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What should you see at TIFF this year?

What should you see at TIFF this year?

Posted by PanamericanWorld on September 08, 2016

The 41st Toronto International Film Festival opens Thursday night with the world premiere of Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven. Over the next 10 days, almost 400 films (296 of them will be features) will screen, wrapping up on Sept. 18 with the closing-night gala, The Edge of Seventeen, starring Hailee Steinfeld.

With that many choices, deciding what to see isn’t easy. Even advising readers is tricky, since studios regularly serve gag orders at pre-festival screenings, not to be lifted until the festival premiere takes place. Should Deepwater Horizon be deep-sixed? Does Michael Fassbender or Brendan Gleeson win the most Irish-sounding actor prize in Trespass Against Us? How is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance in Snowden, or Timothy Spall’s in Denial?

I wish I could tell you.

Critics have been obliged to sign embargoes, partial embargoes, full embargoes, social media embargoes and, in the case of The Magnificent Seven, a belly-full-of-lead embargo. (I’m going to risk it by telling you that the western includes the line: “Git some gravel in yer craw!”)

Even so, there are enough amazing movies that it’s easy to find five to recommend. And enough promising ones among the 260 or so I’ve yet to see that they can be suggested as good bets. After all, an embargo can’t be placed on a film you haven’t seen.

Five must-sees

Toni Erdmann

Don’t be put off by the 162-minute running time. Or the art-house label. Or the English subtitles on this German-language film from writer/director Maren Ade. You will not find a more unexpected, funnier film in theatres this year. Come for the gonzo title character and helicopter-crash parent, played by Peter Simonischek. Stay for the karaoke Whitney Houston tune, which earned a mid-screening ovation at Cannes this year. Stay for the naked party. Stay for the weird yeti. Just stay; it’s worth it.


Jim Jarmusch’s latest, set in Paterson, N.J., is about a bus driver named Paterson, played by Adam Driver. And if that sounds like a slice of poetry, it might be because the film also plays out as a kind of poem in cinematic motion, as Driver’s character soaks in the world around him and creates heartfelt free verse about everything from love to matches. The result is as elegant as it is unique.

The Birth of a Nation

Talk about taking it back. The last film to carry this title, released in 1915, was an epic, pro-Ku Klax Klan story. Nate Parker’s directing debut is epic as well, but there the similarities end. Parker stars as Nat Turner in the real-life story of a slave in1830s Virginia who used his position as a lay preacher to foment a slave rebellion. It’s an astonishing and powerful drama.

Manchester by the Sea

Casey Affleck is wonderfully woeful as Lee Chandler, a sad-sack Boston handyman whose life takes an even more doleful turn when he learns that his brother (played by Kyle Chandler, not Ben Affleck) has passed away. If that sounds too gloomy for words, hold on as writer/director Kenneth Lonergan slowly spins a heartwarming tale of family and, ultimately, hope.

La La Land

For those who despair “they don’t make ’em like they used to” comes this old-fashioned Hollywood musical-romance that received well-deserved ecstatic reviews when it opened the Venice film festival last week. Writer/director Damien Chazelle gives us Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as two star-crossed dreamers. He even provides a cameo for J.K. Simmons, who made his last film, Whiplash, such a guilty pleasure. That’s an apt description for this one, too.

Five good bets

Into the Inferno / Salt and Fire

I know what you’re thinking: Why aren’t there more Werner Herzog volcano pictures? Well, TIFF has two. Into the Inferno, co-directed with Cambridge volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer, is a documentary that travels from Indonesia to North Korea and beyond. Salt and Fire is an eco-thriller starring Michael Shannon, Gael Garcia Bernal and Veronica Ferres. What’s not to lava?

Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey

Terrence Malick has always been a big-picture director, and this is his biggest picture yet; a cinematic trip through the history of the universe, from the first spark of the stars to the crackle of life. The film will screen in both a 90-minute version, narrated by Cate Blanchett, and as the 45-minute Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience, with narration by Brad Pitt. Take your pick!


Denis Villeneuve’s last film was the amazing Sicario. His next, still called Untitled Blade Runner Sequel, remains one of the most anticipated films of 2017. In between comes this science-fiction mystery starring Amy Adams as a linguist recruited to help make first contact with a visiting alien race.

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