'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri'
On stage, Martin McDonagh's work often bristles with political overtones, a biting Irish wit and a penchant for crackling dialogue and horrific violence; his film work, however, feels like it concentrates mostly on the last part, often making the award-winning playwright feel like a Tarantino wannabe. His third film, however, permanently puts that notion to rest: The writer-director has finally found a film in which his prodigious talent and profane sense of morality is being put to a humanistic purpose. Frances McDormand, in what will likely be her second Oscar-nabbing role, is a mother who's enraged over the lack of law-enforcement urgency regarding her daughter's rape and murder. She puts up some accusatory billboards asking about the investigation; cue angry police chief (Woody Harrelson) and a small-town shit storm. McDonagh has gifted not just his fierce female lead but all of his cast with juicy roles – though watch how Sam Rockwell guides his racist, dumbass cop into something approaching an awakening and becomes a stealth MVP in the process. It's a deep, complex, hilarious, emotionally blindsiding look into truth, justice and the ugly American way – and hands down, the single best thing we saw at Toronto. Let's hope it winning the festival's Audience Award is only the start of its statue-grabbing haul.