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TIFF 2017: 20 Films We Can’t Wait to See, From ‘mother!’ to ‘The Shape of Water’ and Many More

Plus: A Midnight Madness opener of a unexpected stripe, incendiary new documentaries, and big names back on the festival circuit.

The Toronto International Film Festival kicks off this week, and with it, the rest of a very busy fall festival season. In preparation for the lauded festival, we’ve hand-picked 20 films we can’t wait to see, from the starriest of premieres to the most unexpected of offerings. Check them out below.

“mother!”

“mother!”

Darren Aronofsky has veered off in many unpredictable directions over the years, but at his core, he’s a master at subverting the horror/thriller genres: From “Pi” to “Black Swan,” the filmmaker excels at taking his stories in creepy, unpredictable directions in which it’s hard to tell how much we can believe onscreen — and whether his characters have lost their minds. That mode certainly seems to be in play for “mother!”, which appears to be a “Rosemary’s Baby”-like tale of a married couple (Jennifer Laurence and Javier Bardem) whose home is infiltrated by a devious group seemingly intent on destroying their stable lives. The trailer looks like a pretty straightforward genre exercise, but again — nothing is straightforward about Aronofsky’s movies, so it’s safe to assume absolutely nothing about “mother!” except that it will be worthy of the hype. -Eric Kohn

“I, Tonya”

“I, Tonya”

Margot Robbie isn’t resting on her laurels — or her “Suicide Squad”-earned superheroine bonafides, turning her talents both behind and in front of the camera for Craig Gillespie’s new look at the wild fairy tale of disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding, which she both stars in and produces. The film promises an even-handed, insightful look into the rise and fall of the talented athlete, one who could just never quite hit the next level, not because of her skills, but because of her low-class background (rumor has it that Allison Janney, who plays Harding’s overbearing mother, is the film’s big performance and big bad). Sebastian Stan co-stars as her boyfriend Jeff Gillooly, with whom she hatched the idiotic plan to literally kneecap competitor Nancy Kerrigan in her quest for gold. Whyyy? Why?! -Kate Erbland

“Unicorn Store”

"Unicorn Store"

“Unicorn Store”

TIFF

Best Actress winner Brie Larson already has a pair of shorts under her directorial belt, but her TIFF premiere marks her first foray into feature filmmaking. The “Room” star also toplines the film as Kit, a big-dreaming artist who discovers that the real world isn’t interested in either her happy, candy-colored art or her whimsical spirit. Settling into the everyday grind in pursuit of “growing up” and “being an adult,” Kit is unexpectedly presented with an unbelievable offering: a unicorn. Promised the mythical beast, Kit sets about preparing for the arrival of the long-wished-for pet, an adventure that pushes her to come to terms with who she really wants to be, even if the world doesn’t get it. Snapping with dry humor and a charming spirit, it’s an exciting debut that shows off Larson’s own heart and art in remarkable style. -KE

“One of Us”

“Jesus Camp” and “Detropia” documentarian duo Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady return to familiar territory in their Netflix original, going inside an insular community to illuminate without judgement. Filmed over the course of three years, the film follows a trio of Hasidic Jews, all struggling to break away from the only world they’ve ever known. From actor Luzer, still reeling from the effects of leaving the fold nearly a decade earlier, to teenager Ari, haunted by years of abuse, the film turns a sensitive eye on its subjects and their struggles. But its housewife Etty, a mother of seven who initially seeks to leave her violent husband before discovering the shocking fallout of her choice, that will likely set audiences alight. -KE

“Bodied”

“Bodied”

The opening entry for TIFF’s Midnight Madness section isn’t your typical late-night genre experience, but you’d never expect that from Joseph Kahn. The “Torque” and “Detention” director has already delivered two amusing genre-bending features, but he’s best known for a string of music videos (and most recently directed one for Taylor Swift). “Bodied” combines those two skills: The Eminem-produced satire about battle rap promises a wacky look at the experiences of a white Toronto rapper who attempts to work his way into the underground rap scene with hilarious results. Written by Toronto-based Alex Larsen, the movie promises a timely look at racial problems paired with magisterial beats almost certainly to make this crowdpleaser kick off the midnightscene with a bang. -EK

“The Death of Stalin”

“The Death of Stalin”

