Venice and Telluride walked so that Toronto could run. The fall film festival season officially kicked off last week with the respective launches of the 80th Venice International Film Festival and the 50th Telluride Film Festival, where journalists, industry leaders and movie fans got their first looks at some of the early entries in the 2023 awards race.
They also got their first look at what a major movie festival looks like when Hollywood is in the middle of its Strike Era. With the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild still on the picket lines, the star wattage in Venice and Telluride was notably subdued compared to past years. While some high-profile actors like Ferrari's Adam Driver and Priscilla's Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi walked the Venice red carpet alongside directors Michael Mann and Sofia Coppola thanks to SAG-AFTRA's interim agreements, others like Maestro's Bradley Cooper notably declined to attend in solidarity with their union.
Now, all eyes are turning to Canada, where the 48th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival is set to begin on Sept. 7. Historically the largest and most star-studded of the fall festivals, TIFF is also uniquely poised to feel the red carpet vacuum, as well as the relocation of major fall movies like Challengers and Dune: Part Two to next year. (Dune: Chapter One screened at TIFF's 2021 edition, which was impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.) But the festival still has plenty of major premieres to screen — and visiting celebrities to celebrate — and will set the tone for months to follow.
Yahoo Entertainment will be on the ground in Toronto covering this unique edition of the festival. Here are some of the big questions we can answer about what's ahead... and why it matters.
Will any movie stars actually be there?
With the Screen Actors Guild currently on strike, there won’t be anything like the “Hollywood descends on Toronto” vibe of regular festival years. But there will still be a few celebrities bopping around. As with Venice, independent distributors such as A24 and Neon quietly worked out interim agreements with SAG-AFTRA to send folks to the festival. According to Deadline, Nicolas Cage (Dream Scenario), Sean Penn and Dakota Johnson (Daddio), Finn Wolfhard (Hell of a Summer), Viggo Mortensen (The Dead Don’t Hurt) and Maya Hawke and Laura Linney (Wildcat) are all expected to attend.
It’s noteworthy that some of those actors who will be present are doubling as filmmakers: Johnson is a producer on Daddio, Wolfhard is a co-director on Hell of a Summer and Mortensen is the director of The Dead Don’t Hurt. Ethan Hawke, who directed his daughter in Wildcat, is also expected to appear. But there’s also a much, much longer list of celebs who won’t be there, including some who likely could’ve secured a waiver, like Chris Pine (making his directorial debut with Poolman), Anna Kendrick (making her directorial debut with Woman of the Hour), Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Cate Blanchett, Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley and Annette Bening.
That's a major blow for a festival that counts on becoming the center of the film world for an entire week thanks to its star-studded red carpets. It also means that the movies themselves may not get the publicity bounce they normally receive coming out of TIFF, where the stars serve quotes and lewks that bounce around social media for weeks afterwards. This year's festival will really put that old koan to the test: If a movie premieres at a festival and there's no one on the red carpet... does it make a sound?
What world premieres are poised to make a splash without their stars?
In another timeline, the Dumb Money red carpet would have been the starriest event of the festival. Director Craig Gillespie's Big Short-like take on the wild Gamestop stock rally back in 2021 features a cornucopia of famous faces from Pete Davidson and Seth Rogen to Shailene Woodley and America Ferrera. Even without those actors there, the film will be one of TIFF's most closely-watched world premieres. After all, The Big Short ended up scoring five Oscar nods, including Best Picture. The TIFF programming staff will look very smart if Dumb Money follows a similar trajectory.
The star power is also strong with some of the other high-profile movies having their unveiling in Toronto before coming to a theater near you. Oscar-winner Kate Winslet is back in the biopic Lee, playing the world-famous war correspondent Lee Miller, who captured some of the most indelible images of World War II with her camera lens. Look for SNL funnyman Andy Samberg in a rare dramatic turn as a fellow shutterbug. Meanwhile, Chris Evans and Emily Blunt join Andy Garcia for Pain Hustlers, Netflix's cinematic accounting of the opioid epidemic on the heels of the streamer's hit series, Painkiller. Jamie Foxx stars opposite Tommy Lee Jones in Prime Video's legal drama The Burial, which was completed prior to the actor's recent health scare and will premiere theatrically Oct. 6 and on Prime Video on Oct. 13.
Elsewhere, Sicario star Benicio Del Toro plays another veteran agent of the law with a special set of skills in the made-for-Netflix potboiler Reptile, which re-teams him with Excess Baggage co-star Alicia Silverstone. Elliot Page is front and center in the new drama Close to You, playing a recently-transitioned man en route to a sure-to-be-awkward family reunion. (Page is also executive producing another TIFF world premiere, Backspot, a Whiplash-meets-Bring It On tale about a cheerleader who tries to balance commitment to her team with her personal commitment to her girlfriend.)
On the documentary side, TIFF will be the launching pad for Sorry/Not Sorry, which finds directors Caroline Suh and Cara Mones exploring the allegations against Louis C.K. via new interviews with the women he sexually harassed. Raoul Peck follows up his acclaimed HBO series, Exterminate All the Brutes, with Prime Video's Silver Dollar Road, which chronicles one Black family's attempts to hold onto their North Carolina property in the face of land appropriation. And the Neve Campbell-produced Swan Song takes ballet fans behind the scenes of the National Ballet of Canada's post-Covid production of Swan Lake. Thankfully, it has a happier ending than Black Swan.
