s lifelong themes while raising unanswerable, philosophical questions. Designed to provoke thought rather than provide easy answers, The Boy and the Heron stands as a monumental work, making a significant contribution to the animator’s storied legacy and to the Best of TIFF 2023 list.
American Fiction, directed by first-timer Cord Jefferson and adapted from Percival Everett’s novel Erasure, is a standout at TIFF 2023. The film delves into the complexities of black representation in entertainment through the story of Monk, a talented but overlooked novelist played by Jeffrey Wright. Frustrated with the industry’s penchant for recycling offensive tropes, Monk satirically embraces these stereotypes, only to find himself unwittingly celebrated.
While the film offers biting commentary on the limitations of black narratives, it also explores universally relatable family dynamics, adding depth and emotional resonance. Stellar performances, particularly from Wright and a supporting cast including Tracee Ellis Ross and Sterling K. Brown, make it a compelling watch. Balancing hard truths with humour, American Fiction serves as both a social critique and a deeply human story, making it a must-see at the festival.
Dream Scenario, showcased at TIFF 2023, is a surreal concoction of horror, dark comedy, and social commentary directed by Kristoffer Borgli and produced by Ari Aster. Nicolas Cage stars as Paul Matthews, an unremarkable professor who inexplicably starts appearing in people’s dreams, first becoming an internet sensation and, later, a figure of terror. The film thoughtfully explores the complexities of fame and societal ostracization.
Cage delivers an against-type, nuanced performance that’s both subdued and punctuated by his signature over-the-top style, making it one of his most compelling roles in years. The film raises questions about cancel culture without taking a firm stance, adding to its complexity but also possibly frustrating audiences. Rich in tonal elements and an edgy atmosphere, Dream Scenario is a polarizing but memorable experience that leaves a lasting impact, putting it on our Best of TIFF 2023 list.
His Three Daughters was, hands down, no contest, my favourite film this year, landing it on our Best of TIFF 2023. Elizabeth Olsen, Natasha Lyonne and Carrie Coon balance each other’s characters extremely well, with excellent chemistry and timing. Written and Directed by Azazel Jacobs, the quick-paced, monologue-driven dialogue paired with theatre-like staging and some pretty damn powerful actors had me hooked from the opening shot.
His Three Daughters is a story about three women coming home to care for their father while he is in hospice. The experience offers an opportunity for tough conversations, harsh truths and a chance to genuinely learn about one another. The film perfectly pairs comedy and tension for a truly unforgettable film, one that I urge others to watch.
Sing Sing is a true story about Sing Sing prison and their Rehabilitation Through the Arts program. We follow Colman Domingo as Divine G, a founding member of the RTA, and learn about the program and how it succeeds. We begin with men already in the program but also get to watch Divine Eye, another prisoner, join the program and work through all the hesitations and hurdles he needs to overcome to succeed.
As usual, Domingo’s performance is impeccable, but the real surprise lies in the other cast members. The majority of the cast is up on the big screen playing themselves. These are real convicted felons putting their uniforms back on to tell the story of their rehabilitation, and I had no idea until the end. The story they are telling us is incredibly important, but putting that aside, they made a damn good movie.
Comedies were out in full force at TIFF this year, so it’s only natural that at least one made it on the Best of TIFF 2023 list! Next Goal Wins is Taika Waititi’s latest film about the American Samoan professional soccer team with the worst score in football history, 31-0. No, this isn’t your standard underdog story where everyone comes out on top to become the best sports professionals in the world. Waititi wanted to make a fun movie about a bunch of people whose main goal was to be happy, and he did!
To say you need to love Taika Waititi’s brand of comedy to love Next Goal Wins would be an understatement, but if you do, you’re in for a great time. The film covers real people who lived real lives, including Jaiyah, played by Kaimana, a Faʻafafine from American Samoa, the first openly transgendered player in major league soccer. The bond between Kaimana and Michael Fassbender was a pleasure to watch, and I really hope more people get a chance to see this story.
These are CGMagazine’s Best of TIFF 2023. You can also head over to CGMagazine on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube to see some of our red-carpet coverage from TIFF 2023.
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