After two years of virtual events or limited-capacity premieres, the festival returns in spectacular fashion, with more than 250 films expected to screen during the 10-day event. To break down the musts from the meh, here are nine films we’re dying to see.
“Causeway” (A24/Apple Original Films)
Though Jennifer Lawrence had a juicy supporting role in Adam McKay’s disaster comedy “Don’t Look Up” last year, we have not seen the former Katniss Everdeen in the driver’s seat of a film since the one-two punch of “Mother!” and “Red Sparrow” (released in 2017 and 2018, respectively). She returns in earnest at TIFF with “Causeway,” about a soldier with a traumatic brain injury trying to readjust to normal life.
— Matt Donnelly
“Empire of Light” (Searchlight Pictures)
Sam Mendes crafts an ode to the power of movies with this story of a cinema ticket-taker (Olivia Colman) who finds herself drawn to a new employee (Michael Ward). Colman, who has won an Oscar and scored two other nominations in the last four years, is always arresting, but word is that Ward, so memorable in Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe: Lover’s Rock,” is a revelation. Plus, the film is a chance to watch as Mendes and his longtime collaborator Roger Deakins (“Skyfall,” “1917”) spin the kind of unforgettable images that demand to be seen on the widest screen possible.
— Brent Lang
“The Fabelmans” (Universal Pictures)
In this making-of-a-film-director tale, Steven Spielberg goes back to his early days as a movie-obsessed kid in Arizona. “The Fabelmans” is the most personal film yet from the maestro behind “Schindler’s List” and “Jaws,” and it looks to be the hottest ticket at this year’s fest — the first time that Spielberg has premiered one of his films there. Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen and Judd Hirsch are part of the ensemble cast, with music by composer John Williams, who came out of retirement for one last ride with his favorite auteur. In an interview with Variety, Williams said the film is about “the muchness of life.” Spielberg has what it takes to deliver that kind of banquet.
— Clayton Davis
“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Story” (Netflix)
“Knives Out,” Rian Johnson’s sly update of a whodunit, was a sensation when it premiered at TIFF in 2018. Now, the co-conspirators reunite for “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Story,” which finds Daniel Craig’s detective, Benoit Blanc, trying to solve another murder. Netflix, which shelled out $450 million for the rights to this film and another Blanc mystery, is distributing, but TIFF audiences will have a chance to catch it before it streams in December. “Glass Onion” finds Blanc decamping to Greece, where he tangles with an array of suspects played by Edward Norton, Kate Hudson, Leslie Odom Jr. and in what is rumored to be a standout turn, Janelle Monáe.
“The Menu” (Searchlight Pictures)
This horror-comedy with Ralph Fiennes as a sinister celebrity chef is serving up a pitch-black dish. But the story of a group of wealthy guests gathering for some molecular gastronomy is not all scares and laughs; the film is also said to offer up a slice of social commentary with its look at how the 1% dine … and die. Plus, there’s a killer ensemble that includes Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau and Janet McTeer, which should be enough to whet the appetite of film fans.
“My Policeman” (Amazon Studios)
But can he carry a movie? Harry Styles will answer the question with “My Policeman,” in which he stars as a closeted police officer in 1950s Britain. His character is forced to marry a librarian (Emma Corrin), but his heart belongs to David Dawson’s museum curator. Said to be a devastating look at the prejudice that gay men faced and the lengths they were forced to go to mask their identities.
“Sidney” (Apple Original Films)
Reginald Hudlin’s documentary about the late Sidney Poitier debuts just eight months after the entertainment icon’s death, and should offer up a potent reminder of his barrier-breaking legacy. Made with the participation of Poitier and the support of his family, the documentary aims to capture the vast scope of his pioneering career as an actor and a director, while showcasing his lifelong work as an activist.
— Angelique Jackson
“The Swimmers” (Netflix)
TIFF is known for left-field opening-night movies, but when Sally El Hosaini’s refugee drama “The Swimmers” was announced, there was a sense that Toronto finally might be opening with a serious awards contender. Based on a screenplay by “My Brother the Devil” helmer El Hosaini and Jack Thorne (“The Eddy”), “The Swimmers” tells the true story of sisters Yusra and Sarah Mardini, whose extraordinary talent as swimmers took them on a journey as refugees from war-torn Syria. This is the kind of uplifting fare that Toronto audiences lap up. The Mardini sisters are the real-life superheroes the movies need right now.
— Manori Ravindran
“The Whale” (A24)
Brendan Fraser, several decades removed from his “Mummy” and “George of the Jungle” superstardom, reemerges with this story of a reclusive man living with severe obesity and his efforts to reconnect with his estranged daughter. The indie drama was directed by Darren Aronofsky, who turned 2008’s “The Wrestler” into a similar showcase for Mickey Rourke, another underappreciated talent. That film got Rourke an invitation to the Oscars. If the early buzz on “The Whale” is right, Fraser could go a step farther and join the winner’s circle.
“The Woman King” (Sony Pictures/TriStar)
Gina Prince-Bythewood unearths the true story of the Agojie, a troupe of warrior women who defended the African kingdom of Dahomey in the 19th century. Little has been written about these women, and if not for the film, their feats of strength and sisterhood could’ve been lost to time. Instead, Prince-Bythewood presents an action-packed cinematic experience and — with the help of an immensely talented ensemble cast including Viola Davis, Adrienne Warren and John Boyega — harnesses the power of cinema to chisel the Agojie legacy into the history books.