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Toronto Film Festival 2017: 30 Movies We Can’t Wait to See

From Oscar potentials to Lady Gaga and Grace Jones docs and a secret Louis C.K. movie, our must-see picks for the fest

Toronto Film Festival 2017: 30 Movies We Can't Wait to See

The 30 movies we can't wait to see at the 2017 Toronto Film Festival – from Oscar-bound dramas to a Lady Gaga doc (and a secret Louis CK comedy).

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Even if the Toronto International Film Festival was simply the unofficial beginning of the prestige-movie–dropping, Oscar-obsessing, A-listing awards season – the tail end of a three-fest starting gate along with Venice and Telluride – it would still be considered an autumn hot spot for movie lovers. Where else can you catch so many potential “and the winner is …” nominees, the films that everybody will be debating and discussing (or dismissing from the Oscars conversation), in one fell swoop? 

Still, the fest, which kicks off on September 7th and runs through the 18th, is apt to remind folks, it isn’t just a platform or pit-stop on the way to the Kodak Theatre’s podium. It’s also got something for genre-movie freaks, disciples of documentaries and those who want off-the-beaten-path viewing. You can catch up on Cannes favorites and other foreign-film delights. A TV sidebar, you say? Yup, it has one of those too.

Is it a lot, or even occasionally, way too much? Of course. But the ability to sample so much different moviegoing in one place – to survey the state of the art form, as much as one can these days – is why so many of us keep tracking up to the Canadian city year after year. And after poring through the 42nd edition’s lineup, we’ve singled out 30 movies we’re dying to check out (and a few gems we can’t recommend enough). Best Picture wannabes and biopics, docs on Obama and Lady Gaga, experimental riffs on Seventies exploitation movies and Fifties noirs, old-school Westerns, new-school digital filmmaking tricks and a secret Louis CK movie in black and white – here’s what we’re excited to see at TIFF 2017. Go north, young men and women.

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‘Bodied’

Music-video godhead Joseph Kahn – a gent who’s worked with everybody from the Geto Boys to the Backstreet Boys, Taylor Swift to Eminem (one of the movie’s producers, FYI) – goes the taboo-tweaking route with this story satire about a Caucasian college student (Calum Worthy) doing his thesis on the art of battle rapping. Quicker than you can say “it sure is a fine line between subcultural appreciation and cultural appropriation,” he starts competing against the local hip-hop superstars as well. Things apparently get inappropriate ASAP, and viewers get not only an edgy, racially tinged satire but the only festival movie featuring both Anthony Michael Hall and Charlamagne Tha God (we think).

‘BPM (Beats Per Minute)’

It’s the early 1990s, AIDS is ravaging the French LGBTQ community and the Paris chapter of ACT UP isn’t going to take Big Pharma’s foot-dragging and bureaucratic indifference lying down. (Unless you count lying down in the middle of the street in the name of disruptive protests.) French director Robin Campillo’s epic portrayal of the group’s struggle to curb a plague zeroes in on the relationship of two men – a founder (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) and a newbie (Arnaud Valois) – but it’s really an ensemble piece par excellence, as we watch the organization’s members argue, stage actions, fight, flirt, fuck, die and argue some more. It’s also the single most humanistic portrayal of the power of activism you will ever see, full stop.

40 Movies TIFF 2017

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‘Brawl in Cell Block 99’

If it seemed like Vince Vaughn was merely dipping a toe into a dark, tormented career phase with his recent True Detective stint, this pulpy prison thriller suggests he’s now ready to fully embrace his go-for-baroque batshit side. Having been thrown in the clink after hooking up with mobsters to make ends meet, his bald, bulked-up ex-boxer finds himself becoming a pawn in various cell-block turf wars. Anyone who’s seen director S. Craig Zahler’s bloody-as-hell Western Tomahawk knows this guy has B-movie chops – and there’s every indication that neither the filmmaker nor his star are keeping the kid gloves on here. 

