The 17 Best Films That Played at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival
The 2017 Toronto International Film Festival has officially come to a close. This year’s festival was home to a total of 255 feature-length films as well as 84 short films. 2017 was my fifth year in a row that I attended TIFF and while the line-up was a bit smaller this year, the overall quality of the films shown was great. Sure, there were a few disappointments here and there but for the most part, the lineup this year was very strong.
Before I begin this list, I would like to make note that I saw a total of 42 films that played at this year’s festival. While 42 is quite a large number, there were about 18 films that I wanted to see but I didn’t get a chance to see. The films that I missed but wanted to see and MAY have been on this list include: A Worthy Companion, Bodied, BPM, Don’t Talk to Irene, Happy End, Hostiles, Kodachrome, Mark Felt, Mary Goes Round, My Days of Mercy, Outside In, Public Schooled, The Cured, The Death of Stalin, Thelma, Three Christs, and Who We Are Now.
Now, without any further delay, here are my picks of the 17 best films to come out of the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.
17. The Upside
Neil Burger’s remake of The Intouchables was a film that I was nervous about seeing. As a big fan of the French film, I was worried that the Upside wouldn’t be good because most remakes of foreign films don’t usually turn out so great. There are exceptions to that claim and to my surprise, The Upside is one of them. This film was a big surprise as Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart have amazing chemistry and the changes made to the original help the film rather than hurt it.
16. The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro is a visionary director and storyteller. The man has such a wonderful imagination and isn’t afraid to tell stories that are “out there” and speaks directly to audiences that aren’t afraid of risks. The Shape of Water is a gothic fairy tale made for an adult audience that pays homage to several classic fairy tales. The film is stunning to look at and is a love story, unlike anything you have seen before. Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Richard Jenkins are all terrific in the film and feel right at home in the world that del Toro has created.
If you are interested in reading more of my thoughts on The Shape of Water, feel free to read my full review for the film here.
15. First Reformed
I am not a religious person nor am I generally a fan of films that are centered around religion. With that being said, the next two films on this list deal directly with religion. First Reformed stars Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried and is written and directed by Paul Schrader. I went into this film knowing nothing about it and I must admit it left me speechless. This is a character-driven film that relies very heavily on yet another amazing performance by Ethan Hawke, who plays Reverend Toller. The film deals with Toller trying to comprehend and accept the death of his child while still being devoted to the church and helping others. There are several stories going on at once and every one of them is just as interesting as the next. Schrader has created a thought-provoking film that should generate some pretty sizable buzz. While I will admit that the film isn’t for everyone, viewers who enjoy films that are made to spark discussion, I think you should add this one to your must-see list. I am very glad that A24 picked up this one out of TIFF.
I have yet to write my full review of the film but please check back as I am hoping to write one within the next few days.
I somehow missed Novitiate at Sundance but was able to catch it just in time for TIFF. Margaret Qualley plays a young woman named Cathleen, who decides to dedicate her life to the church and become a nun. The film follows her journey as she begins the intensive process to become a nun. Novitiate takes place in the 1960s and there are a bunch of changes about to happen in the church due to a decision made by the Vatican. Reverend Mother played by Melissa Leo doesn’t agree with the new rules ordered by Vatican II and tries to resist the change for as long as she can. The film is an inside look at what occurred during the 1960s and how the convent in which Cathleen is part of has caused her to second-guess her decision of becoming a nun. Novitiate is a fascinating film and one that is absolutely worth searching for and seeing.
I have yet to write my full review for the film but stay tuned as I hope to have it written in the next few days. In the meantime, you can check out Ashley’s review for Novitiate by clicking here.
13. Brad’s Status
I have been a big fan of Ben Stiller work since his short-lived television series from 1992. Stiller has chosen to be a part of a lot of unique projects throughout the years from oddball comedies to emotional dramas. Brad Status is arguably one of Stiller’s best dramatic roles to date. Directed and written by Mike White, the film is a mid-life crisis tale about a dad who is about to send his son off to college. Brad (Stiller) has hit a roadblock in his life and is constantly looking around at his friends and others wondering what his life would have been like if he decided to pursue another career and/or lifestyle. I found this film to be incredibly relatable and think it was one of the biggest surprises to come out of the festival.
I first heard about Stronger last year right around the same time that Patriot’s Day was being released. I saw the film’s trailer a few weeks prior to the TIFF schedule being released and after seeing Jake Gyllenhaal in the trailer, I knew that I had to see the film. Unlike Patriots Day, Stronger isn’t focused on the events leading up to and after the bombing but rather how the bombing affected the life of Jeff Bauman, his family, and his girlfriend. It is a personal and intimate film which moved me. I think Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany have amazing chemistry and Jeff’s story is truly inspiring. This could be an award-worthy film, especially in the actor and actress category.
George Clooney’s latest film is a darkly comedic satire co-written by the Coen Brothers. Suburbicon takes place in the 1950s and makes a huge statement about the world that we live in today. The film pokes fun of white privilege while also addressing racism. Matt Damon and Julianne Moore are a perfect pair to play seemingly innocent family members living in this squeaky clean neighborhood. They both have their own dark secrets which get revealed as the film progresses. While I completely understand that Suburbicon isn’t for everyone, I believe if you are a fan of the Coen Brothers’ darker and less successful films, this one will be right up your alley.
10. I, Tonya
I, Tonya is a Tonya Harding mockumentary/biopic. I didn’t quite know what to expect from I, Tonya prior to seeing it at TIFF but after seeing it, I completely understand why the film is one of the most talked about films to premiere at the festival. Margot Robbie becomes Tonya Harding and delivers a performance that is equally comedic as it is dramatic. The story, which was written by Steven Rogers, is an eye-opening and engaging look into the life of a woman that very few actually know about. Supporting performances by Allison Janney and Sebastian Stan are great with Janney being the film’s scene stealer whenever she steps into frame.
