ENTERTAINMENT

14 Toronto Film Festival Movies Worth Your Attention

Natalie! Emma! Amy! Ruth! Oh my!
Natalie Portman, Emma Stone, Amy Adams and Ruth Negga star in standout titles from the Toronto Film Festival.
Natalie Portman, Emma Stone, Amy Adams and Ruth Negga star in standout titles from the Toronto Film Festival.

Attending the Toronto Film Festival is like stepping into a la-la land where bloated summer blockbusters are but a distant memory. This year’s gala even gave us an actual “La La Land,” the musical romance that won the festival’s top prize and jump-started the annual frenzy that is Oscar season.

That’s not all Toronto gave us. During my seven-day spree, I caught a handful of intriguing movies that will help to define the remainder of 2016’s cinematic calendar (and beyond). Here are a few words on 14 of them.

  • "Jackie"
    When I sat down for "Jackie" five days into the festival, I'd hit a wall. My body was crying out for sleep. Five minutes
    TIFF
    When I sat down for "Jackie" five days into the festival, I'd hit a wall. My body was crying out for sleep. Five minutes into the movie, sleep was the last thing I could think of. Shot in extensive close-ups, Pablo Larraín's snapshot of the week following John F. Kennedy's 1963 assassination shows a damaged First Lady piloting grief and rage as her Camelot crumbles. Natalie Portman shuffles through the conflicted turmoil of Jackie Kennedy, painting her as both aloof and distraught. Together, they challenge the notions of what a biopic can say about its subject. "Jackie" is astonishing.

    "Jackie" opens Dec. 9.
  • "Barry"
    Before Barack Obama ascended to the nation's highest office, he was a puzzled 20-something with a fractured sense of identity
    TIFF
    Before Barack Obama ascended to the nation's highest office, he was a puzzled 20-something with a fractured sense of identity and disdain for the political system. In Vikram Gandhi's stirring "Barry," we get the sense that young Barack was no different from any of us -- he certainly was nothing like the many dynasties that rise to power in America (say, Bushes and Clintons). He was conflicted about his race, wary of the class divides surrounding him at Columbia University, and hesitant to consider the idea of marriage. Devon Terrell, an Australian stud making his screen debut, captures all of that inner anxiety while still foreshadowing a presidency that would honor the authors our hero is seen reading: the great Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin. 

    Netflix bought the rights to "Barry" in Toronto. No date has been set.
  • "American Honey"
    "American Honey" is a sprawlingly intimate, a nearly three-hour snapshot of stateside youth at its most lawless. British dire
    TIFF
    "American Honey" is a sprawlingly intimate, a nearly three-hour snapshot of stateside youth at its most lawless. British director Andrea Arnold ("Fish Tank," "Transparent") read a New York Times story about magazine crews, the seedy, sometimes violent sales groups that employ drifting young adults. From there, Arnold crafted the story of Star (Sasha Lane), a teenager who joins a mag crew to escape the disenfranchisement of her home life. Star and her new friends set out on an open journey through the Midwest, both embracing and questioning their nomadic existence. "American Honey" feels alive. It's dedicated to the rough edges of its setting and the characters who occupy them with more hope than most of this country can conjure.

    "American Honey" opens Sept. 30.
  • "La La Land"
    Ah, "La La Land." Take us away with your dreamscape, where life is like a movie and aspirations start as mere daydreams. In h
    Lionsgate
    Ah, "La La Land." Take us away with your dreamscape, where life is like a movie and aspirations start as mere daydreams. In his third feature, "Whiplash" director Damien Chazelle proves himself a master of tone, crafting a musical that would make for a fine double feature with "Singin' in the Rain." Chazelle knew what he was doing in reuniting Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as an aspiring actress and jazz musician, respectively, in present-day Los Angeles. Their chemistry is palpable, but "La La Land" is more than an extensive meet-cute. It's an uncynical playground filled with hope and romance, with a touch of bittersweet reality to ground it.