40 Movies TIFF 2017

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‘Caniba’

Experiential documentarians Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor have trained their cameras on East Coast fishermen, Middle-American shepherds and Queens, NY, junkyards – now they turn their attention to a Japanese cannibal. Issei Sagawa was convicted for murdering and, yes, eating a Dutch student in 1981; after suffering a stroke, he’s now partially paralyzed and willing to talk about his crime, his food critic aspirations (no, really) and per the press notes, his “dabbling in porn films.” Fascinating doesn’t begin to describe this impressionistic portrait; neither does disturbing as hell. 

40 Movies TIFF 2017

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‘Dark River’

A young woman (The Affair‘s Ruth Wilson) returns to her family’s run-down farm in Northern England after her father’s death; she makes it her mission to save the place before neglect and creditors wipe it all away. Her brother (Mark Stanley), who had been the caretaker up until then, is none too pleased. Sure, it sounds like your run-of-the-mill rural British miserablism on paper. But filmmaker Clio Barnard is the one calling the shots here – and if she can do the same thing for family dramas that she did for literary documentaries (The Arbor) and boy-meets-horse social realism (The Selfish Giant), we may be in for a genuine cinematic gem.

40 Movies TIFF 2017

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‘Darkest Hour’

Gary Oldman plays Winston Churchill – so should we just hand him the Oscar now, or… . Atonement director Joe Wright’s biopic picks up right as Winnie takes over as Great Britain’s Prime Minister, with political factions calling for peace talks with Germany’s chancellor and the threat of England’s mountains green becoming an occupied territory. The word around town is that Oldman’s fierce, committed performance is indeed legendary, and that he shall act on the beaches, he shall act on the landing grounds, he shall act in the fields and in the streets, etc.

40 Movies TIFF 2017

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‘The Death of Stalin’

How we’ve missed you, Armando Iannucci! The British satirist behind The Thick of It and In the Loop – and the creator of Veep – returns with a tale revolving around the Russian dictator suddenly going the way of all flesh. Suddenly, political toadies, party apparatchiks, comrades-in-arms scam artists and other opportunists (including a balding Steve Buscemi and a follicularly blessed Jeffrey Tambor) come crawling out of the Kremlin’s woodwork, hoping to capitalize on their dear leader’s demise. If Iannucci’s past work is any indication, this comedy should be pitch black, poetically foul-mouthed and pants-wettingly hilarious. 

40 Movies TIFF 2017

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‘The Disaster Artist’

Once upon a time, a man had a dream about making a movie – all he needed was a girl, a gun, a football, some dudes in tuxedoes and maybe a couple of plastic spoons. Then another man saw the fruits of this artist’s labor – it was called The Room – and decided lo, he would make a movie about the making of that movie. And before you could utter “James Franco was born to play Tommy Wiseau,” voila! We now have the definitive story of how a modern cult classic was born, complete with an all-star cast (Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Alison Brie, Sharon Stone, not one but two Francos!). This trailer should tell you why we simply can not wait to see this.

40 Movies TIFF 2017

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‘Downsizing’

When you hear that Alexander Payne is making a movie called Downsizing, you assume it’s another one of his character-driven slice-of-life dramas, probably about everyday folks dealing with economic downturns and almost definitely set in Nebraska. Then you’re told that yes, it’s kind of about that, but also people are literally shrunk down to a tiny size so as to live a better, more sustainable lifestyle in these tough times. [Cue GIF of Scanners‘ head explosion.] Word out of the Venice Film Festival, where Payne’s detour into Spike Jonze/Charlie Kaufman territory opened the event, has been solid; Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis and Christoph Waltz, as well as breakout star Hong Chau, all do their part to both sell and ground the absurdist concept. We’re more than a wee bit excited about this one. See what we did there?

40 Movies TIFF 2017

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‘Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars’

We hear this Clapton fella likes the blues, like, a little bit, and is sorta kinda pretty good with a guitar. Lili Fini Zanuck goes to back to Mr. Slowhand’s beginning as an impressionable lad who becomes obsesses with a 12-bar breakdown and then shuffles through his many phases and eras: “Clapton Is God,” Cream, his side projects and solo career, the rises and falls and rises, the Unplugged years and beyond. A deep-dive doc on the legend who wrote “Layla”? Yeah, we’ll bite.

