The fall movie season continues to expand its offerings, and critics are diversifying their opinions. In early September, IndieWire’s Telluride Film Festival Critics Survey found consensus forming around Guillermo del Toro’s romantic fantasy “The Shape of Water” and Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age story “Lady Bird” as the best films of the festival. Now, another crowdpleaser is stepping into the spotlight.
“Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri” topped IndieWire’s annual TIFF Critics Survey as the best film of the Toronto International Film Festival, just one day after Martin Mcdonough’s black comedy won TIFF’s coveted People’s Choice Award, which is often used as a barometer for early awards season traction. The Fox Searchlight-produced film premiered in competition at the Venice International Film Festival prior to its TIFF screening, where it generated accolades for Frances McDormand’s foul-mouthed turn as a woman seeking justice for her daughter’s murder.
However, McDormand fell short of first place in the best performance category of the TIFF survey. That honor went to Sally Hawkins for her wordless performance in “The Shape of Water,” where she plays a janitor who falls in love with a mystical water creature. Del Toro also topped the best director category.
Critics continued to share the love in the best screenplay category, where Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” came in first. The best documentary category was topped by “Jane,” Brett Morgen’s portrait of Jane Goodall.
Thirty-six critics and journalists participated in this year’s survey, from outlets that included major trade publications, magazines and niche outlets. Despite the consensus forming in every category, there were many runner-ups, reflecting the range of possibilities in TIFF’s 255-film program.
Several other buzzy titles from the lineup tied for second place in the best film category: There was plenty of support for “The Shape of Water” and “Lady Bird,” in addition to Luca Guadagnino’s gay romance “Call Me By Your Name” and Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!”
In the performance category, critics also showed substantial support for Ethan Hawke as a conflicted priest in Paul Schrader’s “First Reformed,” and Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding in “I, Tonya.” Both movies landed distribution out of the festival, with “First Reformed” selling to A24 and “I, Tonya” selling to Neon.
Among the best documentaries, there was significant support for two veteran filmmakers: Frederick Wiseman, whose “Ex Libris: The New York Public Library” opened theatrically just a few days after its screenings in Venice and TIFF, in addition to “Faces/Places,” Agnes Varda’s personal meditation on creativity that she co-directed with photographer J.R.
Critics were also invited to share their thoughts on the overall festival experience this year.
“So many disappointing biopics!” wrote Vulture’s Jada Yuan. “Halfway through, I hadn’t seen anything I liked all that much, but if I look back on the balance, I saw I ton I loved.”
Some critics took issue with the organization of the festival.
“Still too big and crazily front-loaded, but great all the same,” wrote the Toronto Star’s Peter Howell. Film Quarterly’s B. Ruby Rich put it bluntly: “Press used to be able to watch films with the public at TIFF. Those days are over—but they shouldn’t be. It’s hurting the festival to keep us all holed up in the bowels of the hideous Scotiabank Theater day after day. Makes for grumpy reviews. A new system is needed.”
RogerEbert.com’s Brian Tallerico had a different spin on it. “The films were strong,” he wrote. “That’s what really matters.”