The 2023 Toronto International Film Festival is days away, and it’s one of the few festivals cinephiles look to for upcoming films that will become a part of the awards conversation later down the road. If you’re in Toronto checking out the festival this year, these are the titles you should definitely keep on your short list.
Based on a true story, the riveting narrative is about personal injury lawyer Willie E. Gary (Jamie Foxx) and his client, funeral director Jeremiah O’ Keefe (Tommy Lee Jones). After Keefe finds himself drowning in debt and under the threat of a corporate buyout from CEO Ray Loewen (Bill Camp), he must defend his family business to keep and maintain its legacy to pass on to his 13 children.
Gary, not having any experience in contract law, reluctantly takes on the case. He is persuaded by Hal Dockins (Mamoudou Athie) that this is the case that will make him the next Johnnie Cochran.
Maggie Betts directs this spectacular courtroom drama with high-caliber performances that you would expect from Oscar-winners Tommy Lee Jones and Jamie Foxx. Jurnee Smollett also gives a magnetic performance as well as Mame Downes, the prosecuting attorney in the case. This could quite possibly be an awards conversation film, so do not leave this one off your list if you like to catch buzzworthy awards flicks at TIFF.
This whimsical Dublin-based comedy from Irish filmmaker John Carney will melt your heart. Eve Hewson plays the titular character Flora, a woman who is at her wits end when it comes to just about everything — relationships, financial stability, and raising her 14-year-old son Max (Orén Kinlan). However, when Flora finds an old guitar in a pile of trash and gifts it to her son and he ultimately refuses the instrument, Flora decides to play the guitar on her own.
This simple twist of fate unearths something in her. Flora begins a journey of self-discovery as she forms a virtual friendship with Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Jeff gives her guitar lessons online, and the two inspire each other in ways that influence the world around them, including Flora’s relationship with her son Max.
Gordon-Levitt’s performance as Jeff in all its quirk and splendor is reminiscent of his role in (500) Days of Summer. Hewson delivers a charismatic performance as Flora, and audiences will fall head over heels with both Flora and Hewson respectively. If you’re looking for a lighthearted comedy with a musical feel, Flora and Son is right up your alley.
Director Chloe Dumont in her debut feature film has knocked this one out of the ballpark. One of the most talked about films at Sundance, which will likely stir up more buzz at TIFF this year, is Fair Play. Acquired by Netflix, the film stars Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich.
Emily (Dynevor) and Luke (Ehrenreich) are a loving couple with a healthy sex life that work together at a Wall Street trading firm. However, things get complicated when a promotion for a managerial role that Luke was vying for is offered to Emily instead.
Not only does this complicate their time together in the office but also their personal relationship at home. A tug of war of sexism, power dynamics, and jealousy ensues between the couple that leads to an underlying dark and ugly turn.
Fair Play also examines the role of a woman’s place in corporate America and how men perceive women in positions of power. If you are into intense dramas and groundbreaking performances, don’t miss out on this one.
In this coming-of-age drama about growing up in the Chicago’s Cabrini Green project during the 1990s, filmmaker Minhal Baig takes us on a journey that will take your breath away.
We meet two best friends Malik (Blake Cameron James) and Eric (Gian Knight Ramirez) who play together and get into shenanigans — as many pre-teen boys their age tend to do. However, it’s complicated when you live in a neighborhood as dangerous as theirs and your home is being raided by law enforcement due to living in a drug-ridden building.
Dolores (Jurnee Smollett) is a single mother raising Malik and taking care of his grandmother Anita (S. Epatha Merkerson). That’s right, Jurnee is in two films at TIFF this year. On the opposite side of the parental spectrum, Eric’s father is a single dad (Lil Rel Howery) raising Eric and his older sister. As each of their parents work hard to keep their kids safe and out of trouble, the rough and tough streets are slowly closing in.
The standout performances of this film come from both James and Ramirez as the two best friends deliver such raw gut wrenching emotions throughout the story that you will definitely need to set aside some tissues for this one. Jurnee Smollett also executive produced the film.
Benicio Del Toro and Alicia Silverstone reunite after their 1997 film Excess Baggage in the gripping crime thriller Reptile. Director Grant Singer makes his directorial debut in this whodunit mystery surrounding the homicide of a real estate broker and possible ties to money laundering in a small New England town.
Tom Nichols (Del Toro) is the detective assigned to the case. He lives with his wife Judy (Silverstone), who has an affinity for true crime herself. The main suspect in the case is the very man who found the deceased victim and also happened to be her boyfriend — Will Grady (Justin Timberlake). And the story is further complicated when it’s discovered that she’s still married and her estranged husband is also a drug dealer (Karl Glusman). The red herring among the suspects along with Will is also Eli (Michael Pitt) who has a vendetta against Will and the Grady family.
With incredible performances by Oscar-winning actor Benicio Del Toro including a riveting story of betrayal and greed, Reptile is worth your time at TIFF this year.
Canadian fishing never looked better with Brian Helgeland’s latest feature Finestkind. A group of rabble rousers on a fishing crew form a bond and depict a special kind of camaraderie.
Although Charlie (Toby Wallace) just got accepted to Boston University Law School, he prefers to step away from the mundane of college life and step into the adventurous and sometimes dangerous world of fishing. His older brother Tom (Ben Foster) gives him a job; their father (Tim Daly) does not approve of Charlie’s decision. During his time with the group, Charlie meets a girl among the crew named Mabel (Jenna Ortega) and the two form a relationship.
As scallops become a hot commodity in their town and they end up owing money, they have to resort to other methods to find some quick cash, which proves to become a risky decision for everyone involved. Actor Tommy Lee Jones also stars in this film (his second film at TIFF) as Tom’s father Ray, and as always gives an incredible performance as the stubborn crotchety old man set in his ways.
While this list is focused on feature films, I have to include the comedy series Bria Mack Gets a Life. If you’re a fan of the web series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl developed by Issa Rae, you will fall in love with Sasha Leigh Henry’s hilarious series.
Bria (Malaika Hennie-Hamad) is entering the professional workforce shortly after graduating college. She has to navigate all of the microaggressions that come with being a Black woman, including dealing with having her hair touched by co-workers, being regarded as sassy, and inevitably not being able to avoid the unfortunate angry Black woman trope. To help her on this journey she has an alter ego named Black Attack — of the same vein as Luther, the angry Obama translator from Key & Peele. Black Attack (Hannan Younis) humorously appears throughout scenes to help Bria make conscious decisions as well as throttle her emotions when things get tense. If you need a laugh, you must check out this series during your time at the fest.
The 2023 Toronto International Film Festival runs September 7–17, 2023. Happy watching!
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Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online publication and multimedia space for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association and executive producer of the Black Girl Nerds Podcast.