    "La La Land" opens Dec. 2.
  • "The Edge of Seventeen"
    Hailee Steinfeld hasn't quite hit a stride on the big screen since her Oscar-nominated turn in "True Grit." That changes
    TIFF
    Hailee Steinfeld hasn't quite hit a stride on the big screen since her Oscar-nominated turn in "True Grit." That changes with "The Edge of Seventeen," a high school movie that perfectly befits its lead star. Steinfeld plays Nadine, an acrimonious junior whose sole friend (Haley Lu Richardson) begins dating her popular older brother (Blake Jenner). With the guidance of her history teacher (Woody Harrelson), Nadine starts to get a grasp on the whole adolescence thing — why she sees her mother (Kyra Sedgwick) as such a burden, why her social resistance is prohibitive, why the cute boy in class isn't always worth the trouble. Kelly Fremon Craig wrote and directed the comedy with a pacing that plays up the angsty pathos without succumbing to typical clichés. 

    "The Edge of Seventeen" opens Nov. 18.
  • "My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea"
    For proof it only takes 75 minutes to tell a dynamic story, turn to comic book artist Dash Shaw's dark comedy about, wel
    TIFF
    For proof it only takes 75 minutes to tell a dynamic story, turn to comic book artist Dash Shaw's dark comedy about, well, an entire high school sinking into a sea. Think "Daria" and "Freaks and Geeks"  meets "The Poseidon Adventure" and "The Perfect Storm." Using crude animation and a crew of biting misfits at the center, Shaw turns your typical teen movie about sparring social factions into a fast-paced survival epic whose characters risk melting into the Pacific Ocean. Featuring droll voice work from Jason Schwartzman, Lena Dunham, Maya Rudolph and Susan Sarandon, this avant-garde disaster flick challenges narrative cohesion to emphasize its protagonist's scattered realties. It's a bizarre delight.

    "My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea" does not yet have theatrical distribution.
  • "A United Kingdom"
    In 2013's "Belle," director Amma Asante gave us a lovely period piece about racial divides. She's at it again with "A Un
    TIFF
    In 2013's "Belle," director Amma Asante gave us a lovely period piece about racial divides. She's at it again with "A United Kingdom," a stately biopic about Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), the Botswanan president whose interracial marriage prompted international controversy. "Kingdom" is a tad too staid, but Asante knows where to pepper in humor where it counts. Her take on romance in the face of political imperialism is worth more than a few swoons, especially with the elegant chemistry between Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike. 

    Fox Searchlight bought the rights to "A United Kingdom" in Toronto. No release has been set.
  • "Arrival"
    How long have you assumed Amy Adams can talk to aliens? Have you prayed to the heavens that one day you, too, would glim
    TIFF
    How long have you assumed Amy Adams can talk to aliens? Have you prayed to the heavens that one day you, too, would glimpse this woman's intergalactic wonder? "Arrival" is here to answer our calls. Adams plays a skilled linguist recruited to communicate with extraterrestrials that have landed in mysterious pods across the globe. But there's more to this existential curiosity, the latest from "Prisoners" and "Sicario" director Denis Villeneuve. The sci-fi feast is an exercise in terror, grief and the passage of time, compounded by a haunting score and a twisty third act.

    "Arrival" opens Nov. 11.
  • "Nocturnal Animals"
    With 2009's "A Single Man," Tom Ford proved his talents aren't limited to the runway. Ford's directorial follow-up, "Noc
    TIFF
    With 2009's "A Single Man," Tom Ford proved his talents aren't limited to the runway. Ford's directorial follow-up, "Nocturnal Animals," is a far odder affair. It's a revenge melodrama sprinkled with tongue-in-cheek pomposity. Amy Adams, in her second festival movie of the season, plays a disillusioned Los Angeles art gallery owner whose ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) sends her the manuscript for his new novel. The story reads as an alarming revenge noir, sending the glamorous townie for a philosophical loop, right as her cosmopolitan veneer crumbles. 

