The Toronto Film Festival is one of the major stops on the fall film festival circuit, where mainstream fare—including future Oscar winners—sit alongside more avant-garde gems and international discoveries. The majority of the films are independently produced, helping somewhat to cut down on the effects of WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, making this year’s installment still a potentially a star-studded festival.
The line-up boasts over 200 films in total, with many capturing the diverse dimensions of womanhood, portraying characters faced with a range of moral complexities that require strength and resilience, in a variety of genres. Many of the films are made by women too, with female filmmakers accounting for half of the directors in certain sections.
As one of the world’s largest public festivals approaches—scheduled to run from September 7-17, we’ve gathered a selection of some of these films that demonstrate there is no one-size-fits-all narrative when it comes to women’s stories. If you don’t catch them at the festival, be sure to look out for them in the coming months.
The Royal Hotel
Julia Garner and Kitty Green reunite for the Australian director’s follow up to The Assistant (2019). Based on true events, The Royal Hotel follows two American backpackers, played by Garner and Jessica Henwick (Glass Onion), who find themselves working at a bar in the secluded outback as a last resort. They need to scrape together some cash for their departure, and their plans take a treacherous turn when they fall prey to the local boozers and wily locals. Echoing themes explored in The Assistant, this claustrophobic thriller examines intricate gender dynamics and tense imbalance of power between.
His Three Daughters
This star-studded family drama brings together Carrie Coon, Natasha Lynne, and Elizabeth Olsen as sisters preparing for the death of their father, a character who is never seen on screen. Little else is known about the film, but if filmmaker Azazel Jacobs’s previous features are any indications of what’s to come, this light drama will incorporate some nuanced humor and reject histrionics without sacrificing any emotional resonance.
Anatomy of a Fall
This French film has been gaining momentum on the festival circuit and is poised to make a splash in American awards—and will be released later by Neon, the studio behind Triangle of Sadness and Parasite. When a man is found dead at the foot of the French Alps, the age-old question arises: did he jump or was he pushed? German actress Sandra Hüller delivers an outstanding performance as the icy wife on trial. The couple’s blind son must testify to their character, making it difficult to not to condemn one while defending the other as the judges probe into his parents’ marriage and professional rivalries. Unlike most crime thrillers, filmmaker Justine Triet prizes the banality of an investigation over its cheap thrills, establishing a slow-burn thriller with a dash of Basic Instinct.
Annette Bening hasn’t been nominated for an Academy Award in 13 years, despite her many deserving performances. Could her starring role in Nyad be the one that garners her an Oscar nod? In this biopic based on Diana Nyad’s autobiography, Bening plays the 64-year-old woman who became the first person to swim the dangerous Florida Straits from the U.S. to Cuba without the aid of a shark cage. Directed by documentarians Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, this tale of grit and perseverance is bound to thrill with dizzying visuals and natural splendor, too. Netflix will release the film later this year.
Another biopic with a big-name actress, Lee stars Kate Winslet as polymath Lee Miller, a fashion-model-turned-photographer who became a WWII correspondent for British Vogue. In Lee, she hits the ground in Germany with Life Magazine, capturing the liberation of Paris, Buchenwald and Dachau, and footage of Hitler’s Berlin residence. Lee lived a daring and eventful life—rubbing elbows with the likes of Picasso and Man Ray—and we can only hope the film is as audacious and intriguing. Marion Cotillard, Andrea Riseborough, and Noémie Merlant also appear as editors and artists, serving as Lee’s female contemporaries.
The End We Start From
If you’re looking to scratch a dystopian-fiction itch, there’s The End We Start From, a tale of survival in the midst of ecological disaster. The film debut of British director Mahalia Belo seeks to contrast birth and motherhood against an impending apocalypse. Based on a book by Megan Hunter of the same name, the film tries to capture the source material’s poetic flair with equally sparse camera work, and a stunning cast featuring Jodie Comer, Benedict Cumberbatch and Katherine Waterston.
The TIFF lineup, thankfully, isn’t without its share of comedies. Quiz Lady, which will premiere on Hulu later this fall, stars Awkwafina and Sandra Oh as estranged sisters—one buttoned-up and reserved, the other obstinate and chaotic—who must come together to repay their mother’s gambling debt by appearing on a gameshow. Based on the premise, and the actors playing against type, the film has the makings of a funny and poignant movie about family.
The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed
A gem from the Cannes Film Festival, Joanna Arnow’s modest, low-budget picture is being celebrated as a poignant portrayal of a particular generation’s ennui. Arnow plays the lead role of Ann, a thirty-something in New York who is navigating a dead-end job, a pestering family, and various submissive relationships. Your mileage with this film may vary: the movie unabashedly embraces the banal and the awkward, but beneath the cringe is a startling core of vulnerability.
Ethan Hawke directs daughter Maya in this biographical drama about the American author Flannery O’Connor, who was known for her distinctive Southern Gothic writing style and unwavering convictions. Under the spectacles and a brown fringe, the younger Hawke is nearly unrecognizable, and the early word is that Wildcat—Maya’s passion project—is a distinguished portrait of spiritual longing and artistic struggle. The film also features Laura Linney, Alessandro Nivola, and another notable celebrity progeny, Cooper Hoffman.
No stranger to taboo subject matter, French filmmaker Catherine Breillat’s first film in nearly a decade tells the story of Ann (Léa Drucker, Close) a middle-aged woman who begins an illicit affair with her 17-year-old stepson. That Anne is a sophisticated and skillful lawyer specializing in cases of abuse adds potential shades of manipulation. But Last Summer doesn’t pass judgment, taking care to treat its characters’ dangerous liaisons and raw impulses with respect.
Atom Egoyan is Canada’s foremost auteur, so it makes perfect sense that his latest film would premiere at the fest. Known for exploring themes of identity, memory, and the blurred lines between reality and fiction, Egoyan continues this trajectory with Seven Veils. It stars Amanda Seyfried as a theater director dealing with her past trauma as she prepares to mount the opera Salome. In addition to being a showcase for Seyfried (who starred in Egoyan’s underrated 2009 erotic thriller Chloe), the psychodrama delves into family loss, artistic compulsions, obsessions, and manipulations.