After two editions much diminished by the pandemic, the 47th Toronto International Film Festival is set to roar back to life beginning Thursday with a lineup crowded with much-anticipated titles, including Steven Spielberg's “The Fabelmans,” Rian Johnson’s “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” and Gina Prince-Bythewood’s “The Woman King,” starring Viola Davis.
After two lean and largely virtual pandemic festivals, this year’s TIFF will again be a full-scaled omnibus of upcoming fall movies. Some kinks are still being worked out; digital ticketing woes have plagued festival-goers in the days leading up to TIFF, the largest film gathering in North America. But for some, returning to the teeming theaters of Toronto will be as cozy and warm as putting on a cherished cable-knit sweater.
“Oh, I can’t wait to sit down in that theater,” says Rian Johnson, whose “Glass Onion" will premiere, like “Knives Out,” at the Princess of Wales Theatre. “Above everything else, the movie is designed to be a good time with a crowd in a theater. September 10th can’t get here soon enough.”
While the top European festivals like Venice and Cannes derive much of their glow from their otherworldly glamour, Toronto — where the public can actually get tickets — finds considerable power in the buzz generated from the critics, journalists and moviegoers attending. In the cacophony of the rapid-fire fall-festival circuit that goes from Venice to Telluride to Toronto, responses from TIFF audiences often speak loudest.
Toronto's top award isn't a juried prize but an audience award as voted on by attendees. Past winners ("Belfast," “Nomadland,” “JoJo Rabbit") nearly always go on to be nominated for best-picture at the Oscars, if not win it. This year, several past winners will be returning, including Peter Farrelly, who'll premiere his Vietnam War tale “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” four years after “Green Book” was a surprise smash at TIFF; Martin McDonagh, back with the friendship-fallout “The Banshees of Inisherin” following 2017's “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri ”; and “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle, who will be in Toronto to talk about (but not screen) his upcoming Hollywood tale “Babylon.”
Tyler Perry has been to Toronto once before — to help promote another TIFF award-winner, “Precious,” in 2009. But he'll be coming for the first time as a director, premiering his “A Jazzman's Blues,” a decades-spanning drama about a young Black jazz singer. It comes from the first screenplay Perry wrote 26 years ago.
“This is a totally new situation for me. I feel incredibly honored," says Perry. “'Diary of a Mad Woman,' my first film, I didn’t direct because I didn’t know how. It took all of these films and all of these television episodes to really understand filmmaking."
Perry's film is for Netflix, as is Johnson's after it paid $450 million for the rights to two “Knives Out” sequels. A number of the premieres at TIFF come from streaming services, including Amazon Prime Video's “My Policeman" (the fall's other Harry Styles film, about a gay romance in 1950s England); Apple TV+'s “Causeway,” starring Jennifer Lawrence as a rehabbing soldier; Netflix's “The Good Nurse,” with Eddie Redmayne and Jessica Chastain; and “Wendell & Wild," Henry Selick's stop-motion animation that reteams Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, also for Netflix.
But a lot of the top premieres make compelling cases for the theatrical experience. Spielberg's “The Fabelmans” is based on his own coming of age as a filmmaker. Sam Mendes' “Empire of Light,” with Olivia Colman and Colin Firth, is an homage to cinemas set in a 1980s British movie palace.
Nicholas Stoller's “Bros," starring and co-written by Billy Eichner, is in a different conversation with the movies, but one no less passionate about them. The first major studio gay rom-com, Universal Pictures' “Bros” is filled with jokes and commentary about Hollywood's poor LGBTQ history of inclusion and depiction. It's also an increasingly rare thing: a comedy for the big screen.
“For some reason, everyone just decided one day that comedy didn’t work in theaters anymore. But it’s not true. Or I don’t think it’s true,” says Stoller. “If a comedy works, if it’s really funny, it works in theaters. People want to go. Universal gets this. They’re not doing this out of charity. They are excited that it’s good for the LGBTQ community but they’re like, ‘We can make money on this. This is a genre that works in movie theaters, we just have to make them.’”
“People want to go to the movies to experience a party of some kind,” adds Stoller.
And, with some 200 features from 63 countries on tap, TIFF is set to once again be a party. For some films, it may also be something of a wake. “Sidney,” Reginald Hudlin's Apple TV+ Oprah Winfrey-produced documentary about Sidney Poitier, will debut eight months after t he trailblazing actor's death in January at age 94.
“I’ve watched people watch the trailer and some people cry — from a trailer,” says Hudlin. “What I hope people respond to is that they feel inspired. Sidney’s a life that you think you know, because he’s been a part of our lives our whole life, but when you reveal the details of his life, it's give you a new perspective. By taking him of the pedestal, you actually admire him even more.”
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP