I can't believe it but TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) is already over for another year! This marked my eighth time attending what I think is the world's best film festival, and the lineup was impressive as ever. Acquisitions were more modest than usual, but bear in mind most of the big titles came to the fest with distribution deals already worked out. A bunch of major Oscar contenders emerged, like LA LA LAND, MOONLIGHT, and JACKIE, while other festival favorite that were already contenders like MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, had their positions fortified. Overall a terrific year – and the following are my top ten festival favorites!
This one, compared to the other movies on this list, probably got a milder reception, but I went ga-ga for Liev Schreiber's passion project. Based on boxer Chuck Wepner's life story, it charts his time as a contender who fought Ali, to his brush with fame when it was presumed ROCKY was based on his life, through his coke-fueled downfall, comeback and more. It's somewhat standard but so much fun!
Barry Jenkins's MOONLIGHT played to amazing reviews at Telluride by the time it hit TIFF, and the reception here was so red-hot that throughout the festival they had to keep adding press screenings just to keep up with the demand. This tale of a young, gay, African-American man's coming-of-age will certainly be a conversation starter and among the more high-profile arthouse movies coming out this fall.
I wasn't expecting to fall for Lone Sherfig's THEIR FINEST, considering I saw it so late in the festival - when my brain was mush. I still did though, and it's Gemma Arterton's best vehicle to date, with this being a comedy-drama about morale boosting filmmakers during the London Blitz. Bill Nighy steals every scene as a vain, over-the-hill thespian.
Get ready to cry folks. A MONSTER CALLS is among the most devastatingly emotional movies of the year, and if Felicity Jones as a dying mum doesn't make you shed a few tears, well, you may in fact be a tree demon, as voiced by Liam Neeson is this amazing fantasy-drama. It reminded me a bit of TIME BANDITS or THE NEVERENDING STORY. High praise!
Ben Wheatley's FREE FIRE won't be out until 2017, but mark my words, it'll be one of the best action flicks of the year, with this being a gleefully violent, ninety minute shoot-em-up with heavy doses of black humor. Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, Michael Smiley and (especially) Armie Hammer are all great. This is Wheatley's best since SIGHTSEERS.
Jeff Nichols is another one of those guys that can do no wrong in my book. Fresh off MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (which ranks among my favorite films of the year) he's delivered another amazing movie, albeit a totally different style one, about a real-life interracial couple who risked jail to be together in the 1960s.
I didn't expect to like Peter Berg's BP Oil spill movie as much as I did, but it's a masterful piece of work. As I said in my review, "DEEPWATER HORIZON manages to be both a profoundly moving survival tale but also a notably smart insight into how exactly the BP Oil Spill happened and the role corporate greed played in what’s been called the worst environmental disaster in U.S history."
Tom Ford's gloriously tacky NOCTURNAL ANIMALS won't be to everyone's tastes, but I loved his gleefully trashy take on revenge dramas, told as a film within a film that doubles as a critique on art and its intended audience (or something like that). Here's a prediction - Michael Shannon will get nominated for best supporting actor for his modern Doc Holiday style lawman.
Denis Villeneuve made another good movie? I know, I know - what else is new? The only problem with Villeneuve churning out so much good work is we almost take him for granted, hence the curiously quiet buzz following this out of TIFF, even though the reviews were unanimously positive. More Carl Sagan than ID4, this is an alien invasion thriller like you've never seen!
A few days before the festival even started, I got a sneak preview at Damien Chazelle's LA LA LAND, and I predicted right then and there that this would win the TIFF People's Choice Award. I was right in this regard, and I fully expect this Ryan Gosling/Emma Stone musical to ride a wave of popularity right to the Oscars. Mark my words people - it'll happen!