9. Battle of the Sexes
Billie Jean King’s story is inspirational and her bravery has helped support the fight for women’s rights since the 1970s. The film, which stars Emma Stone as the legendary Billie Jean King, is an entertaining and powerful retelling of King’s famous tennis match against Bobby Riggs played by Steve Carell. While I expected the film to just be about that match, I was shocked to learn that the film focused on a lot more of her life including the launch of WTA, her marriage, her on-going fight for equal pay for women, and her struggle to openly accept her sexuality. While the film is without question a feel-good film, it is also a powerful story about fighting for what you believe in. I loved this film and wouldn’t be surprised if Emma Stone gets a nomination for her portrayal of Billie Jean King.
If you are interested in reading more of my thoughts about Battle of the Sexes, you can check out my review here.
8. Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig started off her career by playing a certain type of character but the actress has come a long way. Her roles in Jackie and 20th Century Women proved that she was an amazing actress who could play something other than a quirky 20-something hipster. Her directorial debut Lady Bird is one of the best coming-of-age films that I have seen in quite a long time. The film is incredibly funny, heartfelt, and sincere. This story is very true to Gerwig’s own life and her passion for storytelling and filmmaking shines in this film. Saoirse Ronan delivers one of the best performances of her career and the film’s supporting cast which includes Lucas Hedges, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, and Beanie Feldstein is equally terrific. Lady Bird is a truly wonderful film.
7. Unicorn Store
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a big fan and supporter of Brie Larson. I have been supporting her career since Sleepover and am so glad that she has finally gotten the attention that she deserves. Unicorn Store is Brie Larson’s feature-length directorial debut and is an ode to childhood and imagination. Brie Larson tells a delightful story about a young artist named Kit that is trying to stay optimistic and passionate when everyone around her keeps pushing her to grow up. The film showcases the comedic side of Brie Larson as well as an important message that reminds the audience to keep believing in yourself and dare to dream. Unicorn Store is light-hearted and fun with great performances by Brie Larson, Mamoudou Athie, and Hamish Linklater.
Breathe marks the directorial debut of Andy Serkis. The film tells the story of Robin Cavendish and his fight to live his life to the fullest after finding out that he has been paralyzed by Polio. Andrew Garfield’s performance as Robin Cavendish is remarkable and is one of the best of his career thus far. Breathe is an emotionally engaging film and one that celebrates life. Robin and Diana Cavendish story is an extraordinary tale of strength, perseverance, and hope. Robin along with his friend Teddy Hall were pioneers and helped those who suffered from polio as a disease to live a fuller life where they are no longer confined to a bed.
5. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Martin McDonagh is a brilliant director and storyteller. His latest film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri received rave reviews out of the Venice Film Festival before it went on to play at TIFF. I was lucky enough to attend the TIFF premiere where the film received a standing ovation and tremendous applause from the full house at the Ryerson Theatre. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri won the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at the festival because the film is a near perfect masterpiece in terms of the writing, acting, and directing. Frances McDormand delivers her best performance since Fargo as Mildred Hayes, a woman scorned by the death of her daughter. Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson are terrific in the film as well. McDonagh’s script is sharp and smart. It is also incredibly funny and dramatic. This one could go on to get quite a bit of award buzz so be sure to check it out when it opens this November.
I still haven’t had a chance to write my full review for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri yet but Ashley has. You can read Ashley’s review by clicking here.
4. Molly’s Game
Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut features a tour-de-force performance by Jessica Chastain and tells the entertaining and engaging true life story of Molly Bloom. To no real surprise, Sorkin’s script features great dialogue that is loaded with wit and humor. Idris Elba is great as Molly’s lawyer and has a few shining moments. Sorkin is a great storyteller and writer but with Molly’s Game, he showcases that he can also direct a film rather nicely as well. As someone who doesn’t care about skiing or poker, Sorkin has brought to life a story that kept me invested from beginning to end.
I didn’t know what to make of Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! from the trailer. It looked like a horror film but considering the fact that Aronofsky has never made a film that perfectly fit into one genre, I knew that it couldn’t be the case. Mother! is the type of film that you just don’t see being released by a major studio so hats off to Paramount for taking the risk to release a film that will divide audience while providing plenty of food for thought. This is a film that is made to engage an audience and spark a conversation. I think it is one of the best films of the year and another great film to accompany Aronofsky’s already impressive filmography.
2. Darkest Hour
I am not a fan of films that deal with history nor films revolving around World War 2. I will admit, however, that Darkest Hour is a great film and will be one of the front-runners this Award season. I think Gary Oldman is a lock to win Best Actor at both the Golden Globes and the Oscars because at no point in the film do you ever feel like you watching Oldman but rather the real Winston Churchill. After Pan being a major misfire for Joe Wright, I am happy to report that he is back at the top of his game with Darkest Hour.
1. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
I would have never guessed that Professor Marston and the Wonder Women would be my favorite film to come out of the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. Truth be told, I never even knew the film existed a week or two prior to attending the festival. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women tells a fascinating and unconventional story about the creation of Wonder Woman as a comic book character as well as the women who inspired the character. I knew absolutely nothing about William Marston prior to seeing the film and found myself deeply engaged. William’s relationship with his wife and his student was unique to the era but the way that Angela Robinson depicted the relationship felt genuine and was shown with such honesty and compassion. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a great film and one that I look forward to revisiting again when it is released in theaters.
Well, those are my picks. What did you think of my list? Do you agree? Disagree? If you attended the festival, what were your favorites? Please feel free to comment below and let me know.