My Top Films at Toronto

by keithsim | last updated - 16 Sep 2016

As usual I didn't make it to all the films that I wanted to see at TIFF (MOONLIGHT, BIRTH OF A NATION, SNOWDEN), either because of work, or scheduling, or the capricious intervention of the cruel festival gods. This is the best of what I saw, which is an admittedly small and limited list. It's also not a list of everything I saw in Toronto, which included some clunkers. I'm leaving them to their own fate. It also includes movies that were viewed elsewhere (like Cannes) but were placed against the TIFF titles. -- by Keith Simanton

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1. La La Land (I) (2016)

PG-13 | 128 min | Comedy, Drama, Music

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
93 Metascore

While navigating their careers in Los Angeles, a pianist and an actress fall in love while attempting to reconcile their aspirations for the future.

Director: Damien Chazelle | Stars: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt, J.K. Simmons

Votes: 321,876 | Gross: $151.10M

Dear "My Eventual #1 Movie of 2016": You are going to have a tough time dislodging this film. A tribute to passion, to love, to music, to dance, to musicals. Thank you Damien Chazelle and Gosling and Stone (dear Lord, Emma!).

2. A Monster Calls (2016)

PG-13 | 108 min | Drama, Fantasy

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
76 Metascore

A boy seeks the help of a tree monster to cope with his single mother's terminal illness.

Director: J.A. Bayona | Stars: Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell

Votes: 53,019 | Gross: $3.73M

J.A. Bayona's visually rich, timeless film is a deeply sad & enriching fairy tale. Great performances are anchored by newcomer Lewis MacDouglall, whose performs the tricky task of expressing his character's grief, sadness, and anger without turning the whole thing into a dirge. The drab world of the day is contrasted with the lush palette of the water-color images that appear when the tree is relaying a nighttime story.

3. Paterson (2016)

R | 118 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
90 Metascore

A quiet observation of the triumphs and defeats of daily life, along with the poetry evident in its smallest details.

Director: Jim Jarmusch | Stars: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Nellie, Rizwan Manji

Votes: 38,542 | Gross: $2.14M

Jim Jarmusch's best and most approachable film. About an hour in I began to silently chant to myself, "Don't become a movie. Don't become a movie." It never does. What a movie.

4. Manchester by the Sea (2016)

R | 137 min | Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
96 Metascore

A depressed uncle is asked to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy's father dies.

Director: Kenneth Lonergan | Stars: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges

Votes: 165,955 | Gross: $47.70M

A master-class in acting by Affleck and Williams (who should both be nominated and, right now, win). Lonergan manages to finagle some humor into the film as well so the sadness doesn't become interminable.

5. American Honey (2016)

R | 163 min | Adventure, Drama, Romance

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79 Metascore

A teenage girl with nothing to lose joins a traveling magazine sales crew, and gets caught up in a whirlwind of hard partying, law bending and young love as she criss-crosses the Midwest with a band of misfits.

Director: Andrea Arnold | Stars: Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough, McCaul Lombardi

Votes: 24,090 | Gross: $0.66M

This is a great American film that could stand to lose a couple of pounds. HONEY is a gorgeous, vibrant 1 hour 43 minute movie living inside a 2 hour 43 minute film. Writer and director Andrea Arnold can't seem to cut a note of the pricey songs she licensed and it diminishes the power of characters and the story. Lead actress Sasha Lane is one of the finds of the year and Shia LaBeouf has a remarkable turn as a hustler of women and magazines.

6. Lion (2016)

PG-13 | 118 min | Biography, Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
69 Metascore

A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia. 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.

Director: Garth Davis | Stars: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, Sunny Pawar

Votes: 139,903 | Gross: $51.69M

The first half of LION is perfect. It could have been a silent movie. Director Garth Davis can tell a cinematic story without flourishes and the performance he gets from child actor Sunny Pawar is up there with the best in film history: Truffaut, Spielberg, Laughton. The second half of the film is messier, like life. Dev Patel has turned into a fine leading man and Nicole Kidman proves, yet again, how special she is as an actress. People not wracked with emotion at the end are the people that also need to lay on flat rocks to absorb the noonday sun.

7. Arrival (II) (2016)

PG-13 | 116 min | Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi

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81 Metascore

When twelve mysterious spacecrafts appear around the world, linguistics professor Louise Banks is tasked with interpreting the language of the apparent alien visitors.

Director: Denis Villeneuve | Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg

Votes: 406,553 | Gross: $100.55M

Denis Villeneuve wears his sci-fi on his sleeve in this ultimately effective flick. There's a near-fatal CGI hair scene near the end but it's a surprise how much this alien film hits home. Adams Oscar nom #6? Very possible.

8. Sing (2016)

PG | 108 min | Animation, Comedy, Family

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59 Metascore

In a city of humanoid animals, a hustling theater impresario's attempt to save his theater with a singing competition becomes grander than he anticipates even as its finalists' find that their lives will never be the same.

Directors: Garth Jennings, Christophe Lourdelet | Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson

Votes: 86,047 | Gross: $270.33M

I am still bowled over by how much I loved SING. With the exception of the first DESPICABLE ME I've not found much to cherish coming from Illumination Entertainment (true, I've not seen SECRET LIFE OF PETS). Yet this film completely won me over with a surprising mixture of pop songs and animated antics. Written and directed by Garth Jennings (SON OF RAMBOW) it's my favorite animated movie of the year (just nudging out ZOOTOPIA).