It’s a great time to be at the movies.
Every fall brings its crop of new movies from around the world — comedies, dramas, documentaries, and more uncategorizable films that capture what it is to live in this historical moment. Audiences around the world get to see them at festivals first, whether they’re big buzzy international fests or smaller regional events. Many of those films start their journey in early September at the Toronto International Film Festival, and they’re worth keeping tabs on as they roll out across the country. So here are the best movies we saw at this year’s TIFF, and why you might want to see them, too.
At once broadly comedic and bitingly barbed, American Fiction is the story of Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (an outstanding Jeffrey Wright), a writer and malcontent who unwillingly finds himself back in his East Coast hometown. There he is confronted with the family turmoil he tries to avoid, heightened by growing irritation with the expectations he feels from the literary establishment about what “Black literature” ought to be. It’s an extremely funny movie that lands some sharp blows, and a stellar feature debut from seasoned TV writer Cord Jefferson (Succession, The Good Place, Watchmen, Master of None).
How to watch it: American Fiction is awaiting US distribution.
Days of Happiness
It’s unfortunate that Chloé Robichaud’s drama about a young conductor on the cusp of stardom (Sophie Desmarais) probably won’t escape the shadow of Tár, because it’s a strong and self-assured film on its own merits. Desmarais turns in a compelling performance as Emma, who’s desperate to take the next step in her career but is held back by her agent, who also happens to be her domineering father, and by her budding relationship with cellist Naëlle (Nour Belkhiria). Days of Happiness examines familiar territory — the musician battling her demons — but with a fresh, engaging touch.
How to watch it: Days of Happiness is awaiting US distribution.
Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World
A lot of movies get called “unhinged,” but Romanian director Radu Jude’s 2021 feature Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn actually lived up to the description (and landed on A.O. Scott’s best of the year list). Now he’s back with the equally wild Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World, a dark comedy that’s sort of about labor exploitation, sort of about the gig economy, and sort of about how disconnected corporations are from their workers. Mostly it’s a madcap spin through a day in the life of one production assistant/wannabe social media star (semi-spoofing Andrew Tate) who is hustling like mad to keep her head above water. Few movies are as surgical and scintillating in their societal critique.
How to watch it: Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World was acquired by Mubi and is awaiting a US release date.
Talk about a dream of a premise: Paul Matthews (Nicholas Cage), a mild-mannered professor of evolutionary biology, discovers to his excitement, and then consternation, that he’s been appearing in the dreams of random people all over the world. He doesn’t know why. He can’t make it stop. And it’s wrecking his life. Director Kristoffer Borgli’s comedy Dream Scenario (co-produced by horror maven Ari Aster) makes joking feints toward being “about” cancel culture or internet fame, but it’s pretty clear he doesn’t have a particular axe to grind. He’s really just interested in razzing the audience a little, in the mold of his previous film Sick of Myself. People are terrible, illogical, and weird, but that doesn’t mean we can’t laugh at them.
How to watch it: Dream Scenario will be released in theaters by A24 on November 10.
Evil Does Not Exist
Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car and Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy were two of 2021’s greatest films; Evil Does Not Exist is a bit more modest in scope, but just as spectacular. Takumi (Hitoshi Omika) is the local odd-job man in the small Japanese village of Harasawa, where he’s raising his daughter Hana (Ryo Nishikawa) as a single father. When representatives from a talent agency appear in town, announcing a bizarre plan to open a glamping site nearby, Takumi is drawn into the controversy. Evil Does Not Exist provocatively considers the kind of responsibility we bear toward our families, our friends, and even strangers. Evil isn’t some disembodied thing, in Hamaguchi’s worldview: it’s something embodied by humans, who can choose whether they’ll fight it or just give in.
How to watch it: Evil Does Not Exist is awaiting US distribution.