Which Oscar contenders will emerge or gain momentum?
There have already been a handful of premieres that have sped into the Oscar race from Venice and Telluride, including Mann's Ferrari, Cooper's Maestro and Coppola's Priscilla.
TIFF's list of awards hopefuls has to start with Next Goal Wins, Taika Waititi’s long-delayed underdog sports comedy about the American Samoan soccer team’s quest to reach the World Cup. The Thor: Love and Thunder director launched Jojo Rabbit at the 2019 TIFF and saw his film score six Oscar nods, and a win for Best Adapted Screenplay. Due in theaters on Nov. 17, scoring a goal with TIFF audiences could help Waititi repeat his Rabbit run. (Waititi also executive produced the Native-lead coming-of-age dramedy Frybread Face and Me, included among TIFF’S Next Wave Selects titles.)
Also in the awards hunt is American Fiction, writer/director Cord Jefferson's new drama starring Jeffrey Wright as a frustrated writer trying to preserve his fading reputation. And master Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki is using TIFF as the first international stop for his latest (and possibly last?) film, The Boy and the Heron, a movie that hasn't been seen outside of Japan — even in trailer form. Twenty years ago, Miyazaki's beloved fantasy Spirited Away won the Best Animated Feature Oscar. An overdue second win would be the perfect retirement present.
Meanwhile, the TIFF films looking to build on the momentum out of other festivals include Jonathan Glazer’s Auschwitz-adjacent drama The Zone of Interest, the Alexander Payne-Paul Giamatti Sideways reunion The Holdovers and George C. Wolfe’s inspirational biopic Rustin, which is already rustling up major Best Actor buzz for lead Colman Domingo.
What cult sensation will be the next Talk to Me?
We totally called it: After seeing Australian horror hit Talk to Me at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Yahoo Entertainment predicted it would take the world by storm. Flash-forward to September, and the low-budget frightfest has made audiences faint on its way to becoming the highest-grossing horror title in A24's history.
So what's going to be TIFF's answer to Talk to Me? A24 would love it if it was Dicks: The Musical, the latest film from Borat mastermind, Larry Charles. Based on an irreverent Parent Trap-inspired off-Broadway musical, the movie stars Aaron Jackson and Josh Sharp as separated-at-birth identical twins who try to spark a new love connection between their mom and dad, played by Megan Mullally and Nathan Lane. Additional musical accompaniment is provided by Megan Thee Stallion, making her major motion picture debut. A24 is wasting little time taking these Dicks to theaters — the movie is set to open on Sept. 29, mere weeks after it kicks off TIFF's always popular Midnight Madness series.
Another midnight movie favorite in the making is the Sam Raimi-backed Boy Kills World, an ultraviolent ode to martial arts movies and combat-heavy video games. Former It and John Wick villain Bill Skarsgård plays a good guy for a change — a mute warrior trained from birth to wipe out the tyrannical clan of a third world fascist state. Michelle Dockery, Brett Gelman and Famke Janssen are among the actors dining out on the movie's juicy B-movie tropes. Speaking of video games, Spring Breakers mastermind, Harmony Korine, has cited that medium as one of main the influences on his latest provocation, Aggro Dr1ft, a near-plotless vibe movie shot like an infrared freak-out.
What crowdpleaser will win the audience award?
How much of an Oscars boost do movies get by winning TIFF’s People’s Choice Award? That’s impossible to quantify, but this is one remarkable stat: The last 11 winners have all gone on to at least land a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards, with three of those — 2013's 12 Years a Slave, 2018's Green Book and 2020's Nomadland — ultimately winning Best Picture.
One obvious player for this year’s prize: Nyad, Netflix's feel-good biopic about Diana Nyad, who attempted to be the first swimmer to freestyle through the waters separating Cuba and the U.S. — without the aid of a shark cage. Bening plays the swimmer, while Jodie Foster is her best friend, coach and biggest cheerleader... in that order.
But there are some other under-the-radar contenders for the festival's biggest crowdpleaser, starting with Quiz Lady, co-starring Awkwafina and Sandra Oh as road-tripping, game show-obsessed sisters. Following its TIFF premiere, the film streams on Hulu on Nov. 3. And then there's Flora and Son, the latest musically-infused romantic drama from Once and Sing Street writer-director John Carney. The film already got Sundance audiences singing, which is music to Apple's ears. Flora and Son will debut in theaters on Sept. 22, followed by an Apple TV+ run on Sept. 29.
Will anyone be able to get tickets?
Ticketmaster already committed the cardinal sin of getting the Swifties riled up. Now, the widely-hated ticket sales company is making festival audiences see red. According to initial reports, scalpers quickly swooped in on many of TIFF's big-ticket premieres when sales began last month. As a result, tickets to The Boy and the Heron and Dumb Money vanished almost overnight. The only way to buy them was via the re-sale market, where the prices were — as one film journalist wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter — "genuinely insane."
Thanks to Ticketmaster scalpers, tickets to The Boy and the Heron were suddenly going for over $500, while Dumb Money cost nearly $900. Even less heralded movies were seeing major mark-ups, often in the hundreds of dollars. TIFF has yet to comment on the issue, but the only thing worse than empty red carpets would be empty theaters.
The Toronto International Film Festival runs from Sept. 7-17 in Toronto, Canada.