Highlights of The Toronto International Film Festival

(C) Walt Disney Pictures

The summer movie season is the prime time for big budget films intended to attract larger audiences. This year’s eye candy included Finding Dory, Independence Day: Resurgence, and Suicide Squad. As autumn hit in, The Toronto International Film Festival – held this year between 8 and 18 September – was a breath of fresh air after the long streak of blockbusters. The lineup this year featured a colourful palette of returning big names (Oliver Stone and Mira Nair), films bathing in post-Sundance glory (The Birth of a Nation and Manchester by the Sea), and under-the-radar gems with plenty of potential to become hits (Moonlight and Jackie). If you didn’t follow the main events of the festival, here is a narrowed list of films you should be on the lookout for within the next few months:

Hard-hitting dramas

Manchester by the Sea (dir. Kenneth Lonergan)

The estranged Lee (Casey Affleck) returns to his family following the death of his brother. The film has been circulating in festivals since January and has sparked Oscar buzz among critics who have praised it for its layered depiction of grief.

The Birth of a Nation (dir. Nate Parker)

Released 100 years after and sharing the title of D.W. Griffith’s controversial epic, Nate Parker’s Birth is a passion project focusing on the slave uprising orchestrated by Nat Turner. An “Inspired by” compilation album was released this week featuring songs by Vic Mensa, 2 Chainz and Ne-Yo – strongly recommended.

(C) Plan B Entertainment Birth of a Nation
(C) Plan B Entertainment

Moonlight (dir. Barry Jenkins)

A young black man comes of age by facing the trials of class, sexuality and family. The big screen adaptation of Tarrell McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue is regarded as a major Oscar contender.

Nocturnal Animals (dir. Tom Ford)

Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) receives a manuscript of her ex-husband’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) new novel that contains a threatening message for her. Based on the international bestseller Tony and Susan by Austin Wright.

Loving (dir. Jeff Nichols)

The true story of Richard and Mildred Loving (played by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga), who evaded Virginia’s law prohibiting interracial marriage in 1958 by travelling to Washington D.C. to tie the knot. They were then sent to jail in their home state. Jeff Nichols’ second film this year after the indie sci-fi Midnight Special has gained praise for its modest, down-to-earth storytelling.

It’s Only the End of the World (Juste la fin du monde, dir. Xavier Dolan)

Louis returns home after 12 years to make an announcement: he’s dying. At the age of 27, Xavier Dolan has directed and starred in more films than other filmmakers in their entire career; Juste la fin du monde, his sixth direction won the Grand Prix in Cannes. The film features an all-star cast with the likes of Gaspard Ulliel, Marion Cotillard and Vincent Cassel.

Jackie (dir. Pablo Larraín)

Director Pablo Larraín hit the spotlight this year with two biographical movies. Jackie features Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy in the aftermath of the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy.

(C) Fox Searchlight Pictures
(C) Fox Searchlight Pictures

Neruda (dir. Pablo Larraín)

The movie sibling of Jackie, Neruda revolves around the life of Chilean diplomat and poet Pablo Neruda. The film has been selected as Chile’s entry to the 89th Academy Awards.

The Salesman (Forushande, dir. Asghar Farhadi)

If you’ve seen A Separation, you know every project involving Iranian director Asghar Farhadi is worth the wait. He has returned with the story of a couple who star in Arthur Miller’s The Death of a Salesman and must face crisis in their lives after moving into a house that once belonged to a prostitute.

Certain Women (dir. Kelly Reichardt)

Another collaboration between Kelly Reichardt and Michelle Williams, Certain Women follows the intersecting lives of three women (Williams, Kristen Stewart and Laura Dern).

The Charmers

La La Land (dir. Damien Chazelle)

Damien Chazelle is neither rushing nor dragging with his follow-up to the immensely successful Whiplash. La La Land is a musical in which a jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) falls in love with a promising young actress (Emma Stone) – the premise itself should make it a hit.

A Monster Calls (dir. J.A. Bayona)

A young boy befriends a giant tree to cope with the impending death of his mother. For those of you who have always wanted to see Liam Neeson as a giant tree monster: this is your film. A Monster Calls impressed critics and audiences so much that its initial October release date was moved to the January awards season. You can also give a listen to Keane’s recently released “Tear Up This Town”, the first single from the soundtrack.