40 Movies TIFF 2017

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‘The Florida Project’

Sean Baker’s follow-up to his breakthrough film Tangerine switches from the mean streets of West Hollywood to Orlando, Florida’s motel-row periphery that rests in the shadow of the Magic Kingdom. At one of these low-rent residences, a group of feral kids turn the place into their own makeshift amusement park while the adults squabble and scramble to make a living. It’s all pastel-colored fun and games, until it isn’t. Most filmmakers would have been content to just turn this into stock poverty porn; Baker, however, uses the region and the mostly non-professional cast to turn this life-on-the-margins story into something funny, tragic, vibrant and heartbreaking. Plus he’s also gifted Willem Dafoe with the single most tender role he’s had to date, a motel manager trying desperately to hold everything together as everything falls apart.

40 Movies TIFF 2017

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‘The Final Year’

Filmmaker Greg Barker plays fly on the wall in the White House, as the Obama administration deals with foreign policy decisions and domestic crises during the waning months of the 44th President’s last term. This should be the nostalgia pick of the fest; bring tissues, as you’ll undoubtedly weep over what this nation has lost since Barack & co. left the Oval Office.

40 Movies TIFF 2017

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‘Gaga: Five Foot Two’

Little monsters, your prayers have been answered! This look into the life and times of one Stefani Joanne Germanotta, a.k.a. the Lady we call Gaga, follows the superstar as she deals with Artpop fallout, prep for her Joanne album and faces a transitional moment in both her personal and professional world. The chance to get to know the person behind the musician/fashion icon/multimedia artist/misfit spokesperson persona – the woman behind the Lady – is simply too good to pass up.

40 Movies TIFF 2017

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‘Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami’

Have you ever wanted to hang out with Grace Jones in Jamaica or eavesdrop on her while she reads Sly and Robbie the riot act or tears into a Parisian TV producer? Sophie Fiennes’ decade-in-the-making doc is for you – it assumes you know why the former model/Bond girl and “Slave to the Rhythm” singer is important already. Rather than a cradle-to-comeback chronicle, this portrait of an artist combines candid footage with 2016 concert clips, showcasing how this cosmopolitan singer has remained a creative force of nature for ages. Plus it includes her doing a cover of “Amazing Grace,” because of course!

40 Movies TIFF 2017

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‘Hostiles’

A U.S. Calvary officer (Christian Bale, looking more intense than ever) is assigned to escort a Cheyenne chief (Wes Studi) back to his tribal home, so that the dying man can go to the Great Spirit in peace. Did we mention that these two gents are bitter enemies with a long history of bloodshed and mutual aggression in their past? Scott Cooper’s he-man throwback has already been drawing comparisons to The Searchers and other vintage, epic horse operas; personally, we hope this bloody frontier saga is the beginning of a new era of Western expansion.

40 Movies TIFF 2017

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‘I Love You, Daddy’

Hey, remember when Louis C.K. just dropped a whole cringe-comedy-cum-Iceman Cometh-style psychodrama TV series (Horace and Pete) on us without any sort of advance warning? Now he’s blessed us with an out-of-nowhere movie as well. Made on the down-low, the comedian’s latest endeavor was shot on black-and-white 35mm film, stars C.K. (as well as Edie Falco, Rose Byrne and John Malkovich) and allegedly involves show business. That’s about the extent of what the auteur and the festival will say about it – like its production, everything about this project is mondo hush-hush. And given the stand-up’s sensibility, that title could be interpreted as incredibly sentimental or ironic and sickening. Our curiosity is off the charts.

40 Movies TIFF 2017

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‘I, Tonya’

As in Tonya Harding, the figure-skating champion whose name will forever be associated with kneecapping (literally) her rival Nancy Kerrigan. Director Craig Gillespie’s look at the disgraced athlete isn’t exactly an exercise in reputation rehabilitation, we’re told, but the movie supposedly does go out of its way to humanize Harding, as well as fill viewers in on her rough upbringing, her romantic connection with Jeff Gillooly, etc. And whoever decided to cast Margot Robbie as the Olympian deserves a medal.

