This rundown of the best movies, characters, and moments from TIFF 2022 is part of our ongoing press coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival. Here are the winners of our TIFF 2022 superlatives.
The 2022 Toronto International Film Festival has come to a close. This year marked a return to in-person screenings for the fest, which has spent the last two years in complete or partial digital space due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We (Meg Shields and Anna Swanson) have recovered from bringing us their dispatches from King Street. But even after all the reviews, the pair are left with some strong praise that they need to get out of their systems as we move into awards season.
Below, we’ve assembled some of the best performances, moments, and vibes from this year’s TIFF. If we were in charge of giving out the end-of-festival awards (which we should be), these are the films, performers, and experiences that we think deserve a little extra praise.
Excellence in the Art of Tear-Jerking
Winner: Goodnight Oppy
Rationale: We’re not sure what it says about us that we found tiny space robots more heart-wrenching than any of the, uh, human characters at TIFF this year. But we’re also not sure what it says about NASA that those madmen unconsciously built their tiny space robot with an itty bitty little face. Why did you make the two Mars Rovers so cute, NASA? Huh?
Directed by Ryan White (Assassins, Coded), Goodnight Oppy tells the story of Spirit and Opportunity, the latter of whom defied her expected 90-day lifespan to troll Mars’ surface for 15 years. Goodnight Oppy is honestly less a story about the iconic Mars rovers and more about the humans whose lives they irrevocably impacted. They keep referring to them as their children, and it’s extremely emotional when the two robots begin to wear down and break apart in Mars’ harsh climate. “Fun” fact: during the Q&A with some of the key scientists and the director, the folks from the NASA team asked for a minute or two to collect themselves first because they couldn’t stop crying. Same guys, same.
Honorable Mention(s): Aftersun
The Best Donkey Thespian
Winner: The Banshees of Inisherin
Rationale: They say dogs are man’s best friend, but clearly, whoever came up with that has never been an Irishman with the gift of gab and a confounding relationship with your former best friend. While Colin Farrell’s Pádraic tries to figure out why Colm (Brendan Gleeson) doesn’t like him anymore, he’s often joined by the sweetest animal companion we could imagine: Jenny the donkey. Ostensibly a farm animal, Jenny is more of a loyal pet, even a member of the family. That Pádraic’s sister doesn’t want Jenny in the house makes no difference to how much we all let her into our hearts. She’s soulful, an absolute darling, and she totally steals the show.
Honorable Mention(s): The sentient Polish donkey in the Jury Prize-winning EO; the feral donkey in Triangle of Sadness who gives a soft rich man a life lesson in how long it takes to kill something.
Outstanding Filmmaking Under the Constraints of a Global Pandemic
Rationale: Of all the films at TIFF this year that embraced the constraints of shooting under lockdown conditions, Sanctuary is arguably the one that folks could watch ten years without thinking, “oh, this is a COVID film, isn’t it?” True, Hal (Christopher Abbott) and Rebecca (Margaret Qualley) never leave Hal’s penthouse suite (minus brief excursions to the elevator). But Zachary Wigon’s twisted tale of a stubborn simp and an even, uh, stubborn-er dominatrix works so well on its own terms that it feels more like a choice than a gimmick of circumstance.
Honorable Mention(s): Fixation, the psychological horror film starring Maligant‘s Maddie Hasson. The film was shot in an abandoned six-story hospital, and the crew clearly made the absolute most of both the time and the space afforded to them to create a space that feels genuinely illogical and disorienting.
Dishonorable Mention: Glass Onion. Benoit Blanc playing Among Us in the bath is such low-hanging fruit it’s basically a pumpkin.
Outstanding Achievement in the Art of Winking at the Audience
Winner: The Kingdom: Exodus
Rationale: If you’ve seen the first two seasons of The Kingdom, you know that creator/director/agent of chaos Lars Von Trier has a penchant for chatting directly with the audience. And while this post-show recap doesn’t manifest in exactly the same way for Exodus, the show’s third season, Von Trier, as the saying goes, finds a way. Exodus takes on a strange self-reflexivity as we see the first two seasons are apparently a show that exists in the world of the third season. So is this the real world? Were the previous events of The Kingdom a complete fiction? Did Von Trier enlist the help of doctors to play themselves in a fictionalized version of their hospital? Who the hell knows. If there’s one thing Von Trier is going to do, other than winking at us, of course, it’s confusing the hell out of us. Never change, Lars.
Honorable Mention: Steven Spielberg, for telling his high school bully that he’ll never reveal what went down on prom night unless he “puts it in a movie one day.”
Best IRL Demonstration of the Power of Parody
Winner: The People’s Joker
Rationale: For those of you who haven’t been following the still-developing saga: The People’s Joker is a self-described “queer coming-of-age story” that uses popular DC caped crusaders and villains alike to tell a story of young love, stand-up comedy, and the trans experience. The film was clear about its parody status and even a half-glimpse at the film’s trailer. Directed by Vera Drew, the film was created over the course of the pandemic with the help of hundreds of artists, including the talents of Bob Odenkirk, Tim Heidecker, and Scott Auckerman. The film screened at its premiere … and then a stern cease-and-desist from the buzzkills at Warner Bros banished it to the copyright shadow realm. In addition to over-reaching with respect to the line between copyright breach and fair use, the company is also toying with genuine overreach with respect to trademark law (you know, the same kind of overreach we see time and time again with Disney and company prolong when their IP is supposed to enter the public domain).
Was this extremely crowdfunded, fan-made, and aggressively punk film going to pose a genuine financial risk to Warner Bros? Of course not. But something that pokes fun at The Brand is bad for the investment. Drew made the film on the hypothesis that superhero films are modern-day myths that belong to everyone. And Warner Bros appears to be firmly against such a cool, generous reading. So yeah, free The People’s Joker, you cowards. What are you so afraid of?
Honorable Mention(s): Weird: The Al Yankovic Story for doing such a good job of imitating music bio-pics that it literally stops being fun when Weird Al becomes a self-destructive drunk in the second act.