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The Best Films at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival

Written by on September 18, 2017 

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When a few hundred films stop by the Toronto International Film Festival, it’s certainly impossible to cover everything, but we were able to catch around 100 features — and, with that, it’s time to conclude our experience, following the festival’s own award winners. We’ve rounded up our favorite films seen during the festival, followed by a list of the complete coverage.

Stay tuned over the next months (or years) as we bring updates on films as they make their way to screens.  One can also click here for a link to all of our coverage, including news, trailers, reviews, and much more. As always, thanks for reading, and let us know what you’re most looking forward to in the comments below.

The Breadwinner (Nora Twomey)

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In the Taliban-controlled Afghan city of Kabul, Nora Twomey’s debut film as sole director (she co-helmed Oscar nominee The Secret of Kells) depicts an eleven-year old girl facing the futility her future inevitably holds. Adapted by Anita Doron from the award-winning novel by Deborah Ellis, The Breadwinner delivers a heart-wrenching coming-of-age tale within a nation that’s lost its way. The shift was virtually overnight once the Taliban took over: women forced under hoods and trapped in houses, photographs and books outlawed, and men turned cruel as “protectors” of an extremist interpretation of a peaceful religion. The city’s former glory is immortalized only through stories of those who still remember. And as they perish to be replaced with new generations raised in hate, the past risks being forgotten forever. – Jared M. (full review)

Cardinals (Grayson Moore and Aidan Shipley)

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The big story surrounding Grayson Moore and Aidan Shipley’s feature debut Cardinals playing the Toronto International Film Festival stems from the fact that both men graduated from the city’s own Ryerson University. As a longtime festival venue/partner, this premiere will inevitably be treated as a homecoming. But don’t let that fool you into screaming “favoritism!” while dismissing it as a “homer” pick: it’s the real deal. Stripping away the college they graduated from, the knowledge that both are TIFF alumni after screening their short Boxing, and their Canadian nationalities still leaves you with a singular work of devastating emotional psychology and infectiously biting wit. So remove the local fanfare and judge it on its own merits because it earns that right and deserves any accolade bestowed upon it. – Jared M. (full review)

C’est la vie! (Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano)

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I went into Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano’s latest film C’est la vie! knowing nothing about it. My assumption from their two previous works, Intouchables and Samba, was that it would prove a charmingly funny dramedy tinged with relevant politics and racial complexity. Well, I was wrong. Whereas the latter film honed in on the former’s politics, this one strips them away completely to focus solely on the comedy. The result is an uproarious contemporary riff on Robert Altman’s underrated classic A Wedding. While it doesn’t spread out quite so large a net—focusing almost exclusively on wedding planner Max (Jean-Pierre Bacri) and his eccentric crew—it still wonderfully distills the fiscal and logistical absurdity of such formally traditional celebrations with biting satire, broad pratfalls, and expertly rendered caricature to its essence. – Jared M. (full review)

The Crescent (Seth A. Smith)

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It starts by enveloping us in marbleizing paint — overlapping colors raked to warp dots into abstract patterns — and the loud aural pulses of a musical soundscape as heavy and permanent as those oils are fluidly malleable. We assume it’s merely a sensory aesthetic Seth A. Smith constructs to provide the tone for the subtle horrors still on the horizon, but don’t be surprised if you begin to interpret each new artwork as a self-portrait of characters we’ve yet to meet. Treat them as mood rings simultaneously displaying the strength of will and love to keep each hue from merging into muddy brown and the vulnerability of time folding in on itself like each layer of curved lines. They’re products of Beth’s (Danika Vandersteen) turmoil, a fight intentionally misconstrued. – Jared M. (full review)

Custody (Xavier Legrand)

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It didn’t win the Oscar for best live action short in 2014, but Xavier Legrand’s Just Before Losing Everything was by far my favorite nominee. Discovering his debut feature Custody was constructed as an expansion of that story therefore made it a must-see. The short is soon revealed as a prequel, its look at the fallout of domestic abuse hopefully in the rearview considering Miriam Besson (Léa Drucker) readies to plead her case as to why her now ex-husband (Denis Ménochet’s Antoine) shouldn’t retain custody of their son Julien (Thomas Gioria)—his sister Joséphine (Mathilde Auneveux) recently turned eighteen and is free regardless. But while the evidence seems to prove Miriam’s case, a father’s love trumps a lack of concrete proof of his terror. The threat he poses, however, remains very real. – Jared M. (full review)

Disappearance (Boudewijn Koole)

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Vignettes depicting a young girl playing the piano on a darkened concert stage come and go throughout Boudewijn Koole’s Disappearance. They provide bookends to the whole, his film seemingly a visual representation of the melody—both as this single chapter in Roos’ (Rifka Lodeizen) life and its entire duration from birth to death. It’s only during the end credits that we’re finally told who this girl is: Young Louise (Eva Garet). The mystery lay in the fact that Roos played piano as a child too, giving it up at the same age (eight) her mother (Elsie de Brauw’s elder Louise) continued onto an illustrious, decades-spanning career. And while Louise beautifully breathed life into so many concertos, the composition that proved most difficult was always her daughter. – Jared M. (full review)

The Disaster Artist (James Franco)

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The Room, a film produced, directed, written, and led by “entrepreneur” Tommy Wiseau, was supposed to be his grand artistic statement. What turned out instead was what many consider to one of the very worst movies of all time. In the years since 2003, however, the result was so bad that it has transcended genres to become a cult disaster comedy. The film was so fascinatingly inept that it seemed too good to be true. Were Wiseau’s intentions genuine? Did he really set out to make a good movie? The answer, we found out, was, quite certainly, yes. And that added to the allure and charm of the picture. In depicting its creation with The Disaster Artist, a love letter to bad cinema, James Franco has now created Ed Wood for the 21st century. – Jordan R. (full review)

Disobedience (Sebastían Lelio)

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It starts with a London-based rabbi speaking from his heart about the complexities of life. He stammers through — obviously ailing — until collapse. Suddenly we’re in New York City watching a photographer in-session with tattooed seniors. The phone rings and we know. She (Rachel Weisz’s Ronit Krushka) is the daughter of that rabbi and he has passed away. The assumption is that both these worlds will subsequently collide in reunion. Tears will be shed and hugs had. But that’s not quite the case with Sebastían Lelio’s Disobedience. Ronit has been gone for some time and the leaving wasn’t under good terms. Her arrival is thus met with shock, bewilderment, and perhaps some anger. We sense the old wounds shared by all and ready to witness as they’re ripped open. – Jared M. (full review)

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