40 Movies TIFF 2017

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‘Kings’

Turkish filmmaker Deniz Gamze Ergüven – the woman behind the extraordinary coming-of-age movie Mustang – makes her English-language debut with the story of an African-American woman (Halle Berry), her Caucasian neighbor (Daniel Craig) and a City of Angels in flames as the Rodney King verdict sparks mass rioting. The press notes make this sound like a mixture of survivalist adventures, social-issue docudramas, dual character studies and offbeat star vehicles. Luckily for us, the movie’s racial tensions are a thing of the past and something we no longer have to worry about, because everyone gets along great now and we’ve solved all of our country’s problems.

40 Movies TIFF 2017

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‘Let the Corpses Tan’

Franco-Belgian duo Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani (Amer, The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears) continue their ongoing quest to remix old grindhouse staples – in this case, the sex-and-violence–soaked Italian poliziotteschi crime movies of the Seventies. A gang of crooks rip off a truck full of gold bars then hide out in a house by the sea. Unexpected visitors, unforgivable double-crosses and some very unlucky cops turn the whole thing into a bloodbath. Imagine Alejandro Jodorowsky directing a heist film, or binge-watching a bunch of old Euro-caper movies after accidentally gobbling a fistful of peyote.

40 Movies TIFF 2017

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‘Long Time Running’

After 30 years of flying the maple-leaf flag for Canadian rock, the Tragically Hip decided to hang up their plumed hats and call it quits – singer Gord Downie had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Even though he was undergoing treatment, however, he wanted the band to do one last tour, and the result was series of concerts that many consider some of the group’s greatest shows ever. Directors Jennifer Baichwal and Nicolas de Pencier follow the Hip on their own long last waltz, as the collective says farewell to their fans and their life on the stage.

40 Movies TIFF 2017

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‘Manhunt’

John Woo is back! The man who gave us The Killer and A Better Tomorrow returns to his Hong Kong action-auteur roots with this remake-cum-riff on The Fugitive, in which a lawyer (Zhang Hanyu) finds himself for a crime he did not commit. On the road and with a dogged cop (Masaharu Fukuyama) in hot pursuit, our hero tries to prove his innocence and expose why someone would do this to him in the first place. Expect gunfights, stand-offs, pulse-pounding chase scenes and more gunfights. There will be doves. Trust us.

40 Movies TIFF 2017

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‘Molly’s Game’

Molly Bloom – we assume her parents were big James Joyce fans – was going to be an Olympic skier. Then an injury got her interested in the world of underground Hollywood poker. She wasn’t satisfied with just sitting at the table and waiting for fate to deal her a hand, however, so she decided to start her own high-stakes, after-hours game. Boom! Everyone who’s anyone wants in. Unfortunately, that also means the FBI. We’d be excited to see this simply on the basis of Jessica Chastain, who appears to be playing the real-life mover and shaker in chic take-no-shit predator mode, and Idris Elba, who’s cast as her lawyer, sharing a screen together. (Seriously, someone remake the Thin Man series with these two.) The fact that it’s also Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut only sweetens the pot. Please let there be a walking-and-talking scene. Please let there be a walking-and-talking scene. Please let there be ….

40 Movies TIFF 2017

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‘mother!’

Lack of capital letters and unnecessary punctuation be damned – Darren Aronofsky’s new psychological thriller about a woman (Jennifer Lawrence), her husband (Javier Bardem) and an older couple (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) who may or may not be tormenting has been one of the most anticipated movies of 2017. Plot details beyond the good ol’ “strangers wreak havoc on a relationship” subgenre conventions are scare, but that trailer is extremely nerve-jangling and the fest’s press notes namedrop Polanski, so there’s that. Run, J-Law, run!

40 Movies TIFF 2017

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‘The Mountain Between Us’

He (Idris Elba) is a British doctor who needs to be in Baltimore as soon as possible to perform a procedure; she (Kate Winslet) is a journalist who’s getting married the next day. The strangers charter a small plane after the airlines give them the heave-ho. It crashes into the snowy, frozen tundra. They have only each other to rely on if they want to live. The mountain is not just a metaphor, people. Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad’s English-language debut combines an old-school survivalist story and an old-fashioned romantic drama into a dual star vehicle – the kind of marquee-name Hollywood movie that studios used to make on the regular before superhero movies took over.