NICOLA DOVE

Armando Iannucci is the great chronicler of governmental dysfunction, with his satiric abilities stretching across two TV series (the British “The Thick of It” and “Veep”) in addition to one Oscar-nominated D.C. spoof (“In the Loop”). Ianucci excels at writing vulgar dialogue and scathing banter shared by awful people responsible for running the countries they represent into the ground. “Death of Stalin” follows that pattern while upping Ianucci’s filmmaking ambition — it’s basically “Veep” in the Soviet Union, with a bunch of top-ranking ministers vying (and scheming) to inherit the late dictator’s role. With a hilarious cast topped by Jeffrey Tambor and Steve Buscemi, this zany look at back-stabbing Stalinists is a welcome opportunity for Ianucci’s universe of bureaucratic failings to grow. -EK

“Darkest Hour”

UK director Joe Wright has never taken it easy, not with his revamp of Jane Austen’s classic romance “Pride and Prejudice” or Ian McEwan’s World War II epic “Atonement” or his unexpected take on Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina,” all starring Keira Knightley. Wright is always off-kilter, surprising, energetic — and visually arresting. He’s never conventional. So why the buzz on Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, a story we think we have seen before? “Darkest Hour” is not doddering Prime Minister Churchill hanging onto power by his fingernails, but somewhat younger Churchill, who takes on the Nazi threat, knowing the fate of the western world is at stake. This movie may remind us of what Nazi means when we need reminding. -Anne Thompson

“Suburbicon”

“Suburbicon”

Paramount Pictures

Since his directing debut “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” George Clooney has delivered one Oscar-winner (“Good Night, and Good Luck”) and five off-beat Hollywood genre valentines that haven’t quite connected. But his latest feature, “Suburbicon,” provides reason for hope: for one thing, it’s based on an ’80s Coen brothers screenplay (rewritten by Clooney and his long-time writing and producing partner Grant Heslov) and it’s a dark James Cain “Double Indemnity” story starring Clooney’s “Oceans” co-star Matt Damon as a hapless miscreant — no one plays dumb and funny better — and an adept cast of smart comedy actors, including Julianne Moore as his wife and Oscar Isaac as the suspicious insurance man hounding them. Clooney knows how to do Coen brothers funny, from “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” to “Hail, Caesar,” and may deliver the goods this time. -AT

“Zama”

Lucrecia Martel is one of the most exciting and unique filmmakers working today, but because her output has been so infrequent — “Zama” is her first narrative feature in nine years — she is often left out of the conversation of great international auteurs. Based on Antonio Di Benedetto’s 1956 novel, “Zama” brings us to 18th-century South America, where Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) is stationed in Paraguay away from his wife and children. Tired of waiting to be transferred by the Spanish Crown, he grows frustrated and increasingly violent in his colonial surroundings. The film’s trailer hints that film will be a dark satire, lush period film and a complex character study of Zama’s paranoia-fueled descent, all mixed up into one, which is what is to be expected of the Argentinian director who has perfected walking a tightrope in terms of tone and genre in her not-always-easy to categorize body of work. Martel’s films always have something insightful and  serious to say about society, but as Barry Jenkins has noted, in his appreciation of her work, the metaphor and message is never forced in her humorous and dramatically engaging films. -Chris O’Falt

“Thelma”

Thelma

“Thelma”

The Orchard

Coming off his first English language film (“Louder Than Bombs”), director Joachim Trier returns to Europe to do what he does best — studying the complex emotional lives of young Norwegians stumbling to find the footing as they step out of their cocoons (“Reprise” and “Oslo, August 31st). “Thelma” brings an ambiguous genre element into play in a film that TIFF programmer Steve Gravestock compares favorably to both De Palma’s “Carrie” and Dreyer’s “Day of Wrath.” The cerebral and austere film captures the transition of Thelma (Eili Harboe) from living with religious, overly-protective parents to the liberated life of being a college student in Oslo. As Thelma slowly opens herself up to new experiences, specifically romantic feelings for new friend Anja (Okay Kaya), she starts to break into seizure-like tremors that can have a powerful and dangerous effect on the world around her. Early word is the film is dramatically engaging, while its mysterious supernatural element keeps the audience continually guessing about where the film is headed as it builds toward third act surprises. -CO

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