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The Best Films at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival

Written by on September 18, 2017 

Manhunt (John Woo)

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Something must have happened to John Woo in the last decade or so. It’s been well over a decade since his last full-blown, modern-day action film, having made the historical epics Red Cliff and The Crossing after leaving Hollywood, and Manhunt — his return to the genre that launched his career — feels like a new kind of John Woo. Now in his 70s, Woo has become fully self-aware, and in doing so seems to have challenged himself to create the most John Woo movie ever made. With Manhunt, he has indeed made the most John Woo movie possible, while also making a film that could just be described as “the most.” It’s a deliriously entertaining thrill ride from start to end, and sure to go down as one of the most enjoyable films of 2017. – C.J. P. (full review)

On Chesil Beach (Dominic Cooke)

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It’s 1962. Florence Ponting (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward Mayhew (Billy Howle) have just been married. She’s from a wealthy family and he a provincial one; her desire to be active in world affairs beyond her status’ ambivalence and his hope to be accepted as an intellectual with the potential of outgrowing a brawler reputation placing them at odds with the environments that raised them to seek escape. And they are in love: a true, deep, and unstoppable love that allowed their differences to take a backseat as far as community and parentage was concerned. It’s propelled them towards a hotel honeymoon suite on the water, an isolating venue affording them the privacy such auspicious occasions crave and the stifling quiet able to intensify their utter lack of sexual experience and wealth of insecure awkwardness. – Jared M. (full review)

Princesita (Marialy Rivas)

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Miguel (Marcelo Alonso) compares God to a fire when explaining how the ones our religions’ sacred books describe aren’t quite right. Our creator is simpler than those iterations. He has the power to turn wood into ash and water into steam. He has the power to transform. But just as fire forges from its flames, it also destroys. It’s this duality that director Marialy Rivas and co-writer Camila Gutiérrez gives form to in their film Princesita. As cultist Miguel’s young disciple Tamara (Sara Caballero) reaches puberty and her transformation into womanhood, he explains the purpose of this event in context to his motives. What should be a joyous occasion becomes clouded over by predatory imperative. And while she initially embraces them, she soon recognizes the danger they represent. – Jared M. (full review)

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (Angela Robinson)

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Many probably don’t know about the man who created Wonder Woman. It’s not a surprise considering the decades it took to finally bring the character to the big screen despite a popularity that rivals her male Justice League counterparts. He wasn’t just some writer cashing in on the superhero craze spawned by neither a successful run of Superman nor a rags-to-riches story of an unknown. No, Dr. William Moulton Marston was a psychologist, Harvard PhD, professor, and inventor of the lie detector. He was a feminist who married his childhood sweetheart and equal both privately and professionally and developed the concept of DISC Theory—a behavioral assessment tool breaking down human behavior into the four categories of dominance, inducement, submission, and compliance. It’s upon this theory that Wonder Woman stands. – Jared M. (full review)

Roman J. Israel, Esq. (Tony Gilroy)

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Roman J. Israel, Esq. defies expectations at every turn. It stars Denzel Washington, but this is not the suave, in-control character the actor’s known for. Instead, the title character is a socially awkward, anachronistically dressed misfit. It’s a legal drama, but eschews the epic courtroom scenes and shocking turns that are the genre’s hallmarks. Israel is the anti-Michael Clayton. It is writer-director Dan Gilroy’s follow-up to the deliciously nasty Nightcrawler, but no thriller. Even the poster misleads: released the morning of the film’s world premiere screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, its central image — the back of Washington’s head and upper body, decked out in a 1970s suit and wearing dated headphones — implies that the film takes place decades earlier. In fact, it is set in 2017. – Christopher S. (full review)

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh)