Ansa (Alma Pöysti) lives in Helsinki and works a dead-end job at the supermarket, making barely enough money to live on. She meets Holappa (Jussi Vatanen), a construction worker whose main amusement comes from drinking himself into oblivion every night. The pair hit it off, but their romance is full of bumps, not least because of the misery they’re both desperate to escape. Aki Kaurismäki’s deadpan dark comedy dips with style and just a hint of weird whimsy into the lives of his working-class characters, and the tableaux he crafts give off the whiff of a Finnish spin on Hopper’s alienated figures.
How to watch it: Fallen Leaves is awaiting US distribution.
Funny and ultimately heartwrenching, Fingernails pries open the meaning of love by way of some light science fiction. A scientific test has been invented to determine if two people are truly in love, using fingernails from a couple and a fancy machine. Anna (Jessie Buckley) and her boyfriend Ryan (Jeremy Allen White) took the test three years ago, with positive results, but Anna still finds herself drawn to the test and what it means. She takes a job at the Institute where the tests are administered, working with Amir (Riz Ahmed) to help couples deepen their connection, and starts to find herself wondering what love even is. Director Christos Nikou turns the premise into a subtle meditation on how different every partnership’s story is — how love shifts and changes depending on who’s in the relationship — and the result is both kind and thought-provoking.
How to watch it: Fingernails will be released in theaters on October 27, then begin streaming on Apple TV+ on November 3.
The Green Border
The great Agnieszka Holland directs an absorbing ensemble drama about the European migrant crisis. Shot in black and white, the film follows a group of refugees from Syria and Afghanistan as they’re pushed back and forth across the Belarus-Poland border, treated as disposable pawns in the country’s governmental disputes. Meanwhile, a group of Polish activists try to help provide what asylum seekers need most without being prosecuted by their own government. It’s heartrending and, at times, heart-stopping — a vital addition to the growing body of European masterpieces illuminating the human cost of political and social crises.
How to watch it: The Green Border is awaiting US distribution.
His Three Daughters
Katie (Carrie Coon) and Christina (Elizabeth Olsen) have returned to their childhood home, a small New York apartment inhabited by their sister (Natasha Lyonne) and their dying father, who’s too ill to leave his room. It’s a commonplace enough setting for a family drama, anchored by brilliant performances by all three leads as their characters find friction in settling old scores. But writer and director Azazel Jacobs unspools the family’s story little by little, exploring the absurd humor of deathbeds and the meaning of memory and grief with extraordinary love.
How to watch it: His Three Daughters is awaiting US distribution.
An absolute delight, Richard Linklater’s Hit Man is a romcom wrapped in the trappings of a kind-of-true story. Glen Powell plays Gary Johnson, an unassuming philosophy professor who occasionally works undercover for the New Orleans Police Department and finds himself pretending to be a hitman, which is how he meets Maddy (Adria Arjona). Sparks fly, though the course of true love, of course, is a little bumpy. It’s a ton of fun to watch Powell and Arjona’s chemistry, as well as Powell’s evident delight as Gary grows to relish his “hit man” role. Most of all, though, it’s just fun to watch good old-fashioned comedy in which love, danger, and happy endings are all part of a damn fine evening at the movies.
How to watch it: Hit Man is awaiting US distribution.
From its first frame, Alexander Payne’s latest self-consciously presents itself as a film from the 1970s, set in the 1970s at a New England boarding school for boys — a whimsical touch that makes the movie feel like a half-memory. Paul Giamatti stars as Paul Hunham, a dour disciplinarian who teaches ancient history and is much despised by his pupils. Stuck looking after the “holdovers” during Christmas break — the boys who can’t, for whatever reason, leave campus for the holidays — he butts heads with a student named Angus (Dominic Sessa) and tries to be friendly toward Mary (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), the cook, who is grieving her son’s loss. It’s a lighthearted film on the surface, but themes of grief, loss, and the fear of mortality for teenage boys who know they might be drafted and sent to Vietnam at any moment run beneath the beat of the plot. That’s likely why it insists on its 1970s framework, which infuses a cozy holiday story with poignancy and meaning.
