This year’s Toronto International Film Festival lineup was pretty strong, all things considered, so it was hard to pick just 10 of our favorite titles, but that’s exactly what we’ve done here.
Some of these films may very well prove to be Best Picture nominees, and it’s almost certain that some of the performances mentioned below will wind up nominated as well, but whether or not the Academy recognizes them is irrelevant, because these films spoke to us as individuals.
With two reporters on the ground in Toronto, we caught a wide swath of movies, and interestingly enough, there wasn’t any overlap between the two lists. Clearly, there’s an embarrassment of riches coming to theaters before the end of the year, so pay attention, because you won’t want to miss any of these films.
Battle of the Sexes
A particularly timely chronicle of the famous 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) that had a huge impact on the sport, though the film is more concerned with the players’ personal lives. After all, King was discovering her sexuality with her hairstylist (Andrea Riseborough), while Riggs was a gambling addict whose wife had grown tired of his shenanigans. Little Miss Sunshine directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris do a decent job with Simon Beaufoy’s complicated script. Like Victoria and Abdul, this seems like a true crowdpleaser of a film — especially for female audiences. – Edward Douglas
Sony Pictures Classics
Call Me by Your Name
Luca Guadagnino’s gay romance is a lush, sensuous, beautiful portrait of self-discovery that hit me hard in Toronto. Whereas Brokeback Mountain was a tragedy, this is a celebration of fleeting love, and I enjoyed that there was no external force trying to out the two leads or otherwise keep them apart. Armie Hammer delivers a career-best performance as a strapping grad student who strikes up a special friendship with a 17-year-old while staying with the boy’s family in Italy, but it’s Timothée Chalamet who announces himself as a star in the making with his turn as young Elio. And yet, as good as the two leads are, you will leave this film talking about Michael Stuhlbarg and his climactic speech, which absolutely slayed me. With any luck, last year’s supporting actress winner Viola Davis will be calling his name out come March. – Jeff Sneider
Atonement director Joe Wright returns with this look behind the scenes of the decisions being made by newly-chosen Prime Minister Winston Churchill – an unrecognizable Gary Oldman in a performance that is sure to win him his first Oscar – as the German army steamrolls its way across Europe towards the UK. In some ways, this film is the perfect companion piece to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, because we get some idea of what’s happening in the British parliament as Churchill tries to win over both his dubious colleagues and the general public alike. Darkest Hour shows a very different side of Churchill than we’ve seen before, and it’s a true stunner. – ED
The Disaster Artist
Maybe it’s because I saw this film with just the right crowd at a raucous Midnight Madness screening, but I loved it. Whether or not you’ve even seen the infamous cult movie The Room (I haven’t), you should be able to appreciate James Franco’s spot-on turn as its eccentric director Tommy Wiseau. The Disaster Artist chronicles the agony and the ecstasy that goes into making a movie, and in that sense, it’s the best film of its kind since Tim Burton’s Ed Wood. Even if this wasn’t a star-studded movie about the dregs of Hollywood, it would still work because it has genuine heart thanks to the friendship that develops between Wiseau and his partner in cinematic crime Greg Sestero (Dave Franco). It’s hard not to like this movie, but industry audiences are going to love it. – JS
The Florida Project
Sean Baker’s follow-up to Tangerine is just as specific and singular a vision, following a young mother and her daughter as they struggle to survive in a rundown Florida motel managed by none other than Willem Dafoe, in a nomination-worthy performance. This wonderful slice-of-life story examines the loss of innocence that everyone experiences at some point in childhood. As rich with feeling as Dafoe’s work is, this movie wouldn’t work nearly as well without the incredibly natural, heartfelt performances of up-and-comer Bria Vinaite and young Brooklynn Prince, who is a star in the making. This film feels so real, you’ll think you’re watching a documentary, and that’s where Baker’s skill lies as a storyteller. – JS
Coming into the festival, industry observers told the Tracking Board that Margot Robbie had a lot riding on the reception to this film, as she was still coasting on the commercial success of Suicide Squad and the critical acclaim from her breakout turn in The Wolf of Wall Street. Well, Robbie silenced her doubters here with a ferocious turn as disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding, who had a very different childhood than most of her peers. Sebastian Stan does strong work as her smooth-talking dumbass of a husband Jeff Gillooly, but it’s Allison Janney who truly stuns as Tonya’s mother, LaVona Golden. Janney’s performance may very well have been the highlight of TIFF, and she’s a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination if I’ve ever seen one. Credit to director Craig Gillespie and screenwriter Steven Rogers for getting this year’s festival off to a stylish start. – JS
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
I completely understand why this Yorgos Lanthimos film inspired boos and walk-outs at Cannes — it’s divisive, to say the least — but it held me in its dark, disturbing grip and never let go. Colin Farrell plays a surgeon with something of a guilty conscience who is faced with an impossible choice, and Barry Keoghan delivers a star-making performance as his… tormentor, for lack of a better word. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this movie since Toronto, so make no mistake, this is the mind-fuck movie of the year, not Darren Aronofsky’s mother! – JS
Sony Pictures Classics
Margaret Betts’ intense ‘60s-set drama stars Margaret Qualley (The Leftovers) as Cathleen, a teenager who decides to join a convent to be closer to God, just as the Catholic Church is making sweeping changes to the role of nuns. Cathleen’s non-religious mother (Julianne Nicholson) is confused by her daughter’s decision, especially when she goes up against the convent’s Reverend Mother, played by Melissa Leo in a performance that will earn her another Oscar nomination. Betts’ screenplay and direction are so good, you’ll be surprised this is her first narrative feature, and that it isn’t based on a book. – ED
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
Writer-director Angela Robinson tells the story of the creator of Wonder Woman and the two women in his life who inspired the comic book feminist icon. Luke Evans plays Dr. William Moulton Marston, a psychology professor who helped create the lie detector and who becomes wrapped up in a ménage à trois with his intelligent wife (Rebecca Hall) and a beautiful young co-ed (Bella Heathcote) whom they take on as an assistant. Their relationship continues long after Professor Marston’s death, as the two women remain lovers while raising the kids they had with him. Like Battle of the Sexes, this is a beautiful tale of forbidden love that is made all the more exciting by offering audiences a glimpse of what went into the creation of Wonder Woman. – ED
Victoria and Abdul
Another wonderful historical dramedy from director Stephen Frears and Judi Dench, who reprises her role as Queen Victoria exactly 20 years after Mrs Brown. This is a similarly entertaining romp about Victoria’s experiences with an Indian man named Abdul Karim (Bollywood star Ali Fazal), who became the Queen’s beloved “Munshi” (teacher), much to the chagrin of the royal family and their staff. While this charming film will surely thrust Dench into the awards conversation, keep an eye on Fazal, as this is a breakout role for him. – ED