Toronto International Film Festival offers promising slate of fall films

An arts journalism grad student returns from the Toronto International Film Festival with his pick of the festival’s most exciting movies

This year, Syracuse University graduate students from the Goldring Arts Journalism program traveled from Syracuse to Toronto to attend the 42nd annual Toronto International Film Festival. Here is a roundup of some of the notable movies that one student saw:

I, Tonya:

One of the most anticipated films to debut at TIFF this year was I, Tonya, which tells the story of Tonya Harding’s short and controversial career as a professional figure skater. The story of Harding’s very public downfall, which took place on the cusp of our modern celebrity culture, is as relevant in 2017 as it was in 1994. That message, as well as Allison Janney’s remarkable performance as Harding’s overbearing mother, will likely put I, Tonya on a number of shortlists come awards season.


The festival’s biggest surprise may be Bodied, the movie about battle rap produced by Eminem. Set in the world of underground contests in which rappers use their words as weapons, Bodied is an aggressive and energetic film that uses its niche setting to explore everything from language and race to class relations and free speech. Featuring clever production and plenty of humor, Bodied has yet to be picked up by a distributor. But, it will likely find a die-hard following when it is eventually released in theaters.

Lady Bird:

Starring Saoirse Ronan and written and directed by first-timer Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird is a coming-of-age story about a rebellious young woman’s senior year of high school. Gerwig, better known for starring in many of Noah Baumbach’s mumblecore movies, turns in a strong, auteur effort featuring closely observed characters and scenes inspired by her own Northern California upbringing. Lady Bird is sure to be an instant indie darling when it hits theaters in November.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer:

The latest film from The Lobster director Yorgos Lanthimos, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a Kubrickian exploration of guilt and familial obligation by way of The Exorcist. Starring Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, and newcomer Barry Keoghan, the film tells the story of a cardiologist whose family is cursed to suffer for his sins. While far from uplifting, The Killing of a Sacred Deer featured some of the most confident filmmaking and performances on display at TIFF. It will have a limited release in late October.


Stronger tells the story of Jeff Bauman, who was made famous by a picture taken of him being wheeled away from the scene of the Boston Marathon bombing. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal as Bauman and Tatiana Maslany as the woman who loved him, Stronger follows the typical arc of most biopics. However, Gyllenhaal’s pained performance as a man grappling with both disability and unwanted fame helps raise it above the cliches. Look for Stronger in theaters later this week.

The Ritual:

TIFF’s legendary Midnight Madness featured a couple of interesting genre pictures, including The Ritual, a U.K.-produced take on The Descent crossed with The Blair Witch Project. Four friends on an ill-advised hiking trip through some haunted Swedish woods find themselves facing threats from outside as well as their past in this competently-made horror thriller. The movie is rich on atmosphere and character but fails to stick the landing. Horror fans will have to travel to Europe to catch a screening, as The Ritual is currently without American distribution.

Mom and Dad:

The other notable Midnight Madness premiere was Mom and Dad, the movie that asks what it would look like if parents everywhere suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to murder their own children. Starring Selma Blair in a surprisingly emotional performance, Nicolas Cage and a host of untalented teenage actors, Mom and Dad promises more blood and guts than it ends up delivering. Outside of the few GIFs of Cage acting crazy which will certainly find their way around the internet, Mom and Dad is destined to reach theaters for a weekend before silently disappearing soon after.

Great Choice:

The sleeper hit of the festival might be Great Choice, which showed before Mom and Dad. Great Choice is a high-concept short film in the vein of Too Many Cooks. It follows a character played by Carrie Coon who slowly realizes that she is trapped inside an endlessly repeating ad for Red Lobster’s discount shrimp dinner. Things get violent and surreal quickly. The film is edited to mimic the experience of watching a VHS tape on rewind, complete with tracking noise and credits done in the style of a VCR menu. However, since legal action from Red Lobster appears to be pending, Great Choice might be destined to relish in obscurity.

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