The eight best films of TIFF 2016

From based-on-a-true-story tearjerkers to sci-fi thrillers, the TIFF flicks that delighted and dazzled critics


Starring: Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Janelle Monáe Director: Barry Jenkins What the critics said: “The best film at the Toronto International Film Festival this year is also the most delicate, such a calm yet precise piece of filmmaking that you’re barely prepared for its shimmering, quietly sensational ending” —Stephanie Zacharek, Time

Moonlight set the Internet ablaze weeks ahead of TIFF, so it was hardly surprising that it was one of the fest’s biggest breakout hits when it finally screened. An exploration of African-American masculinity in a Miami ghetto, it’s too complex to distill into a tidy sentence, but here’s what you need to know: it’s impossible to keep dry eyes as the lead character struggles with his identity and love for his friend.



Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner Director: Dennis Villeneuve What the critics said:Arrival boldly snubs the standard alien-invasion vernacular of contemporary movies to explore a mood and language of its own. It may be a touch too subdued for the mainstream, but the movie has brains and originality, qualities these days too seldom valued in the genre” —David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

Sci-fi fans finally have a film that’s both unrepentantly nerdy and hauntingly emotional—and with it, Adams may have a real shot at her first Oscar statuette. When aliens descend onto our planet, a linguist (Adams) and a theoretical physicist (Jeremy Renner) attempt to speak to the extraterrestrial guests, who want just as deeply to be understood.



Starring: Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman, Priyanka Bose Director: Garth Davis What the critics said: “It’s an earnest but not cloying film, one that seems wise about the world and its alternately grim and encouraging complexity. Oh, and the reveal of the significance of the film’s title arrives as a perfectly poignant little button at the end” —Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair


Few screenwriters could have convincingly imagined something as fantastical as Lion, the true tale of an adopted 20-something in Australia who found his biological family in India using Google Earth. Saroo Brierley’s life story is extraordinary—and extraordinarily compelling thanks to a stellar cast.


La La Land

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone Director: Damien Chazelle What the critics said: “Perhaps La La Land will lead to a genuine musical revival, with more stars and talented artisans committing to the Technicolor escapism of old. For now, though, the film is a testament to how wonderful musicals can be when they’re conceived directly for the screen” —Scott Tobias, GQ

La La Land is upbeat without being saccharine, which is why critics may have called it a musical for people who don’t like musicals. It’s also downright beautiful, with swinging jazz and a nostalgic, dreamlike sunset palette of blues, lilacs and warm pinks.


. Photograph courtesy of TIFF
Toni Erdmann

Starring: Peter Simonischek, Sandra Hüller Director: Maren Ade What the critics said: “…like all great humanist filmmaking, Toni Erdmann keeps an eye out for life at the edges, even when the lives in focus consume a whole lot of energy” —Guy Lodge, Variety

Toni Erdmann is a lovely paean to dad humour and the frustration we feel only at the people we love. It’s a fast-paced comedy about a retired prankster who pays a visit to his estranged, high-strung, management-exec daughter. Predictably, their personalities clash, but an undertone of self-awareness runs through this German flick and keeps the schtick at bay.


. Photograph courtesy of TIFF
Manchester by the Sea

Starring: Michelle Williams, Casey Affleck, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges Director: Kenneth Lonergan What the critics said: “Affleck is absolutely extraordinary… if he’s not around in every awards discussion in the spring, something will have gone terribly wrong” —Linda Holmes, NPR

Parenting your dead sibling’s child as your own is a bit of a Hollywood cliché, but Casey Affleck delivers a master performance in Manchester by the Sea. The film’s story pulls viewers’ heart strings without being too predictable, and critics had a soft spot for Affleck’s unlikely redemption arc.



. Photograph courtesy of TIFF

Starring: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt Director: Pablo Larrain What the critics said: “Portman is altogether astonishing in the role… [she] thoroughly nails Kennedy’s breathy and docile-sounding voice, without letting the affectations get the better of her. Her accent doesn’t define her portrayal—it infuses it with a tenacious vitality” —Nigel M. Smith, The Guardian

Natalie Portman is great in virtually everything she does—though that’s not to say that playing Jackie Kennedy in the aftermath of JFK’s assassination was easy. She channels the former first lady’s demeanour with stunning aplomb, and her presence is elevated by the natural, grounded performances by her castmates.


A Monster Calls

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, Lewis MacDougall, Liam Neeson Director: J.A. Bayona What the critics said: “It’s heartbreaking and touching and beautiful. And yet…it’s a whole movie about a sad kid whose adorable, understanding, supportive mother is slowly, inexorably succumbing to cancer” —Vince Mancini, Yahoo Movies


Sometimes you just need a movie that will make you cry, and A Monster Calls fits the bill beautifully. Newcomer Lewis MacDougall gives a precocious performance as a lonely young boy struggling with the imminent death of his ill mother; he copes by befriending a giant monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) who visits him every night to tell stories.


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Where the stars ate during TIFF 2016
TIFF 2016 red-carpet lessons: Use a tailor, make sure you're comfortable and always photograph your outfit

TIFF 2016 red-carpet lessons: Use a tailor, make sure you’re comfortable and always photograph your outfit