Now that the curtains have set on the 42nd Toronto International Film Festival, with awards and receptions filling the news, it was time for me to talk about my experience with the 10 films I had the pleasure to see over four days at the festival. Traditionally, TIFF, along with the Venice and Telluride Film Festivals, have been major precursors for the most talked-about films of the fall season and therefore, the movies that are going to be prevalent in the Oscar rat race that is befalling us now. Even past these 10 films, the fall season is stacked, and it’s becoming harder than ever to accurately predict what’s going to come when the nominations get announced. So, here are the films I saw at TIFF, the ones that should be seen, the ones that will be definitely in the Oscar consideration, and the ones that should be skipped altogether.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan
Release date: October 27, 2017
The second American film by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, who broke out onto American screens with his chilling romantic comedy The Lobster is back with a movie so bleakly horrific he makes his previous film look like The Proposal. Starring Colin Farrell as a surgeon who becomes tormented when his children begin to suffer a horrible disease, Lanthimos’ style is so uncomfortable and painful to sit through that it almost makes the whole experience a moot point, but the craft of the acting and filmmaking makes this a must-see for extreme viewers, or just people who love more complicated storytelling.
Should this movie be on your radar? Possibly. There’s little chance of this coming to a theater near you unless you’re in a large area, but if it’s playing near you and you can stomach it, maybe don’t eat beforehand, but check it out.
Oscar chances? In a smaller year, this could maybe squeeze in for Best Original Screenplay like The Lobster did, but in a stacked year for that award especially (see below), it’s unlikely that this’ll pick up any Oscar love.
Dark Horse for Best Original Screenplay for Yorgos Lanthimos
Rating: 8.5/10 Uncomfortable Surgery Scenes
The Florida Project
Director: Sean Baker
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Kimberly Pierce, Bria Vinaite
Release date: October 6, 2017
After spending years on the indie scene, Baker broke out with his guerrilla comedy Tangerine in 2014. That underseen riot definitely shot expectations too high for his follow up, but The Florida Project is still a charming and funny look at youth in severe poverty in the middle of Orlando, Florida. Baker’s film is unconcerned with plot, instead completely existing in the free-forming world of his characters, almost like a Dazed and Confused with kids. All the acting in the film is incredible, and the movie is so pleasant to watch, although still honest in its portrayal of poverty, that even though it loses its way more than once, it’s such a genuine crowd-pleaser that it’s impossible to hate or even dislike.
Should this movie be on your radar? Absolutely. It’s well made, gorgeously shot, and will shove a smile on your face. There’s really no major reason to see this in a theater though.
Oscar chances? Many reviews are much more positive than mine, so there’s a chance this could be the crowd-pleasing hit that breaks into the Oscar consideration, like Lion or Hidden Figures did last year. Even if not, the movie’s performances are stellar, and with the right campaign, this could give A24 a lot of good buzz.
Willem Dafoe for Best Supporting Actor
Possibly Best Supporting Actress for Brooklyn Kimberly Pierce
Dark Horse for Best Director/Original Screenplay/Picture for Sean Baker
Rating: 7.5/10 Illegal Disneyland Shots
Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Director: Tony Gilroy
Starring: Denzel Washington and Colin Farrell
Release date: November 3, 2017
Tony Gilroy’s second film after Nightcrawler. That was all I needed to be so excited for Roman J. Israel, Esq. Top on that a starring performance by Denzel and a theme of morality, and I am hooked. That said, I have no idea how this movie turned out to be so devoid and empty as it was. This movie was an absolute slog to get through, a self-righteous, tonally confused bore that attempted to be a legal thriller, inspirational film, manipulative weepie, and character study all at the same time. It plays with your emotions so callously that it’s tempting to put it in line with films like Collateral Beauty or A Dog’s Purpose. This movie is terrible. I got to see the world premiere showing and if there was any justice, that showing would be the last time this movie ever hits the silver screen.
Should this movie be on your radar? No.
Oscar chances? Hell no.
