For some people (yes, I’m talking about myself), the falling of leaves and the fading away of summer brings with it a special time of year: Oscar season. Sure, Will Smith’s right hand left an indelible mark on an awards ceremony that almost everyone can’t remember anything else about.
But for us in Vancouver, it also means that it’s time for the Vancouver International Film Festival. Sure, our annual movie festival may not be Cannes or Telluride or TIFF, but it still provides a good showcase for both fancy Hollywood films that are en route to the Dolby Theatre in L.A. as well as Canadian and B.C. efforts that often go under the radar.
Here are 10 films we’re intrigued by at VIFF.
Bones of Crows
Director: Marie Clements
Starring: Grace Dove, Phillip Forest Lewitski
The official opener of the festival, Bones of Crows, follows Aline Spears (played at different ages by Grace Dove, Summer Testawich and Carla Rae), a happy, gifted child until she and her siblings are taken to a residential school. Spears ends up becoming an important national asset in WWII thanks, in a darkly ironic way, to her fluency in Cree. Vancouver-born Métis writer-director Marie Clements (previous films The Road Forward and Red Snow both played VIFF) tackles the heavy subject matter with a bold, harrowing tale that spans the better part of the 20th century.
The Banshees of Insherin
Director: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Colin Farrell
If you’ve seen the fantastic and underrated In Bruges, the reuniting of McDonagh, Gleeson and Farrell should be enough to sell you on this. In the comedy-drama Banshees, the two Irish gents play lifelong friends who suddenly find themselves at an impasse. It got a 13-minute standing ovation at the Venice International Film Festival, and Farrell himself called it “painful, violent.” That’s enough for us.
The Grizzlie Truth
Director: Kathleen Jayme
If you want to boil up the blood pressure of a lifelong Vancovuerite, just gently mention that you heard the Grizzlies might be coming back. Documentarian and former hardcore Grizzlies fan Kathleen Jayme tapped into this in a big way with her 2018 film Finding Big Country, which played to sold out crowds at VIFF. She’s once again set her camera lens on teal with The Grizzlie Truth, a true sports crime story investigating what exactly happened to Jayme’s beloved Grizzlies. Big truth bombs—along with Shareef Abdul-Rahim, Mike Bibby and copious amounts of nostalgia—are on offer here.
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Starring: Song Kang-ho, Gang Dong-won
The festival’s closing film is the first Korean effort from legendary Japanese director Kore-eda (Shoplifters). A sprawling crime story about a baby adoption scam, it earned another Asian film legend in Song Kang-ho (Parasite) the Best Actor award at Cannes. With the swelling popularity of Korean productions of late and its closing status, expect crowds at this one.
North of Normal
Director: Carly Stone
Starring: Sarah Gadon, James D’Arcy
An adaptation of B.C. native Cea Sunrise Person’s memoir of the same name, North of Normal recounts Person’s early years in a wilderness commune founded in the 1970s by her anti-establishment grandfather Dick (Robert Carlyle). Her mother, Michelle (Canadian actress Sarah Gadon, Enemy), eventually flees Dick’s reign and establishes a nomadic existence with her daughter.
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Hong Chau
It’s comeback season for Brendan Fraser. And possibly Darren Aronofsky, too. It's been awhile since the director tasted both critical and commercial success with films like Black Swan and The Wrestler. And it’s been even longer since Fraser was a star on the big screen. But Fraser is already garnering Oscar buzz for his role as a reclusive, obese English teacher who attempts to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter (Stranger Things’ Sadie Sink).
Director: Jason Karman
Starring: Cardi Wong, Chris Carson
Locally shot and (even more vitally) set in East Vancouver, Golden Delicious tells the coming-of-age story of an Asian-Canadian teenager torn between different paths being blazed by his girlfriend and his father, while also struggling with his own identity and a hunger for the boy next door. With more than a dozen short films to his name, UBC grad Jason Karman vividly brings to life his first feature.
Director: Sarah Polley
Starring: Claire Foy, Frances McDormand
Canadian director Sarah Polley takes on the work of Canadian writer Miriam Toews in this tale of how a group of women in an isolated religious community grapple with their supposed “protectors” becoming their assailants. Expect a masterclass in acting from a stacked cast including Oscar nominees Jessie Buckley and Rooney Mara, The Crown’s Claire Foy and the legendary Frances McDormand.
Director: Hubert Davis
Oscar-nominated Canadian filmmaker Hubert Davis (Hardwood) takes on the personal stories of Black hockey players and their battle against racism, all the way from the destruction of a Black hockey community in Nova Scotia to the racist actions that today’s players of all levels have experienced in their careers. The film features professional hockey players like Wayne Simmons, Matt Dumba, Anthony Duclair, Sarah Nurse and P.K. Subban.
Director: Florian Zeller
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern
Celebrated playwright Florian Zeller brings his “spiritual follow-up" to 2020’s Oscar-winning The Father to the screen in his second feature film. The Son sees teenager Nicolas (Zen McGrath) reeling from depression so bad that his mom (Laura Dern) hands him over to dad (Hugh Jackman), who already has his hands full thanks to a baby with his new wife (Vanessa Kirby). If Zeller’s previous effort is any indication, we probably shouldn’t be expecting a fairy tale ending.
See the full list of films here.