My time at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival was unfortunately shorter than usual, on account of being an in-demand journalist (ha, just kidding, but I did have another assignment that required me to be in Los Angeles) and so I hold dear the time I did get to spend and the film-going experiences I had while there.
My stand-outs start with the film that went on to win the People’s Choice award, La La Land. I liked it so much I was inspired to dedicate an episode of The Rundown to it.
The film stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, in their third on-screen pairing, as a couple who falls in love while they’re trying to make it in Hollywood – him as a jazz musician, her as an actress. I really like that it’s set in today’s time, but with little throwbacks to old Hollywood and that remnants of Los Angeles from a bygone era form the backdrop to their story. The singing and dancing was delightful to watch, and the scenery sumptuous. I tap-danced my way out of Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash follow-up, looking forward to his next movie even more.
A United Kingdom
Along with Loving, which I saw at Cannes, this film tells us about an illegal interracial marriage between Ruth and Seretse Khama that had global repercussions. Whereas Loving is situated within Virginia in the US, this relationship had an impact far beyond the countries of just the husband and wife. David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike have a great chemistry, but Oyelowo proves once again, he is so adept at being able to disappear into a character and deliver a speech with such earnestness (whether he’s MLK Jr or a would-be king, as he is in this case). He’s also in Queen of Katwe, a wonderful film about a female Ugandan chess prodigy that premiered in Toronto too.
A Monster Calls
During the quiet parts of the last couple of scenes of this J A Bayona film, you could hear so many sniffles. Walking into a film about a boy (“too old to be a child, too young to be a man”) seeking the help of a tree monster to cope with his single mom’s terminal illness, I knew it would tug at the heartstrings. But it does so much more than that. The imagination that drives the story, based on the original novel by Patrick Ness, the drawings that whirl into the tale, and the relationship between Felicity Jones and Lewis MacDougall makes this film about family and love and death and loss and life a must-see.
I Am Not Your Negro
Raoul Peck (who also made Lumumba) returned to TIFF with this really timeous meditation on a James Baldwin letter that examines the movies and how people of different races have – or more like – haven’t been represented onscreen. It’s one thing to read the work of Baldwin, it’s a far more compelling thing to see him on video, giving a lecture or speaking in public.
Arrival and Jackie
These two films, about vastly different subjects – JFK’s widow and former first lady, Jackie Kennedy, and communicating with aliens – were both highlights because they’re rooted in two sterling performances by two of the best actresses of our time. Natalie Portman so wholly becomes Jackie Kennedy that she truly brought her to life for me, giving context to so many iconic photos of historic moments from her point of view. Director Pablo Larrain made me feel like I understood more about what made her so iconic.
With Arrival, a great sci-fi flick that calls into question how we communicate, what we value in life and the idea of what it would take to create world peace, I felt a deep sense of awe. Amy Adams is superb as the every-day woman who is actually a hero in disguise, using her skill as an translator to ease relations with foreign beings, aka aliens.
Manchester by the Sea
This drama is a slow-burner that sucker-punches you in the last scene, even if it’s a subtle blow. It’s such a moving story about dependency, remorse and guilt. After watching this film, I now see Casey Affleck in a new light, and as many publications have already noted, so too, surely, will the Academy come Oscar time.
Oh, and if you missed The Rundown from TIFF16, here you go!