Another Toronto International Film Festival has come and gone, bringing with it a wealth of great movies and a few weirdly disappointing ones too. This usually sets the stage for the remainder of the year in film – the movies that generated buzz at TIFF will likely go on to be talked about ad nauseam come Oscar season. TIFF itself gives out awards as well, and the big winner was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which took home the Grolsch People’s Choice Award.

I didn’t see it. Sorry!

But I did travel to TIFF and take in a slew of memorable films, which I will now present special awards to for the sake of wrapping-up the fest. Some spoilers follow.

The Florida Project Review

Best of the Fest

Let’s get the good stuff out of the way first. There were several truly magnificent films at TIFF, but in my humble opinion, the best film was Sean Baker’s The Florida Project, which I declared to be “achingly beautiful and heartbreaking” in my review. Baker, the director of the iPhone-shot Tangerine, has a remarkable eye, and The Florida Project is his best film to date. Low on plot but big on emotion, it’s the film that lingered with me the most as I made my way through the fest.

Runners-up include Guillermo del Toro’s gorgeous romance The Shape of Water, about a woman who falls in love with a fish man; Luca Guadagnino’s lush, beautiful Call Me By Your Name,  about a young man who falls in love with Armie Hammer; and Armando Iannucci hilarious The Death of Stalin, about a group of men who fall in love with seizing power.

professor marston

Biggest Surprise

The biggest surprise for me at TIFF was Angela Robinson’s Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. I had expected standard biopic fare here; instead, I got a charming, sweet, funny, and sexy story about the polyamorous trio who created Wonder Woman. Rebecca Hall, one of the most underrated actresses working today, gives a knockout performance that deserves to be on the lips of every award season pundit, but will likely be ignored. Don’t sleep on this movie when it hits theaters October 13.

suburbicon tiff

Most Disappointing Film

There were two specific films that had the distinct “honor” of being shockingly disappointing this year. The first was George Clooney’s lifeless Suburbicon, which sold itself as being a dark Coen Brothers comedy but is actually just a piece of shit. Almost nothing works in this film, save for Oscar Isaac, who shows up late and steals every scene he’s in. I gave it a 5 out of 10 in my review, but every day that’s gone by since makes me realize I was being overly generous. Avoid this turkey like the plague.

The other disappointment: Dan Gilroy’s sophomore effort, the terribly titled Roman J. Israel, Esq. Gilroy made his directorial debut with the excellent Nightcrawler, so I was hyped to see his new flick. Sadly, it’s a mess. Denzel Washington does pretty good work here, playing a principled lawyer who quite possibly has Asperger syndrome, but everything else here is somehow simultaneously overblown and undercooked. What a let down.  

current war tiff

Movie That’s Not As Bad As You’ve Heard But Also Not That Good

The fellow critics I talked to at TIFF seemed to downright loathe Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s The Current War, about the battle for electrical dominance between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse. I’m not going to sit here and tell you The Current War is a good movie, but it’s not an abomination either. Sure, it’s a clear Oscar grab of a film, but it’s entertaining enough, and has enough style to spare. Plus, Michael Shannon sports some killer facial hair.

mother! harris!

Best Movie Where Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris Have Sex And Make Jennifer Lawrence Uncomfortable

It was kind of weird that Darren Aronofsky’s mother! played at TIFF at all, since the film hit theaters less than week after its festival debut. But it did! And everyone left the theater asking, “What the hell was that?” Love it or hate it (I’m somewhere in the middle), mother! deserves credit for being so committed to being so crazy. Also there’s a pretty great scene where Jennifer Lawrence walks in on Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris having some really passionate, angry sex, and the confused, disturbed face Lawrence makes had me in stitches.

the shape of water

Best Sex Scene With A Gill-man

You might have thought The Death of Stalin would take home this honor, but no, Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water earns this distinction. Yes, there is a sex scene in this movie with a Creature From the Black Lagoon-like character. What makes it work so well is the earnestness with which del Toro treats the moment.

i, tonya

Most Needle Drops

The honor for most needle drops in a single film goes to I, Tonya, which is so loaded with songs that it would make even Martin Scorsese say “Take it down a notch.” In the film’s defense, they mostly all work – it’s not like Suicide Squad, where Sympathy for the Devil starts playing when a devilish character is introduced or some such nonsense.  

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