Rating: 2.5/10 Terrible Haircuts
Battle of the Sexes
Director: Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton
Starring: Emma Stone and Steve Carell
Release date: September 22, 2017
Released this weekend, for more thoughts on Battle of the Sexes, check out the upcoming Highly Suspect Review of the film on this very website. For me, the film is pleasant but shallow, with two top-notch performances at the helm.
Should this movie be on your radar? It’s such an easy movie to sit through that it’s a wonderful theatrical experience, but the theater is in no way necessary.
Oscar chances? The most likely bet is for the acting; Simon Beaufoy’s script might make it in, but since it would qualify as original, it’s very unlikely.
Best Actress for Emma Stone
Possibly Best Supporting Actor for Steve Carell
Dark Horse for Best Original Screenplay for Simon Beaufoy
Rating: 8/10 Romantic Scenes Set to “Rocketman”
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Director: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson
Release date: November 10, 2017
This film just this weekend ended TIFF with the People’s Choice Award, which has almost always gone to a Best Picture nominee, and sometimes to an eventual Best Picture winner. And while Three Billboards is not an easy sell, it’s not hard to see why this movie won over the hearts of the Toronto audiences. Frances McDormand stars as a woman who, seven months after the brutal murder of her daughter, puts up billboards in her small Missouri town calling out the police department for their perceived incompetence, starting a war between the police and the marginalized in this community. While that all sounds heady and is, Three Billboards is also one of the funniest films this year. It’s an incredibly complicated and multi-faceted film, almost like L.A. Confidential with its mystery and character work, but it’s so well-acted and so blisteringly funny that it’s hard for the movie to ever bring your mood down. The film is brilliant.
Should this movie be on your radar? Absolutely. I can’t think of a single person, aside from the very young or very sensitive, who wouldn’t take to this masterful film like a moth to flame.
Oscar chances? 100%. This is such a well-crafted film and it’s already hit the precedents for awards love that it would be impossible for the film not to succeed.
Best Director/Orignal Screenplay for Martin McDonagh
Best Actress for Frances McDormand
Best Supporting Actor for Sam Rockwell
Dark Horse for Best Supporting Actor for Woody Harrelson
Rating: 10/10 Molotov Cocktails
Director: Alexander Payne
Starring: Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau
Release date: December 22, 2017
What a colossal disappointment this film was. Alexander Payne’s filmography is filled with marvelous, thought-provoking dramedies with bite and wit unlike the rest of the genre, so when he comes out with a sci-fi satire, I’m hooked. Downsizing stars Matt Damon as a man who decides to shrink himself down to four inches tall so his life can be better, and…wow this movie is kinda terrible. At a painful two hours and twenty minutes long, this unfunny, uninspired movie gets so bogged down in satirical points that it forgets to tell a charismatic story of any kind. Damon is terrible in the film, and the whole movie feels so confused that it hits so few of its marks. Hong Chau is good though.
Should this movie be on your radar? Most reviews for Downsizing have been very positive, so maybe I’m just wrong in my pure disappointment in this film. If you’re interested, maybe sit through it on a Sunday afternoon on cable, but with reviews this divisive and an experience I found to be this tedious, don’t waste your money on it.
Oscar chances? There are people that really loved Downsizing, so maybe it can get some love, but it’s looking to be less and less likely the more people come away disappointed with this film.
Dark Horse for Best Supporting Actress for Hong Chau
Rating: 4/10 Neil Patrick Harris Cameos
The Shape of Water
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon
Release date: December 8, 2017
This movie is wondrous. Like The Big Sick, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Handmaid’s Tale, and so many other great pieces of art to come out this year, The Shape of Water hands to the audience every reason to be cynical, angry, and unfeeling, and then forces us to feel, to love, to have hope, despite everything else in this cruel, horrific world. Sally Hawkins stars as a mute janitor in a Cold War-era medical facility where a creature is brought in that has previously been worshipped in South America as a god. The janitor and the creature begin to connect, and what follows is a thrilling, exciting, hopelessly romantic, hopeful, sweet film about the nature of love amongst the oppressed. This is del Toro’s best film since Pan’s Labyrinth, and his second best film ever aside from that masterpiece. This movie, much like Three Billboards, is exactly why we even bother to go to the movies. It’s not real like life is, it’s real like life feels. And that feeling is oh so gorgeous.
