TIFF 2017 - The Best from the Fest

TIFF may be a fall event, but the memorable movies shown are still as iconic as ever.

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has showcased the best in local and international cinema for forty-two years. From its earliest incarnation as a “Festival of Festivals” that took in the best from major film festivals like Cannes, Berlin, and Sundance, it has firmly established itself as one of the key players in the circuit, highlighting new discoveries and established directors alike.

By Jason Gorber

Photos Courtesy of TIFF

2017 has been an odd year, lacking a set film to dominate the conversation. While last year’s TIFF had both La La Land and Moonlight as obvious shoo-ins come awards season, this year has been slightly more divisive, with few titles receiving the same kind of near-universal acclaim. Still, with hundreds of films being screened, it’s easy for the patient cinephile to seek out some truly world-class cinema at TIFF regardless of what will take home trophies. Here are a few highlights that played in this year’s fest.


Call Me By Your Name
A Sundance film that feels like it belongs in Cannes, this sumptuous work is one of the greatest love stories of the year. With impeccable performances by Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet, this James Ivory scripted wonder is an emotional travelogue through sun-dappled Italy. With a wonderful and perhaps fanciful moment that had Michael Stuhlbarg casting the film in even firmer relief, it is moving in ways that only movies can be.


The Florida Project
If Call Me By Your Name felt like a bit of France in Park City, Utah, then The Florida Project’s Cannes premiere was the opposite. The film that I described as the weaponization of precociousness is an astonishing follow-up to Sean Baker’s celebrated Tangerine. With an award-worthy turn by Willem Dafoe at the forefront, this tale of single moms and their children raised beyond the gates of the Magic Kingdom is not only a deeply provocative and insightful look at the urban poor, it’s also a wondrous and moving dramatic story. Expect plenty of notice for foul-mouthed Brooklynn Kimberly Prince, who delivers in ways that will simply astonish.



The Square
To the consternation of uber-fans for last year’s critical darling, I’ve claimed that this film is my Toni Erdmann because of its perfect blend of sophistication and ribaldry. A rumination on the nature of modern art and the complexity of human relationships, this is a film that is darkly hysterical, blissfully discomfiting, and bristles with intelligence. Elizabeth Moss is sublime as usual; watch out for a most memorable take by Terry Notary engaging in a bit of simian role-playing.


Dark and dour, this latest work from provocative Russian auteur Andrey Zvyagintsev mashes together an intimate family drama with a larger political landscape, showing tragedies both personal and political in a tonally perfect work. With traces of genre elements to keep the narrative flowing, the film uses the allegory of a missing child to speak of the greater assault on Russian society, which makes for a sometimes excruciating, but no less vital, work.


The Shape of Water
With what could be considered the culmination of his craft, Guillermo Del Toro presents a beautiful love story between a woman and a sea beast that twists the Creature of the Black Lagoon narrative in favour of romance over revulsion. A film that celebrates outsiders, it’s a stunning and intricately designed work populated by quirky, compelling characters that help draw you into GDT’s world. A winner at Venice, this Toronto-shot film belies its relatively low budget, feeling simultaneously epic and intimate. It’s a movie that warms your stomach as you share Del Toro’s contagious sense of wonder and fancy.


I, Tonya
Who would have guessed that a sardonic comedy about a feisty figure skater would be one of the great films of the age? When you take into consideration that the film is led by a blisteringly talented Margot Robbie (who also helped produce the film), it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. With a monumental turn by Allison Janney as Harding’s mother, Robbie inhabits this clever, Scorsesean take on the story of the attack on fellow competitor Kerrigan leading up to the Winter Olympics. Acerbic and astonishing, this remarkable work grabs you by the throat with an unrivalled intensity, making you question your own reactions to tabloid fodder and the people churned and left to rot once the cameras finally leave.


TIFF often showcases some of the best documentaries of the year, and while the main award went to Agnes Varda’s delightfully whimsical Faces Places, it’s Brett Morgen’s remarkable look at primatologist Jane Goodall that’s equally worth celebrating. Using footage that has lain dormant for decades, the film is a decidedly un-hagiographic look at the woman and her work, detailing a love story between the subject and her environment. What easily could have been little more than a puff piece, Morgen and his team crafted a highly cinematic work that’s both breathtakingly beautiful and intensely personal, illustrating the complex and remarkable woman in ways never before articulated.


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
We have been gifted this year with a slew of magnificent performances by women, but none have been more fierce or effective than Frances McDormand in Three Billboards. A scathing look at small town incompetence, the film also has moments of the darkest humour. The balance is captured beautifully with Martin McDonagh’s script and direction, and with powerhouse performances by Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, and Peter Dinklage, this People’s Choice winner may well be a frontrunner come next Oscars thanks to its impeccable storytelling and exceptional cast.


Sweet Country
A provocative western that twists the usual myth on its head, Warick Thornton’s quiet, remarkable film took home a very well-deserved Platform jury prize. Iconic performers like Sam Neil and Bryan Brown are joined by exceptional turns and Aboriginal players such as Hamilton Morris, Gibson John, and twins Trevon and Tremayne Doolan. A story of justice, retribution, and the insidious nature of fear and hate, this operatic tale is told without a score, letting the dusty setting and intensity of the narrative drive it to its memorable conclusion.


Israeli films often have a hard time reaching international audiences, given prejudices both from within and without the diaspora community, but no film this year more effectively demonstrates the beauty, importance, grace, and complexity of its nation than Samuel Moaz’s Foxtrot. A follow-up to his equally provocative Lebanon, Moaz expertly twists our emotions and our expectations, crafting a three-act work that’s at times wrenching and at others surreal and hilarious.


Brad’s Status
There may not be universal acclaim for Mike White’s latest work, but go beyond your prejudices about yet another Ben Stiller mid-life crisis narrative and you get a film that’s pointed and amusing in equal measure. A meditation on jealousy, White shows a character that gets called on his own shit in a film that consistently undercuts our expectations. With terrific moments by the likes of Michael Sheen, Jemaine Clement, and Luke Wilson, the film challenges what would be a relatively pedestrian film by getting to the heart of emotions no less real because they’re cliché.


Lady Bird
If White’s film borrows from Noah Baumbach’s world and twists it slightly, the same can be said about Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut. Firmly establishing the indie icon as a formidable filmmaker in her own right, she directs Saoirse Ronan to one of her best performances. This coming-of- age yarn also follows a familiar course, but Gerwig injects just the right amount of humour and pathos to make it unique and fresh. The film feels like an instant cult classic, sure to be worshipped by everyone, featuring an inner awkward teen girl trying to make sense of her world and relationship with family and friends.