Jay Stone’s Top TIFF Picks for 2017

Movies: #TIFF17

The Toronto International Film Festival hits middle-age with an entourage of famous faces and a long history of cinematic conquests that seems destined to continue with a slate of intriguing titles from the world’s best filmmakers

By Jay Stone

TORONTO — The Toronto film festival turns 42 this year, which is a dangerous age: if it was a man, it would probably buy a fancy red sports car that was entirely unsuitable to Canada’s roads or its climate and leave its perfectly serviceable wife for a doctoral student — studying something impractical, one imagines, having to do with postmodern cultural analysis — young enough to be its daughter.

The festival hasn’t exactly done that, although one notes that it has lost some of its older friends — 81-year-old auteur Woody Allen, for instance, is taking his new film Wonder Wheel to the New York festival, bypassing Toronto — in favour of younger, more with-it voices. And while festival director Piers Handling hasn’t been dumped, he has announced that this will be his last year with TIFF, a decision familiar to those of us who have abandoned dream jobs because the business seemed to be both passing us by and degenerating at the same time.

Another sign of mid-life crisis, the sudden diet, has also afflicted Toronto. The festival has become leaner this year, screening only — only! — 255 feature-length movies and 84 short films, a drop of some 20 per cent from the bloated years when it could hardly fit its waistband over the bellyful of Oscar hopefuls, indie long shots, surprising documentaries, midnight horror, Third World discoveries and all the other staples of the big time. Not that anyone minded; Toronto wasn’t fat, it was prosperous.

The result is a showcase that isn’t quite the Academy Award launch pad it once was — Telluride, Venice and even Sundance have moved in on that territory — but is still big enough to accommodate both movie-star vehicles and smaller, edgier fare. A week in Toronto will give you a chance to see 25 or 30 terrific films, spot some movies stars and maybe even sneak into a party or two. Like a young mistress, it can run you ragged, but you’ll have great stories to tell if you can manage to pace yourself.

Here are 10 movies I’m looking forward to:

Downsizing: The inimitable Alexander Payne — oh, all right, the imitable Alexander Payne — directs this satire about a couple (Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig) who shrink themselves down to four inches tall so they can enjoy a more economical lifestyle. Not to stretch the metaphor, but what were we just saying about a smaller festival?

Mother!: Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem star in this psychological horror movie about a young woman whose life disrupted by the arrival of a mysterious couple. We trust Darren Aronofsky — the Black Swan/The Wrestler guy who had us at Requiem for a Dream — will unsettle us very nicely, thank you.

Suburbicon: George Clooney directs this this dark comedy about a home invasion, which stars Matt Damon (again), Julianne Moore and Oscar Isaac. Clooney has had mixed success as a filmmaker (Good Night and Good Luck but also The Monuments Men), but the Coen brothers wrote the script, and they’re pretty good.

Lady Bird: Indie darling Greta Gerwig, who really is inimitable, directed and wrote this comedy, starring Saoirse Ronan, about a young woman in Northern California who is finding her way in the world. It’s sort of based on Gerwig’s own life, so we expect a lot of quirk.

Mary Shelley: “Directed by Haifaa Al Mansour (Wadjda) and starring Elle Fanning, Mary Shelley depicts the author as a fiercely modern 19th-century woman, and her Frankenstein as the product of unbridled imagination and profound grief.” That’s the official TIFF program description, and who am I to argue?

Molly’s Game: Jessica Chastain stars in the real-life drama about Olympic-class skier Molly Bloom — no, not that Molly Bloom — who also ran a high-stakes poker game that made her the target of an FBI investigation. I like movies about poker.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: Best title of the year so far is this comic drama from Martin McDonagh (In Bruges), about a woman (Frances McDormand) who launches a public protest over the slow police investigation into her daughter’s murder. I like movies about billboards.

Battle of the Sexes: Emma Stone and Steve Carrell play Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in this dramatization of the famous 1973 “battle of the sexes” tennis match between a feminist player and her chauvinist tormentor. This is the second of two high-profile tennis movies at TIFF this year; Borg/McEnroe, about a famous court rivalry, is the opening-night film, but King vs. Riggs sounds far more compelling.

I Love You Daddy: Comedian Louis C.K. directed and stars in this comedy about a TV producer and his relationship with his daughter (Chloe Grace Moretz). Not sure what to expect here; it was filmed in 35mm and black-and-white, and might be released on Louis’s website. This might be the only chance to see it in a cinema, where you should go to see all your movies.

Alias Grace: Mary Harron directs and Sarah Gadon stars in Sarah Polley’s adaptation of the 1993 Margaret Atwood novel about a 19th Century murder. This will be a six-hour CBC/Netflix  miniseries, but TIFF-goers will get a chance to see 90 minutes of it on the big screen. This has been Polley’s passion project for years and Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale) has become one of the prophets of the new world order.

TIFF runs September 7-17 and you can read Jay Stone’s coverage of the TIFF right here in the The Ex-Press. 

THE EX-PRESS, September 6, 2017

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