The Best of TIFF 2023 – Part One

Toronto temperatures are pleasantly resting around 70 degrees F (21 C), but the 48th Annual Toronto International Film Festival’s (TIFF) movies are on fire.  Once again, this revered Canadian jewel offers countless, dazzling movie options for professionals and fans of all ages.

I’ve caught 35 films so far (as of Sept. 14, Day 8), so let me take a moment to jot down five of my favorites.  On Sept. 22, I’ll add five more for a Best of TIFF 2023 – Part Two article.

Thank you for reading!

“Dream Scenario” – College professor and family man Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage) spends his days teaching lectures about evolutionary biology and supporting his wife, Janet (Julianne Nicholson), and their two daughters.  However, nights suddenly become problematic because friends, colleagues, and complete strangers inexplicably begin dreaming about him.  What?  This mild-mannered, nondescript educator becomes an overnight sensation, and as Kristoffer Borgli’s wildly entertaining movie unfolds over 100 minutes, it becomes abundantly clear that Cage is a dream choice to play Paul. 

“Fallen Leaves” – and other dating apps don’t appear in director/writer Aki Kaurismaki’s eccentric dramedy, so Ansa (Alma Poysti) and Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) must connect the old-fashioned way, by a chance meeting, perseverance, and some luck along the way.  Initial sparks fly (internally, of course) for Ansa, a bashful grocery store clerk, and Holappa, an unpolished construction worker.  However, they struggle to navigate their courtship via Kaurismaki’s hilarious, deadpan script and inventive framing, as well as art director Ville Gronroos’ visual delights, including countless hip posters hovering in the background.  Love isn’t perfect, but this Finnish charmer gets pretty close.

“Perfect Days” – 2023 Cannes Best Actor winner Koji Yakusho fills the screen with simple pleasures and wonder as Hirayama, a janitor who cleans public toilets all over Tokyo.  Director/co-writer Wim Wenders (“The American Friend” (1977), “Wings of Desire” (1987)) offers a leisurely pace over a two-hour runtime, as evidenced by the movie’s first seven minutes that document Hirayama’s morning rituals.  The earnest custodian approaches his mundane tasks with gravitas and pride, and Wenders and Yakusho gradually reveal clues that there is more to this 60-something than meets the eye.  

“The Delinquents” – Moran (Daniel Elias) is a loyal, long-standing Buenos Aires bank employee, but this middle-aged rule follower has over two decades of shuffling papers until his retirement.  Well, Moran decides to break the rules and pocket a fortune by robbing his employer.  He needs a partner and recruits his unsuspecting co-worker, Roman (Esteban Bigliardi), in director/writer Rodrigo Moreno’s 180-minute comedy-crime flick, one that – miraculously – is both utterly straightforward and unorthodox.  Elias and Bigliardi are terrific as this unlikely pair, but Margarita Molfino will steal your attention. 

“The Zone of Interest” – Director/writer Jonathan Glazer (“Sexy Beast” (2000), “Under the Skin” (2013)) recreates Rudolf Hoss’ (Christian Friedel) home that literally sits on the other side of a wall to the Auschwitz concentration camp.  Hoss, his wife, Hedwig (Sandra Huller), and their children go about their lives like a suburban family while unspeakable atrocities occur just meters away.  During a TIFF Sept. 10 screening, Glazer called his film – and he may have been quoting someone else – “’Big Brother’ in a Nazi house.”  This critic calls “Zone” surreal, chilling, haunting, and one of the best films of 2023, a movie that deserves Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Director, Cinematography, and Sound.

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