The Toronto Film Critics Association (TFCA) named Mstyslav Chernov’s 20 Days in Mariupol the best documentary of 2023. The film won the Allan King Documentary Award during the annual TFCA Awards vote on Sunday, December 17, which was held in Toronto’s Metro Hall. Chernov’s documentary offered an urgent portrait of the war in Ukraine told by journalists capturing the story from the front lines. The film, which won the Audience Award for World Cinema Documentary at Sundance and screened at Toronto’s Hot Docs, tackled the misinformation war as well with Chernov using the full scope of a documentary portrait to illustrate the elements of a story that don’t always make the quick-hit headlines. The film was tapped earlier this year to represent Ukraine in the Oscar race for Best International Feature.
Runners-up for the Allan King Documentary Award were Maite Alberdi’s The Eternal Memory, Kaouther Ben Hania’s Four Daughters, and Chelsea McMullan’s Swan Song. In previous years, the TFCA awarded its documentary prize to films including All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, Collective, Summer of Soul, and American Factory. All four earned Oscar nominations for Best Documentary with the latter two winning the award.
The TFCA also honoured three documentaries as nominees of the inaugural Rogers Best Canadian Documentary award. The three nominees are Rojek, directed by Zaynê Akyol; Someone Lives Here, directed by Zack Russell; and Swan Song. Rojek, which represents Canada in the Oscars’ Best International Feature category this year, is a provocative essay that asks members of the Islamic State why they fight. Someone Lives Here looks at the housing crisis in Toronto and the efforts of one carpenter to build shelters for unhoused people. Swan Song, finally, observes ballerina Karen Kain’s farewell to the National Ballet of Canada with a backstage glimpse at her directorial debut of Swan Lake. The winner receives a $50,000 cash prize courtesy of Rogers. Each runner-up receives $5,000.
Three Canadian dramas were also nominated for the Rogers Best Canadian Film Award. (This year, the sponsor split the previous $100,000 purse to recognize the diversity of Canadian filmmaking.) The three dramas vying for the award are Matt Johnson’s BlackBerry, a portrait of Waterloo start-up Research in Motion; Ariane Louis-Seize’s Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person, a droll take on the popular field of YA horror; and Sophie Dupuis’ Solo, an intimate drama set in Montreal’s drag scene. Winners for both awards will be announced at the TFCA Awards Gala on March 4 at the Omni King Edward Hotel in Toronto.
The Zone of Interest Tops Field
The big winner at the TFCA Awards, though, was Jonathan Glazer’s Holocaust drama The Zone of Interest. The film won Best Picture and Best Director. Two wins also went to Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, which won Best Adapted Screenplay and Outstanding Lead Performance for Lily Gladstone. The latter won alongside actress Sandra Hüller for her performance in Anatomy of a Fall as the critics combined the previously gendered acting categories into one field while recognizing the same number of performances. London, Ontario native Ryan Gosling won Outstanding Supporting Performance for his role in Barbie alongside Da’Vine Joy Randolph, who won for her scene-stealing turn in The Holdovers.
The TFCA added two new awards to its slate this year as well to recognize a wider field of performances. Glenn Howerton won the inaugural award for Outstanding Performance in a Canadian Film for his work in BlackBerry. His turn as RiM CEO Jim Balsillie was a runner-up for Outstanding Supporting Performance. In the new Breakthrough Performance category, Teyana Taylor won for her emotional turn as a single mother with a secret in A Thousand and One.
Toronto’s awards veered from early consensus favourites in a few categories, including Best Animated Feature, which went to the dialogue-free Robot Dreams. The offbeat tale of a friendship between a dog and his new robot adapts the graphic novel by Sara Varon. Similarly, the group veered from the pack with its choice of Raine Allen Miller’s Rye Lane for Best First Feature. The portrait of two South Londoners falling in love drew acclaim at Sundance and screened at TIFF’s Next Wave festival, but went straight to streamer Disney+. The TFCA also strayed from the pack with its choice of Finnish comedy Fallen Leaves for Best International Feature. The film by Aki Kaurismäki is playing in theatres and will be on MUBI next year.
The full list of TFCA Awards winners and runners-up is as follows:
The Zone of Interest (Elevation Pictures)
Runners Up: All of Us Strangers (Searchlight), Killers of the Flower Moon (Apple TV+)
Jonathan Glazer, The Zone of Interest (Elevation Pictures)
Runners Up: Martin Scorsese, Killers of the Flower Moon (Apple TV+), Justine Triet, Anatomy of a Fall (Elevation Pictures)
OUTSTANDING LEAD PERFORMANCE
Lily Gladstone, Killers of the Flower Moon (Apple TV+)
Sandra Hüller, Anatomy of a Fall (Elevation Pictures)
Runners Up: Paul Giamatti, The Holdovers (Universal Pictures Canada), Andrew Scott, All of Us Strangers (Searchlight), Emma Stone, Poor Things (Searchlight), Kôji Yakusho, Perfect Days (Elevation Pictures)
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE
Ryan Gosling, Barbie (Warner Bros. Canada)
Da’Vine Joy Randolph, The Holdovers (Universal Pictures Canada)
Runners Up: Robert De Niro, Killers of the Flower Moon (Apple TV+), Robert Downey, Jr., Oppenheimer (Universal Pictures Canada), Glenn Howerton, BlackBerry (Elevation Pictures), Charles Melton, May December (Netflix)
Teyana Taylor, A Thousand and One (Universal Pictures Canada)
Runners Up: Charles Melton, May December (Netflix), Dominic Sessa, The Holdovers (Universal Pictures Canada)
OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE IN A CANADIAN FILM
Glenn Howerton, BlackBerry (Elevation Pictures)
Runners Up: Jay Baruchel, BlackBerry (Elevation Pictures), Théodore Pellerin, SOLO (Axia Films)
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Barbie – Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig (Warner Bros. Canada)
Runners Up: Anatomy of a Fall – Arthur Harari, Justine Triet (Elevation Pictures), Past Lives – Celine Song (Elevation Pictures)
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Killers of the Flower Moon – Eric Roth, Martin Scorsese (Apple TV+)
Runners Up: All of Us Strangers – Andrew Haigh (Searchlight), Poor Things – Tony McNamara (Searchlight)
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Robot Dreams (Elevation Pictures)
Runners Up: The Boy and the Heron (GKIDS), Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Sony Pictures)
ALLAN KING DOCUMENTARY AWARD
20 Days in Mariupol (PBS)
Runners Up: The Eternal Memory (The Impact Series), Four Daughters (Mongrel Media), Swan Song (Blue Ice Docs)
BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE
Fallen Leaves (Films We Like)
Runners Up: Anatomy of a Fall (Elevation Pictures), The Zone of Interest (Elevation Pictures)
BEST FIRST FEATURE
Rye Lane (Disney+)
Runners Up: American Fiction (Warner Bros. Canada), Past Lives (Elevation Pictures)
ROGERS BEST CANADIAN FILM NOMINEES
BlackBerry (Elevation Pictures)
Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person (Game Theory Films)
Solo (Axia Films)
ROGERS BEST CANADIAN DOCUMENTARY NOMINEES
Rojek (Maison 4:3)
Someone Lives Here (Game Theory Films)
Swan Song (Blue Ice Docs)