Ten films that should be on your radar as the end of the year nears.
After 11 days and nearly 400 films, the 41st Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is finally over. TIFF is one of the world’s largest and most diverse film festivals. Each year, festivalgoers catch everything from Oscar contenders and Hollywood blockbusters to midnight madness movies and pop-up virtual reality installations.
No mortal film critic can stay on top of everything TIFF has to offer. So instead, FSR sent two. Here is a list of TIFF’s 10 most memorable films according to our writers.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe
Victor Stiff: Heading into TIFF, I had never even heard of The Autopsy of Jane Doe. The movie came out of nowhere and walloped me like a freight train speeding out of a dark tunnel. In hindsight, I should have expected an awesome time at the movies. André Øvredal, the mastermind behind the great faux-doc, Troll Hunter helms the film The film also stars a couple respected actors, Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch.
For horror buffs, The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a must see. The film, largely a two-man show, hinges on the performances of its pair of leads. Cox and Hirsch both deliver strong performances that are better than what you usually get in this kind of popcorn flick. Behind the camera, Øvredal crafts one hell of a slow burner. The film begins as a murder mystery with a bit of father/son tension thrown into the mix. Before long, the drama gives way to dread and the film becomes an all-out primal horror experience. The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a terror-filled, well-acted scare-fest and a perfect late-night movie for horror fans.
Matt Hoffman: On paper, Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann is definitely a tough sell. Tell someone that a nearly three hour long German film is one of the most delightful movie-going experiences of all time and they will be sure to call your bluff. This is the kind of film that only the soulless can dislike. Ade’s epic explores the complex relationship between a father and his estranged corporate businesswoman daughter. After the death of his dog, Winfried (Peter Simonischek) travels to Bucharest in an attempt to get closer to and gain an understanding of his hard working daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller). Winifried’s method of choice? Put on a wig with a pair of false teeth and show up to one of his daughter’s gatherings as Toni Erdmann. The results are at first hilarious, but there is a surprising density to be found. Ade’s exploration of the father/daughter relationship is truly unprecedented and deeply moving. If you see one film this Oscar season, let it be this one.
Victor Stiff: Director Vikram Gandhi’s Barack Obama biopic, Barry, is more than a great biopic, it’s one of this year’s best movies dealing with race. Gandhi’s film extracts a small slice life of Obama’s life (his Junior year of College) so that he may explore the racial politics that formed the man we know today. By shining a light on Barry’s college experience in New York during the 80’s, Gandhi draws numerous parallels with race and identity issues still relevant in 2016.
Barry is a fantastic social-political commentary but it’s also a fantastic movie. The film tells an engaging story, it’s loaded with great performances, and it’s often laugh out loud funny. Aside from his uncanny resemblance to Obama, Devon Terrell also brings the goods. He has the acting talent, good looks, and natural appeal to take over the planet. Another contender for world domination status is Anya Taylor-Joy. She has a magnetic onscreen presence that screams out, “star in the making.” With work in Barry, Taylor-Joy’s stock will continue rising. Jason Mitchell is another one of film’s acting revelations. Mitchell shows the charisma and comedic chops to dominate the comedy landscape for years to come. Barry is an engaging film that works whether or not you decide to put your thinking cap on.
Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves
Matt Hoffman: An even tougher sell than Toni Erdmann, Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves is certainly less enjoyable. With a running time just as long as its title, this Canadian film by Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie is not for the faint of heart. One of the most confrontational films of the year, Those Who Make Revolution follows four young revolutionaries in Quebec as they rebel against their government institutions. The filmmaking on display is just as angry as the characters within. Changing aspects ratios almost every shot, and providing a viewing experience that is anything but conventional, Denis and Lavoie are essentially pushing viewers away. In fact, at my world premiere screening, three quarters of the sold out audience didn’t make it past the film’s midway interlude. Those Who Make Revolution is of course not for the non-confrontational viewer, but those who enjoy a good challenge will be riveted.
La La Land
Victor Stiff: La La Land brings you back to Hollywood’s golden age. It’s the rare example of a studio picture I can sit and enjoy with a complete lack of cynicism. I’m so awed by the artistry on display that I turn my brain off to the world around me. Simply put, La La Land feels like pure movie magic.