40 Movies TIFF 2017

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‘Professor Marston & the Wonder Women’

You’ve seen Gal Gadot’s Amazonian superhero fight bad guys and deflect bullets – now find out where the legendary Wonder Woman came from. One of two projects set to examine the intriguing love-triangle origin story behind the comic book character’s creation, Angela Robinson’s drama follows 1920s university professor William Marston (Luke Evans) and his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) as the couple’s interest in comely college co-ed Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote) becomes more than academic. Soon, polyamory, role-playing and a healthy amount of kink inspires the teacher to start penning stories about a strong woman – one with a lasso of truth, and invisible plane and a penchant for getting tied up.

40 Movies TIFF 2017

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‘The Rider’

A surprise hit out of Cannes, Chloé Zhao’s look at a rodeo-circuit regular picking up the pieces of his life after a head injury doubles as the coronation of a major filmmaking talent. Featuring real-life former competitive rider Brady Jandreau (in what’s supposedly a loose riff on his own story), the movie follows the modern-day cowboy as his career is cut short, his purpose for life is questioned and his bond with horses keeps him from going off the deep end. It’s a take on Western iconography via an intimate character study, and could very well be the left-field antidote to this year’s awards-season bloat.

40 Movies TIFF 2017

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‘The Shape of Water’

When you’re a janitor at a U.S. government laboratory in the early 1960s, there’s a good chance you may stumble across a few super-top-secret projects – like, say, plans for how to defeat the Commies, or maybe a fish-man (!) who the Feds want to use as a weapon. Sally Hawkins is the custodian determined to find out more about this mysterious creature; Doug Jones is the amphibian humanoid in question; Michael Shannon is the gung-ho agent who may have it out for the “monster.” A new Guillermo del Toro movie is always a big deal, and this sounds like the perfect vehicle designed to hit his horror-with-heart-and-lots-of-baroque-goopiness sweet spot. 

40 Movies TIFF 2017

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‘The Square’

Ah yes, the modern art world – so ripe for being ribbed! The latest from Swedish director Ruben Östlund (Force Majeure) observes a museum curator (Claes Bang) getting pickpocketed and having his phone swiped in an elaborate scam; his quest to retrieve his stuff and maybe get a little revenge ends up leading to a downward spiral of sorts. Meanwhile, Östlund proceeds to aim both barrels at the high-art culture that turns postmodern chin-strokers into celebrities and parallel mounds of dirts into a “masterpiece.” Elisabeth Moss and The Wire‘s Dominic West show up as a journalist and an earthwork sculptor, respectively; an extended set piece involving a performance artist pretending to be an ape at a fundraiser will have you both cracking up and chewing your fingernails down to the quick.

40 Movies TIFF 2017

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‘Suburbicon’

George Clooney has long history with the Coen brothers – and given that the siblings co-wrote this script and it’s stocked with past collaborators, this Clooney-directed noirish romp looks more than a little Coencentric. A henpecked everyschlub (Matt Damon) wants to knock off his wife so he can hook up with his sister-in-law (both played by Julianne Moore). Everything goes according to plan, until an insurance agent (Oscar Isaac) starts snooping around. Some old-fashioned murder, masculine temper tantrums and criminal being caught up in their own lies and deceit? Yes, please.

40 Movies TIFF 2017

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‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’

A mother (Frances McDormand) is fed up with the lack of progress on the investigation of her daughter’s murder. So she does what any indignant, righteous matriarch would do: She posts three large billboards – we’ll let you determine the exact location, although y’know, see title – that accuse local law-enforcement of sleeping on the job. The police chief (Woody Harrelson) is naturally peeved, and soon, a bad situation gets worse. A lot worse. Irish playwright-turned-filmmaker Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) has a way of making obscene insults sing and coaxing great left-field performances out of actors. The idea of him paired with the take-no-shit Oscar-winning McDormand is enough to make your head spin.

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