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Five can't-miss movies from the Toronto film festival

The Toronto International Film Festival concluded on Sunday, wrapping up a whirlwind 10-day event that featured world premieres, special presentations, discussions with prominent filmmakers, and the debut of television content.

Published September 17,2023

The Toronto International Film Festival wrapped up on Sunday, after a whirling 10 days chock full of world premieres, special presentations, talks with key filmmakers and TV debuts.

"American Fiction" won the coveted People's Choice Award, which has in the past helped to predict Oscars success.

The following is a look at some of the key movies shown in Toronto:

- 'American Fiction' -

Which Black stories are told in American culture? Who decides? Those are some of the provocative questions addressed in Cord Jefferson's debut feature "American Fiction," a searing satire starring Jeffrey Wright of "Westworld" fame.

The film, which premiered in Toronto, tells the story of Thelonious 'Monk' Ellison (Wright), an African American author and university professor who is told by his publishers that his writing isn't "Black enough."

So he writes a novel using a pseudonym that features a litany of cliches about being Black. Of course, the book is a monster hit, movie producers want to adapt it, and Ellison must navigate the fallout from his own actions.

Adapted from Percival Everett's novel "Erasure," the movie from the 41-year-old Jefferson -- an Emmy-winning writer who has worked on shows like "Succession" and "Watchmen" -- also stars Issa Rae, Sterling K. Brown and Tracee Ellis Ross.

Awards prediction site Gold Derby has Wright and Jefferson among the early Oscar contenders for best actor and best adapted screenplay. But the win in Toronto could boost its Academy Award stock.

The film opens in North America in November.

- 'The Holdovers' -

Director Alexander Payne of "Sideways" fame is a perennial Oscars favorite, and he certainly has entered the awards conversation with his latest effort, 1970s-set dramedy "The Holdovers," on which he reunited with Paul Giamatti.

Giamatti plays Paul Hunham, a cantankerous prep school teacher forced to remain on campus over the year-end holidays to look after the "holdovers" -- students with nowhere to go for the vacation.

Eventually, he is left with just one teen: Angus (newcomer Dominic Sessa), who is navigating family issues. The pair, along with cafeteria manager Mary (Da'Vine Joy Randolph), build their own unlikely family over the course of the holiday.

Gold Derby lists "The Holdovers" -- the first runner-up in Toronto -- among the early top Oscar contenders for best picture, director, original screenplay, actor (Giamatti) and supporting actress (Randolph).

The heartwarming movie, which had its world premiere at the Telluride festival before screening in Toronto, opens in US theaters in November.

- 'The Boy and the Heron' -

Is Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki finished making feature-length films? The answer is unclear, but if "The Boy and the Heron" is indeed his last, the 82-year-old Studio Ghibli legend will have gone out on a high note.

The film -- a meditation on love, loss and the horrors of World War II -- was a hot ticket in Toronto, where it had its international premiere after opening in Japan in mid-July.

The semi-autobiographical movie, Miyazaki's first in a decade, was the second runner-up for the TIFF People's Choice Award.

The film follows young Mahito as he moves with his father to the countryside after his mother perishes in the fire-bombing of Tokyo. After meeting a talking heron, he enters a surreal and perilous fantasy world in search of his mom.

"The Boy and the Heron" opens in December in the United States.

- 'Dumb Money' -

"Dumb Money," which earned rousing applause at its world premiere, recounts the stranger-than-fiction story of the amateur investors who turned shopping mall video game store GameStop into a Wall Street phenomenon in 2021.

The film, which opened in select North American cities on Friday, follows Keith Gill (Paul Dano), who invested his life savings in GameStop and posted on social media about it under the username "Roaring Kitty."

Other small-time investors took Gill's lead as they communicated on Reddit, and the so-called "meme stock" blew up amid wild trading in January 2021.

The surge was seen as driven at least in part by retail investors who banded together to retaliate against short sellers like hedge fund billionaire Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen).

- 'In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon' -

If you're a music fan, look no farther than Alex Gibney's engrossing deep-dive into the career of the legendary Paul Simon, from his fraught partnership with Art Garfunkel to his solo career and embrace of world music.

The movie splices together archival images with new interviews in which the 81-year-old folk-rock icon reveals how he is coping with deafness in his left ear.

It also tracks the development of his latest album, "Seven Psalms," which was released in May.

The film, which will also screen at the London Film Festival, does not yet have a release date.