La La Land works on many levels. The film is gorgeous; you can watch it with the sound off. It’s a technical marvel as well. The costumes, the choreography, the set pieces, and the music are all top notch. The performances are captivating; Stone and Gosling are two major talents working at the top of their game. Writer/director Damien Chazelle also wrote an exceptional script. The film resonates on a finely tuned emotional frequency that is both heart-breaking and inspiring. La La Land is the rare film that impresses mainstream audiences and critics alike. It’s a movie that will be part of the pop culture lexicon for a long time.
Matt Hoffman: Tom Ford’s pulpy masterpiece divided both critics and audiences at this year’s festival, but it still remains the most moving for me. This unconventional revenge tale interweaves two stories, one shot with a beautifully artificial shine, the other stripped down and replacing the former’s shine with sweat. Amy Adams gives an incredible performance (I’ll be the only one to say she’s better here than in Arrival) as Susan, the devastated heroine. Others have been quick to dismiss Nocturnal Animals as overwrought and shallow, but I really do think Ford is getting at something about the use of art as a method of coping. I’m really hoping this one catches on.
Victor Stiff: With his films, Shotgun Stories, Take shelter, Mud, and Midnight Special, director Jeff Nichols is on a near flawless run. Nichols’ latest film, Loving, is his best picture yet. Nichols continues showing his growth as a filmmaker. Loving is the type of measured and understated film that could only come from a veteran director.
You can’t discuss Loving without mentioning the film’s breakout star, Ruth Negga. Negga turns in the type of performance that all but guarantees a tsunami of awards season praise. Co-star Joel Edgerton also delivers the performance of his career. There are almost too praiseworthy elements of Loving to list off. The costumes and production design, the cinematography, the script, and the performances all coalesce into an incredible experience. Loving is the level of filmmaking directors spend an entire career working towards. At 37-years old, Nichols is just now entering his moviemaking prime. It’s scary to think that his best work is still yet to come.
Matt Hoffman: I thought my adoration for actress Isabelle Huppert had peaked going into Elle, but damn was I wrong. Widely considered by cinephiles as the greatest actress on the planet, Huppert gives the performance of her career as a revenge seeking rape victim. As Michelle, Huppert is vicious in her dismissal of common protocol and brutal as she extracts twisted revenge. The film’s infusion of comedy alongside its serious depiction of rape trauma has rendered it quite controversial, but director Paul Verhoeven is certainly getting at something interesting. His framing of the French bourgeoisie is quite brilliant, especially in its contrast to the film’s serious subject matter. It may be too early to tell, but Elle may just be the film that earns Huppert her long overdue recognition from the Academy.
Victor Stiff: Barry Jenkins, where have you been all my life? Jenkins sophomore film, Moonlight, just ran through TIFF like LeBron coming out of high school. The man is a beast. Moonlight delivers everything you want from a piece of art; it’s captivating, thought provoking, and poetic without coming off as pretentious. Moonlight takes the viewer to unsettling places but doesn’t abandon them there, the film is far from a downer. After watching Moonlight, you leave the theater feeling exhilarated.
Moonlight feels radical at a time when cinema is in desperate need of fresh (and diverse) voices. Every festival-going film critic prays to the movie gods that they may one day discover a gem like Moonlight. Jenkins challenges, informs and entertains the audience in equal measure. Jenkins just raised the bar for how we tell stories about masculinity, sexuality, and race in America.
Matt Hoffman: Another challenging film, Bertrand Bonello’s Nocturama follows a group of French terrorists as they plan and execute bombings in Paris. The film was made before the November 2015 Paris terror attacks, which has resulted in a difficult journey to the screen. After being rejected from Cannes and Venice due to the subject matter, Nocturama finally found a festival home in Toronto, where it premiered to a half-empty theatre. I’ll blame it on poor scheduling, as this was certainly a film that had people talking both before and after it screened. Bonello’s depiction of the bombings and their planning is highly stylized and complex. The film really takes form when the characters hide in a shopping mall. What began with a tense terror plot quickly turns into some sort of deadly version of The Breakfast Club. The results are shocking, squirm inducing, and just a little delicious.