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After seeing 20-plus films in six days, our critic shares some final highlights from this year’s TIFF

‘Sly’ shows a new side of Sylvester Stallone, ‘Stamped from the Beginning’ adapts Ibram X. Kendi’s book, and Richard Linklater’s ‘Hit Man’ will hit the spot for any neo-noir lover

Sylvester Stallone in "Sly"TIFF

The end of a film festival always fills me with an equal sense of relief and melancholy. On one hand, I’m relieved that I don’t have to rush from movie to movie, with barely enough time to eat, let alone write these dispatches.

On the other hand, it’s exciting! The air hums with an addictive anticipation before screenings. I met some new critics and spent time with many others I knew. (My predecessor Ty Burr and I were together at one point outside a great chicken wing place; our meetup may have ripped a hole in the Boston Globe space-time continuum.)


I saw more than 20 movies in six days, yet now that it’s over, I miss the experience dearly. There’s joy in finding an unexpected little gem I can champion. It makes up for having the hell beaten out of me by my schedule.

There were several world premieres at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Let’s start with “Sly,” the upcoming Netflix documentary about Sylvester Stallone. Director Thom Zimny is known for his intimate looks at celebrities such as Bruce Springsteen. Using Sly’s move from Hollywood to Palm Beach as a metaphorical jumping off point, Zimny lets the actor reflect not only on his career, but also on his upbringing in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen and his tough family life.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Stallone’s brother Frank are a couple of the talking heads present, but this is mostly Stallone’s show. Listening to him for 95 minutes might put off some viewers, but I found what he had to say rather enlightening. “Do I have regrets?” he asks at the beginning. “Hell yeah, I have regrets!” Imagine Rocky from the first movie narrating his life story. That’s what this movie feels like. Stallone made me realize just how close to Rocky he really is.


“Sly” debuts in November, as does Roger Ross Williams’s powerful documentary “Stamped From the Beginning.” This adaptation of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s book “Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” stuns from its first scene, where the director asks his interview subjects, “What is wrong with Black people?” From there, it explores the origins of Black stereotypes.

Following the screening was a fascinating discussion among Williams, Kendi, and producer Mara Brock Akil. Kendi pointed out he’s one of the most banned authors in America, and that this film probably could not be shown in Florida.

Jurnee Smollett in "We Grown Now."TIFF

I also caught some final fiction films receiving TIFF world premieres. “We Grown Now,” a drama from director Minhal Baig set in 1992, is a tribute to growing up in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green projects. Jurnee Smollett and S. Epatha Merkerson are the big names here, playing mother and grandmother to 12-year old Malik (Blake Cameron James). They’re all very good, but I was conflicted about this movie, unsure of what it was trying to tell me. I’ll need another viewing. I will say this movie has incredible mise en scène; its re-creation of the projects is realistic in look and feeling.

Michael Fassbender in "Next Goal Wins."Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Searchlight Pictures

Director Taika Waititi (“Jojo Rabbit”) introduced “Next Goal Wins,” a sports comedy starring an outrageously miscast Michael Fassbender as real-life soccer coach Thomas Rongen. This is the comeback story of the American Samoa team that in 2001 infamously lost a World Cup qualifying match 31-0. The movie, quite bad, leaves no sports movie cliché unused. So it’ll be a monster hit.


However, “Next Goal Wins” was not the worst world premiere I saw at TIFF. That would be “Ezra,” about Max (Bobby Cannavale), an unfunny stand-up comedian from New Jersey who kidnaps his autistic son, Ezra, and takes him on a road trip to the Jimmy Kimmel show. Another Bobby — De Niro — plays Max’s dad.

Tommy Lee Jones and Jamie Foxx in "The Burial."TIFF

The last premiere I’ll mention is Maggie Betts’s “The Burial,” a very funny courtroom dramedy (based on a true story) starring Tommy Lee Jones as a funeral director done wrong by an enormous conglomerate that reneges on a contract deal to buy three funeral homes from him. Jones takes his case to a flashy lawyer (played by Jamie Foxx), who doesn’t do contract law but has yet to lose a case. Jurnee Smollett shows up as an equally ruthless rival lawyer representing the bad guys. This movie comes out next month.

My noir-loving heart found much to love in Richard Linklater’s excellent comic neo-noir, “Hit Man,” featuring a star-making turn by co-writer Glen Powell. “This is a somewhat true story,” the opening screen warns us, and Linklater cleverly cops to what is fabricated.

Powell plays Gary, a psychology professor moonlighting as a fake hit man who participates in sting operations designed to trap folks looking to have someone whacked. One such encounter leads him to a married woman, Madison (Adria Arjona), who wants her abusive husband killed. Gary talks her out of it, but pursues her romantically under the guise of his hit man persona. Of course, things go murderously awry.


A still from "The Boy and the Heron."TIFF

I’ll close with “The Boy and the Heron,” from animation legend Hayao Miyazaki. As with all Miyazaki works, this film is as gorgeously rendered as it is occasionally confusing. The creator of Totoro and Princess Mononoke may have outdone himself in the character department with this one, though. This movie has unbearably cute parakeets. They look harmless, but a hilarious reveal shows that they’re all holding gigantic butcher knives and meat cleavers behind their backs. How can you not love a movie featuring badass budgies?

Odie Henderson is the Boston Globe's film critic.