A look at what’s coming to Chicago from the Toronto International Film Festival


AP Photo

“Hustlers” writer Lorene Scafaria (left) poses with Jennifer Lopez (right).

Fall is officially upon us, which means it’s time for my personal favorite sub-season: festival season. If you’re not a film fan who spends most of your days trying to see as many movies as humanly possible, festival season is the time that comes before Oscars season where cinephiles, film critics and award pundits get to travel to see all of the buzziest and biggest movies of the fall season. It is officially kicked off by what Paul Schrader refers to as the three gatekeepers: Venice, Telluride and Toronto.

I was lucky enough to get to spend an entire week in Toronto to see some films, chat up some celebrities, eat some poutine and not get enough sleep. The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)  has always been my favorite festival to go to, most specifically for the way that it blends blockbuster populism by playing films like “Joker,” “Knives Out” and “Uncut Gems” with more avant-garde foreign affairs like Nadav Lapid’s Berlinale top prize-winning “Synonyms” and Pablo Larrain’s electric and entrancing interpretive dance thriller, “Ema.”

This year in Toronto, my fourth time attending the festival, was one of the best yet, and I saw some of the biggest highlights of the fall season and films that will for sure be key players come Oscars season.

Here are some of the biggest and best films I saw at TIFF that are playing in Chicago now or will be playing at the Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) on Oct. 16-27:

“Marriage Story”

Perhaps the best film I saw at TIFF, “Marriage Story,” Noah Baumbach’s follow-up to his masterclass in family dysfunction, “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),” is his most ambitious and profoundly personal work to date. With a crew of Hollywood’s finest at the forefront of the film, a tight and snappy script and the wonderful compositions of Randy Newman serenading every scene, “Marriage Story” achieves its goal of being equal parts hilarious and tear-jerking in the portrayal of divorce as a messy and painfully humane hellscape of heartbreak and self-preservation. It’s not trying to be a universal story, its nuances and idiosyncrasies make it singular and in return so, so special. Johansson and Driver have never been better, the latter of which giving quite possibly the performance of the year. “Marriage Story” screens Oct. 25 at CIFF.

“Fire Will Come”

Galician filmmaker Oliver Laxe’s second feature film is a towering and deeply intimate film about judgment, rehabilitation and the unruly power that nature holds over all of society. The film follows accused arsonist Amador as he returns to his rural Galacian hometown from prison. His healing process and ease into the community is abruptly disturbed by a wildfire that rages within the forests near his village. Laxe uses his very soft 16mm imagery to study the vivid textures of his locations and the vulnerable literal and metaphorical spaces between us. The third act of this film is one that must be experienced on a big screen, which shouldn’t be too hard, considering it is screening three times during CIFF. “Fire Will Come” will screen on Oct. 19, 20 and 23 at CIFF.


“Hustlers” was hyped up more than most and was easily one of the best films from the festival. Lorene Scafaria’s insanely magnetic ensemble dramedy was always going to be an absolute blast based off the hook of its initial premise and cast, but what I didn’t expect was that it would be an incredibly pointed and poignant portrait of post-2008 crash America and how the system can make enemies of everyone, even the best of friends. Scafaria experiments with some fantastic Scorsese-Esque influences with slick camerawork and inventive sound design. The ensemble is phenomenal and J-Lo will be coming for the Oscars. The film is making waves at the domestic box office. So, if you haven’t already seen it, get on it. “Hustlers” is now playing in theaters everywhere.

“A Hidden Life”

A Terrence Malick film is always an event to look forward to seeing on the big screen. His latest directorial venture is one that has long been an in-development passion project for him. A sweeping testament to human faith in the face of great evil, “A Hidden Life” follows the true story of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer who refused to swear an oath to Hitler and fight for the Nazis. What ensues is a tale of resistance and a love story bound by its place in time. It features one of the most profoundly moving final denouements in recent cinema history. “A Hidden Life” will screen on Oct. 23 at CIFF.

“The Vast of Night”

One of the buzziest acquisitions at TIFF, was when Amazon Studios picked up this micro-budgeted enthralling minimalist sci-fi horror film. What starts as what one might assume to be a hacky “Twilight Zone” riff turns into a deeply thought-provoking and skin-crawling film about alien invasions and the justifiable paranoia in technological evolution. It rings in your mind like a creepy light-night campfire story, and Andrew Patterson’s direction is so lived-in and patient, it’s borderline impossible not to be totally enraptured by his detailed vision.