How to watch it: The Holdovers will be released by Focus Features in theaters on October 27.
In the Rearview
Technically, In the Rearview is a road movie, a documentary mostly shot from inside a moving van. What matters most, though, is who the passengers are: Ukrainians fleeing their country for Poland after the Russian invasion. The driver is the film’s director, Maciek Hamela, a Polish activist who purchased the van and started evacuating people across the border himself. Through discussions about what they’ve left behind, where they’re going, and what they’re going to do, Hamela’s passengers reveal much about the human toll of the war, as well as the ways that people facing immense upheaval pick up the pieces of their lives and keep moving forward. It’s an extraordinary film.
How to watch it: In the Rearview is awaiting US distribution.
Emily Blunt and Chris Evans star as Liza Drake and Pete Brenner, pharmaceutical executives whose singular drive toward money embroils them in a criminal conspiracy. The plot beats are predictable at this point for a movie that is, in the end, about business guys. Yet unlike movies like Air and BlackBerry, the stakes are extraordinarily high, since the wares they’re peddling aren’t sneakers or phones: they’re opioids, and the more addicted the patients are, the more money they make. Thanks largely to Blunt’s performance, Pain Hustlers manages to be lively and moving, while also illuminating exactly how broken the American health care system is and how all of us are caught in its claws.
How to watch it: Pain Hustlers will be released in theaters on October 20, then begin streaming on Netflix on October 27.
On first blush, Perfect Days could be mistaken for a paean to the noble working class; its protagonist, Hirayama (Kaji Yakusho), spends his quiet, ritualized days cleaning public toilets in Tokyo, watering his plants, reading his books, and eating noodles at the same stall. But as Wim Wenders’s film slowly unfurls, its true aim, which hints at Hirayama’s history, starts to paint a broader picture. Perfect Days is a movie about art, exploring how in the midst of chaos, it’s not labor but the physical objects of beauty that we weave into our lives — paperback novels, cassette tapes of favorite albums, carefully tended bonsai plants, a perfectly framed photograph — that structure and give our days meaning. Reminiscent of Paterson, Perfect Days is a poem of extraordinary subtlety and beauty.
How to watch it: Perfect Days, which is Japan’s official Oscar entry, is awaiting a US release date.
The Pigeon Tunnel
Technically, The Pigeon Tunnel is about the life of the famed spy novelist John le Carré, who died in December 2020. But with Errol Morris at the helm, this is no ordinary documentary. Le Carré — whose real name was David Cornwall — and Morris were good friends, enough to spar throughout the film about the nature of truth, reality, deception, and performance. The conversation is woven throughout Cornwall’s unusually intimate account of his own life and memories, particularly those concerning his con artist father, as well as his more existential obsessions. But it’s much richer than a mere biographical documentary, fascinating even to those who haven’t read Cornwall’s work.
How to watch it: The Pigeon Tunnel will be released on October 20 in select theaters and begin streaming on Apple TV+ the same day.
The Royal Hotel
Director Kitty Green follows up her masterful feminist drama The Assistant (which also starred Julia Garner) with another feminist barnburner. In this one, two young women traveling in Australia find themselves low on cash and take jobs at a hardscrabble bar in an outback mining town. They think they know what to expect, but as their weeks unfold they’re confronted with every type of twisted machismo, and slowly become worried that they will never get away. It’s a thriller, and an uncomfortable one, in which dangers lurk around corners so common that we sometimes forget how dangerous they really are.
How to watch it: The Royal Hotel will be released by Neon in theaters on October 6.