    "Nocturnal Animals" opens Nov. 18.
  • "Deepwater Horizon"
    Do you know what's surprisingly good? "Deepwater Horizon." Peter Berg's disaster flick about the 2010 BP oil spill is a
    TIFF
    Do you know what's surprisingly good? "Deepwater Horizon." Peter Berg's disaster flick about the 2010 BP oil spill is a pageant more concerned with capturing the crew's panic than condemning the corporation that caused it. Which is not to say that "Deepwater" isn't inherently an angry film, or that it won't make you quite angry too. But once you get past the incessant oil rig jargon, you are too caught up feeling utterly terrified by everything that unfolds. At one point, two characters must decide whether to jump from the top of a burning rig into the Gulf of Mexico. It is the tensest thing I've seen on screen this year, both intimate and sprawling in scale, with a POV shot that will make you feel like you're plummeting into the nautical abyss too. That is a disaster done right.

    "Deepwater Horizon" opens Sept. 30.
  • "Denial"
    "Denial" is exactly what you would expect: a human drama that places history and demagoguery on trial. Drawing obvious parall
    TIFF
    "Denial" is exactly what you would expect: a human drama that places history and demagoguery on trial. Drawing obvious parallels to our current Trumpian landscape, Mick Jackson's film presents the true court case that required an American historian (Rachel Weisz) to defend her book against a Holocaust conspiracy theorist (Timothy Spall). The metaphors get a bit blunt and broad, but there's something wildly satisfying about seeing a bloviating instigator go down in flames.

    "Denial" opens Sept. 30.
  • "Catfight"
    I saw "Catfight" a week ago, and I still can't decide whether I like it. That's not a pan. The many walk-outs during the
    TIFF
    I saw "Catfight" a week ago, and I still can't decide whether I like it. That's not a pan. The many walk-outs during the screening I attended only heighten my interest in the film. Anne Heche and Sandra Oh -- two actresses who appear too rarely on the big screen -- star as college frenemies who reunite at a party and instantly reinvigorate their rivalry. That comes largely in the form of near-death violence. They clobber each other with fists and hammers. If you can stomach that brutality, some of which plays for laughs and some of which is just exhausting, there's rich satire at the center of Onur Tukel's film, touching on issues of social hierarchy, economic success, war politics, relationship turmoil and feminine resentment. 

    "Catfight" does not yet have theatrical distribution.
  • "Loving"
    "Loving" is a <a href="https://www.huffpost.com/entry/loving-jeff-nichols_n_57daf822e4b04a1497b32212" target="_blank">compass
    TIFF
    "Loving" is a compassionate portrait of the couple whose marriage led to the 1967 Supreme Court decision that overturned bans on interracial marriage. "Take Shelter" and "Midnight Special" director Jeff Nichols steers clear of the court case to emphasize a character study about two small-town homebodies who never sought to be heroes. The movie is better for it. 

    "Loving" opens Nov. 4.  
  • "The Handmaiden"
    "The Handmaiden" premiered at Cannes in May, and it was still one of Toronto's most accomplished titles. South Korean wunkerk
    TIFF
    "The Handmaiden" premiered at Cannes in May, and it was still one of Toronto's most accomplished titles. South Korean wunkerkind Park Chan-wook ("Oldboy," "Stoker") moved Sarah Waters' novel Fingersmith from Victorian England to 1930s Korea. Part revenge thriller, part feminist erotica and all intriguing psychological opus, the twisty revenge thriller starts with a count's plan to steal an heiress' fortune. It ends with ... well, you'll have to see for yourself.

    "The Handmaiden" opens Oct. 21.
HuffPost

BEFORE YOU GO

PHOTO GALLERY
Hottest Sundance 2016 Movies
CONVERSATIONS