Should this movie be on your radar? Absolutely.
Oscar chances? Absolutely. Its genre trappings may keep it from winning, but after winning the Golden Lion at Venice, it’s doing very well to keep on the Oscar train.
Best Director/Original Screenplay for Guillermo del Toro
Best Actress for Sally Hawkins
Possibly Best Visual Effects
Possibly Best Supporting Actor for Richard Jenkins/Michael Shannon
Dark Horse for Best Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer
Rating: 10/10 South American Gods
Director: Brie Larson
Starring Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Joan Cusack
Release date: TBD
An unfettered blast of creativity and femininity, Brie Larson’s directorial debut Unicorn Store is about as girly as the title suggests. Larson plays Kit, a woman stuck in arrested development who is given a mysterious invitation to a Unicorn Store where Samuel L. Jackson makes her prove her worth to take care of and unconditionally love this magical creature. Yeah, it’s a weird movie. And it’s very much an imperfect movie; Larson clearly has talent as a director, but her work here is unpolished and raw. If Unicorn Store had a better script, it would be a better movie. But as it stands, it’s great to see Larson cut her teeth on a movie this earnest, and I look forward to see her expand to be as talented of a director as she is marvelous of an actor.
Should this movie be on your radar? Well, Unicorn Store doesn’t have a distributor or a release date yet, so this movie is a pleasant experience, and it’s always good to support weird happy movies like this, although I don’t know when that would be.
Oscar chances? None really. Not only is it unclear if the movie’ll be out later this year, but it’s very twee and very indie, and it’s just not well-made enough to break out of those trappings the same way an experienced director like Wes Anderson could.
Rating: 7/10 Glitter Explosions
Brawl in Cell Block 99
Director: S. Craig Zahler
Starring Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Don Johnson
Release date: October 6, 2017
If you’re anybody in the world who isn’t me, you were a big fan of S. Craig Zahler’s last film Bone Tomahawk. Personally, I found the film overlong, slow, and misusing its brilliant cast. There’s not much different in his follow-up, Brawl in Cell Block 99, which stars Vince Vaughn as a drug dealer who is sent to prison and asked to carry out a hit on an inmate in a nearby prison. What happens is 2 hours and 12 minutes of long expositional scenes coupled with extreme moments of violence. The violence here really works, it’s downright hysterically brutal at times, but the film’s pacing and meditative way of looking at the world just doesn’t flow for the exploitative feel that the movie’s trying to accomplish.
Should this movie be on your radar? For fans of extreme cinema, sure, also Vaughn’s transformative performance is lovely, but there’s not enough here to really sell the audience.
Oscar chances? No. This is a movie called Brawl in Cell Block 99. They don’t give awards to things like this.
Rating: 6.5/10 Faceless Henchmen
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris
Release date: September 15, 2017
This movie has already come out. If you want to know about it right now, listen to the Highly Suspect Review of it on this website. Personally, I thought the movie was fine. Way too weird for Oscars.
Should this movie be on your radar? Do you like super weird things? Then sure.
Oscar chances? No. Too divisive for any major awards. Some technical ones though.
Best Sound Design
Best Sound Mixing
Possibly Best Cinematography
Possibly Best Production Design
Rating: 6/10 Jesus Metaphors
I cannot stress enough how blissful of an experience it was to walk the streets of Toronto and see these films. Good, bad, brilliant, or horrendous, we have a very exciting fall season ahead of us. With these films and the films I didn’t get to see or weren’t shown here, the next few months are going to be a haven of conversation and passion for film fans. I, for one, could not be more excited by that.