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TIFF 2023 Review: The 10 Best Movies We Saw

Best of the Fest

From ‘American Fiction’ to ‘Woman of the Hour’ — the highlights of a slightly off, largely celebrity-less Toronto International Film Festival

It would be easy to blame it on the strikes currently affecting the business of show, or the usual feast-or-famine conundrum that affects festival programming in any given awards season, or a sudden spike in summer Covid cases, or everyone’s favorite industry scapegoat, i.e. streamers. But 2023 proved to be an off year for the Toronto International Film Festival, one of the handful of fall fests that set the stage for the last half of the moviegoing year and the beginning of gotta-get-those-statuettes Oscar campaigning. There were a conspicuous number of titles that had played Venice and Telluride, or were set to play in the New York Film Festival later this month, that were M.I.A. An emphasis on films directed by actors may have allowed for some stars to still walk red carpets and grace stages, but the way those movies truly ran the gamut in terms of quality was noticeable enough to bring out your inner cynic. (Congratulations, Anna Kendrick, you have a real knack for framing scenes and sustaining tension! Also: Let us never speak of Chris Pine’s Poolman ever again.)

There were still gala premieres, still highlights from earlier big-name festivals, still events like the Talking Heads reuniting to talk about the restoration of the landmark concert movie Stop Making Sense. The lack of celebrities was as much a boon as it was a bust, especially if you wanted to walk down King Street’s typically crowd-packed theater row but didn’t have an hour to spare. No one was going through the motions. Yet it was hard to shake the feeling that you were attending a phantom TIFF, in which the usual sense of vitality and urgency felt slightly leeched out of the proceedings.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t good movies, and a few genuinely great ones, at TIFF ’23. It wasn’t a chore to come up with a Top 10 list, and the glass-half-full viewpoint is that the lack of some major fall movies here made a few less flashy — but equally well-acted, equally well-directed, equally moving and inspiring — films stand out that much more. Here are the best things we saw at this year’s Toronto festival. Catch up with these as soon as you can.

(And shout-outs to Dream Scenario, Hit Man, Origin, Rustin and Seven Veils, all of which had central performances that reminded you of the way that actors can take strong material and turn it into something close to extraordinary.)

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