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article imageReview: TIFF 2017 — Top 10 films we saw this year Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Sep 24, 2017 in Entertainment
We’ve taken some to reflect on the dozens of films seen at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival and composed a list of our favourites.
Every year following Labour Day weekend in September, downtown Toronto is flooded with moviegoers seeking a transcendent viewing experience and stargazers hoping for a glimpse of any number of the celebrities passing through the city. The Toronto International Film Festival celebrated its 42nd anniversary this year and marked the occasion with some significant changes, including the elimination of the City to City and fan-favourite Vanguard programs as well as two venues, an overall 20 per cent reduction in the number of films selected, and the announcement of CEO Piers Handling’s retirement. Nonetheless, there was still plenty to see and most of the adjustments weren’t even a blip on the radar.
Over eight days, I watched 36 films, which is just a fraction of the hundreds of events programmed. They ranged in genre from Western to horror to non-fiction; the cast and filmmakers ranged in experience from novice to veteran; and the screening times ranged from early mornings to midnight. Once a year, we spend multiple, consecutive days in the dark, away from our nearest and dearest for the love of film… and this year the vitamin D sacrifice was amply awarded.
After some reflection, below is a list of some of my favourites from this year.
Frances McDormand stars in  Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing  Missouri
Frances McDormand stars in 'Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri'
Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri
The trailer for this picture was released a few months ago and it quickly became one of the most anticipated films of the festival. Frances McDormand plays the mother of a teenage girl who was murdered more than a year ago and for which the killer remains at large. Frustrated with the lack of progress in the case, she rents three billboards on the side of a road to motivate the local police chief (played by Woody Harrelson). Sam Rockwell plays a volatile cop who takes issue with any effort to defame his boss. This movie is dark but unbelievably witty, which will leave audiences laughing out loud then questioning the appropriateness of their laughter. The consistent, dark humour eventually gives way to a more serious tone, but this film is an attention-grabber from start to finish.
A scene from Guillermo Del Toro s  The Shape of Water
A scene from Guillermo Del Toro's "The Shape of Water'
Fox Searchlight
The Shape of Water
Guillermo Del Toro’s latest feature doesn’t receive a wide release until December, but it’s going to be difficult to wait that long to see it again on the big screen. Combining his fondness for fantasy and romance, this movie creates a beautiful world in which love truly does concur all. Eliza (Sally Hawkins) works as an overnight cleaning woman in a high-security government facility that conducts a variety of experiments. One day when cleaning one of the labs, she encounters a creature (played by Del Toro’s frequent collaborator Doug Jones) imprisoned in a water tank. He was captured in South America by Agent Strickland (Michael Shannon), a lifelong man-in-black who disposed of his emotions years ago. Eliza feels a kinship with the creature as neither can verbally communicate with the world (she’s mute), which establishes a connection that puts them both at risk. This Cold War fairy tale is everything cinema was and is meant to be, from its fantastic visuals to the poignant script to the brilliant performances.
A scene from  The Captain
A scene from 'The Captain'
The Captain
It would seem the angles from which a film can look at war and its atrocities are endless. This movie adds one more as a young German soldier named Herold (Max Hubacher) assumes the role of an SS officer after finding the uniform in an abandoned trunk. Gaining confidence with each new encounter that doesn’t result in his discovery, the imposter finds himself on a path of greater subterfuge and undeniable cruelty. Shot in bleak black and white, writer/director Robert Schwentke returns to his native Germany for this raw and chilling story about a German deserter who ran for his life, not his principles. In spite of primarily making action movies of late, Schwentke has an absolute grasp of the landscape and sentiments of these months preceding the end of WWII. Moreover, Hubacher’s genuine portrayal of a young man who transitions from survivalist to another cold-blooded arm of the Third Reich is exceptional.
A scene from  Sweet Country
A scene from 'Sweet Country'
Sweet Country
Spread across Australia’s norther territory, the ranchers choose to live differently. On one patch of land, Sam Neill’s character lives harmoniously with his Aboriginal workers, showing them respect and giving them dignity. On another, Thomas M. Wright’s character treats them somewhere between servants and slaves. When a third rancher (Ewen Leslie) moves into the area, he upsets the mostly peaceful dynamic and sets off a series of events that leads to an Aboriginal stockman (Hamilton Morris) and his wife (Natassia Gorey Furber) trying to escape a lynch mob and posse. This intense drama unfolds in three acts that move from ranch to unforgiving desert to provisional court, all of which carry variations of violence and risk. The acting is superb and the script’s manner of addressing the moral issues raised throughout the narrative is apt and straightforward. It also presents a powerful ending that doesn’t misconstrue the period during which it takes place.
A scene from  The Cured
A scene from 'The Cured'
The Cured
Each year brings dozens of new zombie movies trading on the same shtick repeated countless times over the years… and each year there are one or two pictures that standout for bringing something new to the table. This Irish drama is one of the latter. A virus that reanimates the dead and turns them into flesh-eating monsters swept the globe — but scientists synthesized a cure that worked for 75 per cent of the infected population and prevented it from decimating the human race. Now the cured are being reintroduced into society via menial jobs and the fate of the remaining 25 per cent is in flux. As the anti- and pro-cured movements gain momentum, a journalist (Ellen Page), doctor (Paula Malcomson) and survivor (Sam Keeley) try to keep the warring sides in check. The blood is reserved for the final act, but before that the picture asks some interesting questions about the challenges in such a situation — how would these formerly rabid killers be reintegrated into society? — as well as creates parallels with the Troubles of Northern Ireland.
Special mentions also go to the following films:
Vince Vaughn joins the aging-actor-turned-action-star club with Brawl in Cell Block 99, in which he destroys a car by hand Street Fighter-style before turning his attention to his opponent’s bodies for a fun, violent and fast-paced bone-breaker.
The Lodgers is an enchanting gothic ghost story that occurs just after WWI in rural Ireland. In it, twins are doomed to reside in a haunted house for the entirety of their lives, never staying out after midnight or having guests, or risk the wrath of the manor’s other inhabitants.
• In the wake of Wonder Woman’s burgeoning success, Professor Marston & the Wonder Women adeptly tells the eccentric but romantic story of how a man (Luke Evans) was inspired to create a strong female superhero by the two, simultaneous loves of his life (Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote)
• Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin makes his directorial debut with Molly’s Game, a sharp drama recounting the rise and fall of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), the proprietor of L.A.’s and New York’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game before she was shut down by the FBI and required the defence of a reluctant, condescending lawyer (Idris Elba).
Hostiles is an enticing 19th century Western drama that addresses issues of racism and revenge as an Army captain (Christian Bale), Cheyenne chief (Wes Studi) and frontier widow (Rosamund Pike) are forced together in more than one way as they face indiscriminately murderous Comanche, a deranged soldier and territorial cowboys.
Don’t miss the rest of our TIFF 2017 coverage.
More about TIFF 2017, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Captain, The Shape of Water, Sweet Country
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