The Best Of TIFF

The Handmaiden (

A couple hundred films and 10 days later, the Toronto International Film Festival came to an exhaustive and exhausting ending. Only 340 more days until the next fest.

As it’s such a huge festival that caters to fans, industry people, indie filmgoers and celebrity seekers alike, much can fall through the cracks. The experience is whatever you want to make of it, but even as you try your hardest, it’s probably never enough.

At least the big names—The Magnificent SevenManchester by the Sea, and many more—will be coming out in the weeks and months ahead of Oscar season (or are already out), but there are plenty that may not be easily, readily available for consumption. What’s more, even those films that already have a distributor and will indeed be making their way to North American theatres, may not do so until the new year or even as late as the fall of 2017.

Thus, it’s important to keep track of the good stuff that’s coming down the pipeline. Here’s what to seek out and make sure you don’t miss.

Lady MacBeth – William Oldroyd

Forced into a marriage, young Katherine, ever sarcastic and clever, isn’t particularly thrilled about her new arrangement. She can’t quite help but raise eyebrows and make dry comments when the men around her don’t enjoy her behaviour, and by ‘behaviour,’ we of course mean not doing what she is told are her wifely duties.

So when her husband takes off on a trip, she creates chaos back home, starting with a torrid love affair. Wild-and-entertaining soon turns morbid-and-troubling, though, and this expertly-executed story heads for darkness. It’s not entirely certain Katherine knows what she is doing, but she sure knows what she doesn’t want to do, and the results are riveting.

The Handmaiden – Chan-wook Park

The masterful director from South Korea returns with a tale of mystery, thrills, and eroticism that blends together beautifully. Set in 1930s Korea, a plan by a con artist and his young protege to steal a fortune from a wealthy widow sets up a film that plays with genre, perspective, and even language. Lady Hideko, who has perhaps lost her mind, or at least her energy in life, lives in a mansion with her oppressive uncle. Sook-Hee, under the direction of her own controlling man, is sent to work as Hideko’s handmaiden in order to gain her trust and obtain her fortune.

This epic from Chan-wook Park, told primarily in Korean but also Japanese (for which there are thematic reasons), is instantly and always spellbinding. Humour and horror seem to exist simultaneously, as does sensuality and anxiety. It jumps in time and tone but always with control, telling a comprehensive story about sexuality, female empowerment, and power struggle.

The Bad Batch – Ana Lily Amirpour

Following up her acclaimed debut feature, Ani Lily Amirpour’s second feature is expansive, stunning, and full of meaning. It also has a lot of uncomfortable situations. That’s because in this dystopian (near) future, our setting is a Texas that has become a vast, unsupervised prison where the U.S. government has sent all its ne’er do wells: basically anyone the government doesn’t like for whatever reason (allegory!).

Among them is Arlen (Suki Waterhouse), a determined and curious teen who right off the bat endures the harsh, brutal, bloodthirsty environment. It’s a painful watch. Her journey finds her coming across a young girl and later the guardian who is desperately seeking her, along with other oddballs and weirdos and strange societies that have sprung up in this lawless world. The result is unnerving but hypnotic, a movie that moves at a sure pace, continually subverting genre, expectations, and challenging the viewer to look at all that inhabits this world.

Colossal – Nacho Vigalondo

The less you know, the better. So with that in mind, I will offer only the briefest of descriptions for something that you should definitely see — but without watching any trailer, looking at any photos, reading any reviews, or really knowing anything. That’s because you want this film to take you as far as it can with its story that blends humour, sadness, personal triumph, morbidity, and serious drama. It’s also a bit ridiculous.

Basically, Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is burning out in the big city, probably drinking too much while also not having the best of boyfriends. She heads back to her small hometown where she runs into an old friend (Jason Sudeikis), but her demons still follow her…sort of. In her attempt to rejuvenate herself, she strangely can’t shake some serious news that is taking place across the world, consumed and bothered by the rampant death and destruction that the entire world is talking about: Seoul, South Korea is being attacked by a giant monster.

Moonlight – Barry Jenkins

An emotional, personal tale told in three parts, Moonlight is a stirring masterwork by Barry Jenkins about growing up poor, black, and uncertain about who you are. This staggering portrait of a life triumphs because of its tender storytelling and revealing intimate moments.

We first meet Chiron as an elementary school student. He lives in an area of Miami affected by drugs and poverty with his mother, a struggling, prideful woman whose substance abuse mars her ability to properly take care of her son. We witness moments as a child that will define Chiron later on and we meet him twice more: once as a teenager during another pivotal incident, and again as an adult. Throughout, it’s a deeply personal, powerful story of a young man who is told to deny his feelings and taught that he has few opportunities in life because of who he is and where he’s from. The three actors that play Chiron are incredible, and despite the hardship and despair, there is always hope.

Anthony Marcusa
Anthony Marcusa is a Toronto-based freelance journalist whose writing dabbles in film, TV, music, sports, and relationships – though not necessarily in that order. He’s simultaneously youthfully idealistic and curmudgeonly cynical. But he’s always curious.