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As cumbersome titles go, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is right up there with the Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of The Whatevers of this world. Coming from Martin McDonagh–a London bred writer-director of Irish extraction–there are perhaps even notes of pretension in its derivative Americana. Of course, whoever said that books are not to be read by their covers should have perhaps said something about titles, too. Indeed, McDonagh’s latest work is simply exceptional; a film so rich with narrative fluidity, profane laughs, standout performances and complex character studies that its tremendous emotional hits–often arriving when you least expect them–might just leave you agog. – Rory O. (full review)

The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro)

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It is not outside the realm of fair judgment to suggest that Guillermo del Toro has been a little off the boil in recent years. Over-scheduling can do that, even to the best of us, but The Shape of Water, an unconventional love story — with a generous dash of the supernatural — set in a dreamy 1950s United States and featuring knockout performances from Michael Shannon and Sally Hawkins, does represent a clear return to form. This is bolstered to no small degree by the fact that it is, in essence, a fairytale and the singular Mexican director — along with his physically-gifted performer Doug Jones — has always been at his most punky and creatively audacious when working in the confines (or lack thereof) of that particular genre. As his enchanting, imaginative latest film proves, it’s great to have him back. – Rory O. (full review)

Valley of Shadows (Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen)

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Six year-old Aslak (Adam Ekeli) lives a quiet life with his single mother Astrid (Kathrine Fagerland) in a rural town adjacent to farmland and a mountaintop forest. He’s too young to understand all that’s happening around him — especially considering he’s generally told to keep away from the adults when they’re speaking — but he knows enough to gauge the strained atmosphere and heavy emotion growing. So he looks through keyholes and gazes out windows, everything he sees simultaneously meaningful and yet without meaning. When things get too intense he hides in his closest. When he begins to feel alone he finds his dog Rapp. And as tension mounts at home (police chatter about his estranged brother puts Astrid on edge), a monster begins lurking in the distant trees. – Jared M. (full review)

The Rest

The Other Side of Hope (A)

Call Me By Your Name (A-)
Mrs. Fang (A-)
The Square (A-)
Western (A-)

Ana, mon amour (B+)
(BPM) Beats Per Minute (B+)
The Day After (B+)
A Fantastic Woman (B+)
Félicité (B+)
Good Luck (B+)
The Rider (B+)
Suburbicon (B+)
The Wife (B+)

A Ciambra (B)
April’s Daughter (B)
Battle of the Sexes (B)
Beyond Words (B)
Bodied (B)
Brawl in Cell Block 99 (B)
Chappaquiddick (B)
Downsizing (B)
Five Fingers for Marseilles (B)
Gutland (B)
Happy End (B)
The Insult (B)
Mademoiselle Paradis (B)
Molly’s Game (B)
Mudbound (B)
On Body and Soul (B)
Papillon (B)
Redoubtable (B)
Scott and the Secret History of Hollywood (B)
Sheikh Jackson (B)
A Skin So Soft (B)
Stronger (B)
The Swan (B)
What Will People Say (B)
Winter Brothers (B)
A Worthy Companion (B)

Black Kite (B-)
Borg/McEnroe (B-)
Cocaine Prison (B-)
The Current War (B-)
The Death of Stalin (B-)
Dunkirk (B-)
The Florida Project (B-)
In the Fade (B-)
Lean on Pete (B-)
Let the Corpses Tan (B-)
Of Sheep and Men (B-)
The Nothing Factory (B-)
Novitiate (B-)
Verónica (B-)

Caniba (C+)
Downrage (C+)
Loveless (C+)
The Mountain Between Us (C+)
Porcupine Lake (C+)
Thelma (C+)
Soldiers. Story from Ferentari (C+)
Zama (C+)

The Lodger (C)
Mary Shelley (C)
mother! (C)
Outside In (C)
Unicorn Store (C)
You Disappear (C)

Brad’s Status (C-)
Dark River (C-)
Euphoria (C-)
I Love You, Daddy (C-)
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (C-)
Kings (C-)
Les Affamés (C-)
Motorrad (C-)

Darkest Hour (D+)
Kodachrome (D+)

Marrowbone (D)
Submergence (D)

See our complete TIFF 2017 coverage.

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