Our Top 5 films at TIFF 2023

September 23, 2023

This year was our 12th covering the Toronto International Film Festival and, once again, our team was busy reviewing many feature films.

Below are our Top 5 selects, which all had their World Premieres at TIFF 2023. The films are listed in random order.

1. Dumb Money (World Premiere)

The first scene in Dumb Money takes place during the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s certain that most of the viewers will have real déjà vu and some PTSD watching it. Frankly, the entire film takes place during those difficult years and one of the ways in which Dumb Money shines is its portrayal of the difference in experience based on each character’s life, personality and family circumstance. Another important factor that permeates throughout the film, right from the start, is each character’s financial status – and so is the stark contrast between the really wealthy characters (we are talking billionaires) and the average individuals who can easily be your neighbours. The scenes that contrast their lives are quite striking and memorable.

There are some excellent performances in Dumb Money by Paul Dano and America Ferrera, which is not surprising as both of these actors have come to impress year after year. Pete Davidson and Seth Rogen are also surprisingly good in this drama. While some scenes are quite heartbreaking, there is also a lot of humour throughout the entirety of the film’s 104 minutes. The only downside is the score, as it seems to be too loud, overpowering and irrelevant in some parts. Yet, overall, Dumb Money is entertaining, thoughtful and genuinely heartwarming.

-Reviewed by Hannah Yakobi

2. Woman of the Hour (World Premiere)

This film is a true-story-based thriller, directed by and starring Anna Kendrick. Woman of the Hour delivers a gripping narrative, outstanding cinematography and a chilling depiction of the predator character that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. Anna Kendrick’s direction and performance in this film are nothing short of extraordinary. She effortlessly immerses herself in the lead role, bringing a compelling authenticity to the character.

The cinematography in Woman of the Hour deserves special praise. The film’s visual storytelling is a masterclass in creating tension and atmosphere. Every shot is meticulously composed to heighten the suspense, drawing viewers deeper into the narrative. The use of lighting, camera angles and settings is artfully employed to create an unsettling ambiance that mirrors the psychological torment of the characters.

What truly sets Women of the Hour apart is its portrayal of the predator’s character. The film’s depiction of this menacing figure is skin crawling. The audience is left in a constant state of unease, wondering what dark turn the story will take next. The suspense and tension build steadily throughout the film, creating an atmosphere of dread that lingers long after the credits roll. Woman of the Hour is a thought-provoking thriller that explores the depths of human darkness and resilience, making it a must-see for fans of intense and psychologically charged cinema.

-Reviewed by Ada Yakobi

3. Seven Veils (World Premiere)

Seven Veils is a cinematic masterpiece that not only showcases Amanda Seyfried’s award-worthy performance, but also dazzles with its breathtaking cinematography. Seyfried flawlessly embodies the protagonist, delivering a hauntingly powerful performance. Her ability to convey the depths of emotion and obsession that define her character is truly exceptional, making her a strong contender for award season. Seyfried’s portrayal is the heart and soul of Seven Veils, and she navigates the intricate layers of her character’s past and present with unparalleled skill.

Filmed locally in Canada, Atom Egoyan’s latest piece makes full use of its stunning natural landscapes to create a visual spectacle. The intricate cinematography serves as a perfect complement to the heavy emotions that permeate the storyline. Every frame is a work of art, capturing both the beauty of the Canadian opera house and the inner turmoil of the characters. The juxtaposition of opera house’s grandeur with the intimate moments of the characters’ lives adds depth and richness to the storytelling, making Seven Veils a visually captivating experience.

At its core, the film is a poignant exploration of anguished childhood and an obsession with the opera Salome. It navigates the complexities of memory, trauma, and the power of art to heal and haunt. Seven Veils delves deep into the human psyche, inviting viewers to grapple with their own emotions and obsessions.

-Reviewed by Ada Yakobi

4. Next Goal Wins (World Premiere)

One of the most entertaining and truly optimistic films at TIFF this year, Next Goal Wins is the latest work by Taika Waititi. Michael Fassbender, Elisabeth Moss, Will Arnett and Oscar Kightley star in this comedy that centres around the American Samoa soccer team and their attempt to make it into the World Cup. This all occurs 12 years after the team’s infamous 31-0 loss in a World Cup qualifying match.

There is a lot of humour in the film, but in parallel it explores some very serious and important issues, such as tragic loss, self-discovery, perseverance and change. A particular standout is Kaimana, who plays real-life team member Jaiyah.

Waititi said at the premiere that when he originally saw the documentary by Mike Brett and Steve Jamison that was based on the same story, he was blown away. It, subsequently, inspired him to make this feature piece. “This is one of those rare films in which nothing bad happens to anyone, so please laugh, enjoy!” he added.

-Reviewed by Hannah Yakobi

5. Knox Goes Away (World Premiere)

Knox Goes Away stands as a powerful testament to Michael Keaton’s extraordinary acting prowess and the film’s profound exploration of dementia. With a depth of emotion that’s both raw and nuanced, Keaton immerses himself into the character of Knox. His portrayal allows the audience to empathize deeply with Knox’s struggles.

Knox Goes Away avoids clichés and stereotypes, opting instead for a more authentic and multi-dimensional representation of dementia. It captures the frustration, fear and moments of clarity that those living with dementia often experience. The film is masterful in its ability to humanize the condition, reminding us of the humanity that persists even in the face of such a cruel disease and, in this particular case, to his son’s benefit.

-Reviewed by Ada Yakobi

Photo credit: all images courtesy of TIFF.

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