By David Baldwin
TIFF runs for 11 days every year, starting the first Thursday after Labour Day. It is sheer madness whether you want to take in movies, sneak into parties or swiftly move around looking for celebrities – or for the real die-hards, a mix of all three. I have long given up on the party scene and am slowly starting to give up on getting pictures with celebrities (Waiting four hours for Ryan Gosling to say no kind of puts you off that kind of experience), so that leaves me with taking in as movies as I possibly can, in the shortest amount of time possible. This year, my time was confined to 9 of the 11 days of the festival. So as I bid TIFF adieu, here are some thoughts on the final two days of films I saw – plus a few bonus titles I saw at pre-screenings before the festival.
“Mudbound” is just as good as you have heard, if not better. If Netflix can revise their theatrical model in time for its November release, it has the potential to be a heavy-hitter come Oscar season. The story of a perpetual muddy farmland and the families that live on it is funny, harrowing, emotional and more – often in the same breath. It takes a bit longer than it should finding its footing in the first act, using too much time and narration to introduce the main players. But once Writer/Director Dee Rees gets into the heart of the story, you will be unable to look away. Garrett Hedlund has never been better, Carey Mulligan is less annoying than usual, “Breaking Bad”/”Better Call Saul” MVP Jonathan Banks will make your blood boil, and “Straight Outta Compton’s” Jason Mitchell gives another scene-stealing, mind-searing performance. Oh, and if you can recognize Mary J. Blige without being told who she plays, you are much more observant than I will ever be.
“Professor Marston And The Wonder Women” is an obnoxious and odd title, but is one of the more crowd-pleasing and genuinely entertaining titles I saw at TIFF. The film is set-up and told in the conventional bio-pic sense, hitting the same beats and laughs as countless others. But since the story focuses on the love triangle between the titular professor (Played by Luke Evans), his highly educated wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) and their teacher’s assistant/lover Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), it ends up feeling unique and unconventional. The emphasis on kink and bondage also helps shift the tone drastically, as does the surprisingly vulgar language. Thankfully neither disrupt the flow or the enjoyment of the film, but it may throw off casual viewers. The film works best when it focuses on Hall and Heathcote’s characters, frequently leaving Evans looking and sounding like a supporting character instead of the lead.
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” was my most anticipated film of TIFF’17, and it delivered in spades. The story of a woman desperate for answers about her daughter’s rape and subsequent murder feels all too timely, but the film uses these elements almost as a MacGuffin. The real emphasis is on the characters, how they react to the billboards and the fallout they create. Martin McDonagh’s screenplay is darkly hysterical and startlingly emotional – I nearly cried during multiple scenes. It is also rather graphically violent, with a particular one-take scene acting as one of the best and most memorable scenes of 2017. Woody Harrelson, John Hawkes, Sam Rockwell, Lucas Hedges and more all give spectacular performances, but it is Frances McDormand who really steals the show. From the opening frame, she is a god-damn force of nature who will not take no for answer and is not afraid to ruffle a few feathers. I cannot imagine anyone else doing nearly as great a job as she does in the role. Expect to see her performance get rewarded with a multitude of nominations.
As for the few randoms left…”Kings” was an interesting take on the LA Riots, but felt like a first draft to a better movie (One that excludes a random fantasy sex sequence between Halle Berry and Daniel Craig that has zero point to the story); “Marrowbone” has a great sense of atmosphere, but delivered virtually nothing new to the horror or surprise ending genre; “Manhunt” was a quirky return to form from John Woo, who packed in some great action scenes but seemed to be parodying himself; and “A Worthy Companion” wasted a terrific performance from Evan Rachel Wood on an offensive, clueless story.
As for pre-TIFF screenings, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” remains one of the wildest films I have ever seen, filled to the brim with that special brand of chaos only Yorgos Lanthimos could be capable of. It is a bit of an absurdist horror/comedy/thriller with terrific turns from Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman and “Dunkirk’s” Barry Keoghan, all diving deep into their characters and Lanthimos’ short, literal dialogue. I did not love it like I loved “The Lobster”, but I really did like it. Next was “Stronger” which should net Jake Gyllenhaal his long-awaited Best Actor Oscar nomination. He is spectacular in the film, commanding the screen at every turn with his unique take on real-life amputee Jeff Bauman. He also makes the character feel authentic, making him less of a martyr and more of a deeply flawed individual. Tatiana Maslany puts in some good work as well, but the film around them is typical Hollywood fluff that lacks the edge of the similarly themed “Patriot’s Day” from earlier this year. Finally, I took in “Suburbicon”, and it was yet another disappointing film headlined by Matt Damon. The look and feel of the movie is there but the story is not. It feels like multiple ideas smashed together, and it is plainly obvious what the Coen Brothers wrote originally versus what George Clooney and Grant Heslov added in (Mostly a subplot involving the fallout of the first black family entering into an entirely white neighborhood). It feels pretty tone-deaf writing that sentence out, but watching it played out during the film is even worse. Thankfully it gets a few laughs and has Oscar Isaac acting as a deliciously pure Coen Brothers trope, but that is about all it has going for it.
And that just about wraps up TIFF 17. I hate to call it two days early, but after taking in 32 movies during the festival and 4 beforehand, I think I need to give my eyes and backside a bit of a break. Not sure if I will start eating properly again or continuing my TIFF diet of muffins and Gatorade.
For those curious, here are my top 5 films of the festival (And immediate recommendations for the coming months) along with my bottom 3 films (Or larger suggestions of what to avoid like the plague):
1. The Shape of Water
2. Call Me By Your Name
3. The Disaster Artist
4. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Honorable Mentions: Lady Bird, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer
1. A Worthy Companion
Dishonorable Mention: Downsizing, Mom & Dad
Movies I Missed But Wanted to See: I, Tonya, Battle of the Sexes, Revenge
Hope you have enjoyed my journey through TIFF 2017. Thank you!
You can follow David and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @davemabaldwin