Shayda (Bar Amir Ebrahimi) has fled her abusive husband Hossein (Osama Sami) with her young daughter Mona (Selina Zahedenia) and is living in a women’s shelter in Australia. But as she works toward filing for divorce, she’s left living in a liminal state, required legally to let Mona see her father and dodging his attempts to force both her and Mona back into his home. Meanwhile, Shayda starts to explore a life outside the restrictions she has known. Noora Niasari’s drama slowly builds into a thriller, and Ebrahimi’s enthralling performance coaxes us to lean in. Perhaps most importantly, Shayda refuses simplistic characterization; no matter what happens with Shayda and Mona, we know that Hossein’s abuse will haunt their lives — and that in this way, they’re like millions of women all over the world.
How to watch it: Shayda is awaiting a US release date.
Easily one of the best (and most fun) thrillers of the year, Sleep is the tale of Hyeon-Soo (Lee Sun-kyun) and Soo-jin (Jung Yu-mi), newlyweds who discover that Hyeon-soo sleepwalks. Soo-jin is a little scared of her husband’s nighttime antics, especially when she discovers that she’s pregnant and begins to worry that he’ll hurt their baby in his sleep. Doctors don’t seem to help. What’s going on? Is he possessed? Are they haunted? Or does he just need better meds? Jason Yu crafts a twisty delight that leaves you doubting what you’re seeing and wondering what to believe right till the last moment.
How to watch it: Sleep is awaiting a US release date.
Songs of Earth
A soaring documentary portrait, Songs of Earth is ambitious work from Margreth Olin, who ties cosmic themes of love, grace, time, and memory together through the much smaller tale of her aging parents’ extraordinary love for one another. Cycling through the four seasons with the majestic landscape of Norway as backdrop, Olin explores how the slow movement of time changes landscapes, whether it’s the crags in her father’s forehead or a glacier moving slowly across a landscape over decades. A remarkable, poetic meditation, Songs of Earth weaves the smallness of human lifespan into the grandness of the earth’s history, and does it all with unspeakable beauty.
How to watch it: Songs of Earth is awaiting US distribution.
The Teachers’ Lounge
Carla Novak (Leonie Benesch) is a new teacher at a close-knit German middle school, determined to help her pupils succeed. When one of them is accused of theft, she springs into action, trying to figure out why things keep going missing at the school. But her efforts go sideways, in a manner she never could have predicted. Ilker Çatak takes the setup for an ordinary teacher drama and pulls it taut, building out the tension so skillfully that The Teachers’ Lounge starts to feel like a high-stakes thriller, with no need to teach a lesson beyond the limits of do-gooder idealism. The deliciously twisted turns are enough to keep viewers riveted.
How to watch it: The Teachers’ Lounge, which is Germany’s official Oscar entry, is awaiting a US release date.
The work of the great American writer Flannery O’Connor can be prickly and off-putting, filled with its uncompromising author’s obsessions: Catholicism, the American South, disability, morality, racism, and pious, sentimental hypocrisy. Wildcat, directed by Ethan Hawke, is less a biopic of O’Connor than a work of criticism. Maya Hawke plays O’Connor and Laura Linney her mother, but they and several other actors also appear in the stories O’Connor is writing, remixes of the world she observes around her. Through the film, the clearness of her artistic vision contrasts with personal turmoil, yielding a dreamy movie (a bit reminiscent of Shirley, about Shirley Jackson) that evokes O’Connor’s biggest project: an inquiry into the broken nature of grace.
How to watch it: Wildcat is awaiting US distribution.
Woman of the Hour
Woman of the Hour, Anna Kendrick’s capable and engrossing directorial debut, tells the true tale of Rodney Alcala (Daniel Zovatto), who was in the middle of a lengthy murder spree when he appeared on the game show The Dating Game in 1978. Kendrick plays Cheryl Bradshaw, the female contestant on that episode, who grows increasingly frustrated with the show’s real reason for existing: an excuse for the audience to howl at leering comments the male contestants would level at the women. Woman of the Hour smartly weaves into the narrative the many ways in which women are conditioned to put up with men because, as the saying goes, they’re afraid of being killed.
How to watch it: Woman of the Hour was acquired by Netflix and is awaiting a US release date.