(C) Focus Features
(C) Focus Features

The Red Turtle (dir. Michael Dudok de Wit)

While you may never see a film by Hayao Miyazaki again, Studio Ghibli continues their streak of success with The Red Turtle, in which a castaway forms a strange relationship with the titular animal.

I Am Not Madame Bovary (dir. Xiaogang Feng)

A comic commentary on Chinese bureaucracy, I Am Not Madame Bovary follows a woman’s journey as she fights for what she is owed after being swindled by her husband. The film stunned audiences with its sharp satire and daring aspect ratio.

The Edge of Seventeen (dir. Kelly Fremon Craig)

A fresh take on the coming-of-age genre in which a high-schooler’s life becomes increasingly awkward when her best friend starts dating her brother.

Colossal (dir. Nacho Vigalondo)

As a giant monster terrorises the residents of Seoul, Gloria (Anne Hathaway) finds a connection between her mental breakdown, the men who mistreat her, and the monster on the other side of the globe. Anne Hathaway in a self-reflexive dramedy with monsters – a must-see.

Queen of Katwe (dir. Mira Nair)

The true story of Ugandan chess champion Phiona Mutesi, Queen of Katwe is an inspiring return for director Mira Nair. Madina Nalwanga shines in the lead role and is supported by Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o and Selma’s David Oyelowo.

(C) Walt Disney Pictures
(C) Walt Disney Pictures

Sadako v Kayako (dir. Kȏji Shiraishi)

Remember Freddy vs. Jason? Prepare for another hilarious face-off between two iconic horror characters, this time the spirits of The Ring and The Grudge.

The Odd Ones

Buster’s Mal Heart (dir. Sarah Adina Smith)

Mr. Robot’s talented Rami Malek stars in yet another tale of identity crisis, in which a man on the run discovers his recurring nightmare is more than just a dream.

The Bad Batch (dir. Ana Lily Amirpour)

Amirpour’s follow-up to the brilliant A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a love story set in a dystopian Texas inhabited by cannibals. The film stars Keanu Reeves, Jason Momoa and Jim Carrey – a must-watch.

Arrival (dir. Denis Villeneuve)

Between last year’s Sicario and his upcoming Blade Runner sequel, Canadian mastermind Denis Villeneuve nailed audiences to their seats with his sci-fi thriller about a linguist who is recruited to communicate with the alien race invading earth. Mark your calendars: Arrival is hitting UK theatres on 11 November.

Free Fire (dir. Ben Wheatley)

A comic shootout ensues between two criminal gangs in a warehouse in 1978. Ben Wheatley’s follow-up to last year’s mind-bending High-Rise is promising a violent thrill ride with a catchy soundtrack.

Personal Shopper (dir. Olivier Assayas)

Kristen Stewart stars in this unique tale about ghosts, fashion, and Paris. Director Olivier Assayas recently stated in an interview with Screen Daily that he’s planning further collaborations with Stewart and called her “the best actress of her generation”.

(C) CG Cinema Personal Shopper
(C) CG Cinema

The Handmaiden (Ah-ga-ssi, dir. Chan-wook Park)

The director of Oldboy returns with a gritty tale of passion and intrigue in this thriller about a handmaiden who has dark plans for her employer.


Rats (dir. Morgan Spurlock)

Another stomach-turning documentary from the creator of Supersize Me, this time Morgan Spurlock embarks on a journey to uncover stories of rat infestations.

I Am Not Your Negro (dir. Raoul Peck)

Inspired by the deaths of his three friends Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X, James Baldwin intended to provide a realistic perspective on racial issues in America in his unfinished novel Remember This House. The film is a visual rendition of Baldwin’s work, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson; it won the People’s Choice award in the documentary category in Toronto.

Voyage of Time (dir. Terrence Malick)

Visionary Terrence Malick returns with the passion project he’s been working on for decades. Voyage of Time examines the creation of the universe and the patterns of nature with stunning IMAX photography through narration by Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt.

If your watchlist for the upcoming movie season needed some refreshing, then here you go. The next few months promise a diverse range of movie going experiences, all that’s left to do is wait and see what lives up to the hype and what falls short of award season recognition.


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