2017 TIFF Top 10

On September 18, 2017 by Jim Law

Our old buddy Christian Tane is back with his look at the 2017 Toronto International Film Fest.

TIFF 2017 was much better in quality than TIFF 2016. I’ve seen 35 films – beating my previous record of 34 – and many of them were good or great. As usual, I tried as much as possible to avoid the big studio releases coming out in the next couple of months, with a few exceptions (couldn’t pass up on seeing “mother!” with an Aronofsky Q&A afterwards). That’s why titles like Del Toro’s “The Shape of Water”, Clooney’s “Suburbicon”, Payne’s “Downsizing”, Gilroy’s “Roman J. Israel, Esq” or Sorkin’s “Molly’s Game” are not in this list.

1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh) – 10 on 10

Martin McDonagh goes full Coen Brothers in his latest, an excellent film set in Missouri, full of memorable characters and a story that’s intriguing from beginning to end. A clear step up from his previous two movies – “In Bruges” and “Seven Psychopats” – because, besides the hilarious black comedy and fun dialogue, this one actually has a great story, full of moral conundrums and plenty of shades of grey, not only in the characters’ actions, but in the characters themselves. However, once again, it’s the dialogue that steals the show – impressively written, full of wit, and at times laugh out loud funny. I was happy to hear this ended up winning the People’s Choice Award. Make sure you see it when it comes out in theaters later this year.

2. mother! (Darren Aronofsky) – 10 on 10

Not easy writing about this without giving away the allegory at the center of everything, but here it goes. This is yet another masterpiece from Darren Aronofsky, an incredibly dense, rich movie full of WTF moments, and carried by an impressive performance from Jennifer Lawrence. What, at the start, looks like your usual (albeit weird) home invasion thriller, creaky house and everything, it evolves into so much more. I was gripped throughout, and after piecing together what it all means (which, to me, happened sometime halfway through), it became even more fun. And even though the allegory is quite in-your-face (which might not sit well with some people), I thought everything about this was pitch perfect – flawless execution in a tense, crazy movie that’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

3. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos) – 9 on 10

You probably should know by now what you’re going to get from Yorgos Lanthimos, and this new one is no exception. An intriguing, disturbing story, shot with the precision of a surgeon, set in a weird world and featuring a weird group of characters. This is a stylistic and directorial treat, from the outbursts of classical music to the complete lack of emotion in any piece of dialogue, an absurd story that can become quite suspenseful.

4. Brawl in Cell Block 99 (S. Craig Zahler) – 9 on 10

Vince Vaughn has never been this menacing. Sporting a large tattoo on the back of his head, and breaking everything in his path, from cars to bones, he’s taking us on quite a ride – full of grindhouse sensibilities, brutal violence, and a story that is surprisingly solid. I liked the setup and the care in establishing the characters before all the madness begins. I like the subdued yet striking look of the movie. I liked the last hour of intense bone-breaking action. Easily one of the most crazy fun movies I’ve seen at this year’s TIFF.

5. I Love You, Daddy (Louis CK) – 9 on 10

Louis CK’s string of exceptional filmmaking continues with this feature length movie that feels like an extended “Horace and Pete” episode mixed with an old Woody Allen movie, back when Woody Allen movies were good. Old school aesthetics, amplified by beautiful 35mm film, make this an impressive film to look at. Full of stars delivering smart, quality dialogue in Louis’ unmistakable style, “I Love You Daddy” is a film absolutely deserving of a wide release, so I was glad when it got picked up after the world premiere. Make sure you see it in theaters.

6. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig) – 8 on 10

I love Greta Gerwig the actress, and if this directorial debut is any indication, I’m going to love Greta Gerwig the director. Borrowing heavily from the indie masters she worked with in the past, Gerwig creates a compelling coming of age drama set in a religious Sacramento family. Saoirse Ronan is great, as always, but it’s the sense of confidence behind the camera that really stuck with me. It’s an excellent, touching story told with honesty and flair.

7. Loveless (Andrey Zvyagintsev) – 8 on 10

Zvyagintsev’s follow up to “Leviathan” is a leaner, more direct drama than its predecessor, that is also an excellent portrait of current day Russia, this time seen through the eyes of divorcing parents looking for their missing child. Technically impressive, this solid character study might not have the same impact as Leviathan, but is an excellent movie in its own right.

8. Thelma (Joachim Trier) – 8 on 10

A moody, gorgeous, character-driven supernatural story from one of my favorite Scandinavian directors, “Thelma”, from the arresting opening scene all the way to the intense final act, is exactly what I would hope a director like Trier would do when crafting a genre story. Its cold, calculated world is built around its characters rather than the story, and it works. So, when the end approaches and answers are revealed, they hit. Beautiful cinematography and solid acting from everyone involved also lift this above your average supernatural thriller.

9. The Death of Stalin (Armando Ianucci) – 8 on 10

British humor about Russian politics is something that can’t really go wrong, especially if done by fast-talking politics comedy master Armando Ianucci. Like most of Ianucci’s previous work, this is also chock full of fast-paced, rich, hilarious dialogue. Very inventive and funny at times, but actively avoiding any attempt at drama or character development. Still, a great funny film, absolutely worth checking out.

10. Marrowbone (Sergio G. Sanchez) – 8 on 10

Atmospheric, stylish, slow-paced genre flick from the writer of “The Orphanage”, that keeps many of the qualities which made that movie great. It’s very moody, beautifully shot, the characters are interesting and the remote period setting adds to the creepiness of the well-built story. The genre elements, while excellent and suspenseful, at times seem to be secondary to the characters, and their relationships with each other and the world they ran away from. To me, any movie that puts characters and story first, and scares second, and does it in a beautiful, imaginative way, is worth seeing.

Honorable mention
The Disaster Artist (James Franco) – 7 on 10

I was never a fan of “The Room”, like many people in my crazy Midnight Madness crowd obviously are. But that didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying this extremely unbelievable but real story of how one of the worst movies ever made got made. James Franco and his brother Dave are amazing as Tommy and Greg, and the movie is good, fun and entertaining.


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