Our 20 Must-See Films of TIFF 2017

The 2017 Toronto International Film Festival is almost upon us, and as always, there are way too many good-looking films.  Almost every year, our favorite film of the year ends up being something with saw at TIFF, and 2017 looks like it will continue this trends.  While we at Collider be seeing more than just these movies, and hopefully there will be some fun surprises that come along and blow us away, these are the 20 movies currently on our radar that we’re carving out time to see at this year’s festival.

The 2017 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 7 – 17th.

[Note: This list was put together before Roman J. Israel, Esq was announced for the fest, so count that as #21]

mother!

Director/Writer: Darren Aronofsky

Cast: Jennifer Lawerence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson, and Kristen Wiig

I’m a pretty die-hard Darren Aronofsky fan, and while it’s only been a few years since his last feature, it looks like he’s lost none of his bite with his latest feature, mother! The movie is sending out a heavy Rosemary’s Baby vibe in its marketing, but they’re also going to great lengths to keep the plot details under wraps. I’m not exactly sure what kind of movie this is going to be beyond psychological-horror-that-gives-me-nightmares. But as we’ve seen from Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan, Aronofsky never pulls his punches, and so I expect mother! to be thoroughly disturbing. – Matt Goldberg

Molly’s Game

Director/Writer: Aaron Sorkin

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Chris O’Dowd, and Bil Camp

As a massive Aaron Sorkin fan (The West Wing 4eva), I’m always looking forward to anything he’s doing, but Molly’s Game is unique in that it marks the Oscar-winning screenwriter’s directorial debut. It’s based on the true story of Molly Bloom, and Olympic-class athlete who for years ran a high-stakes poker game before coming under investigation by the FBI. Jessica Chastain stars as Bloom in what’s sure to be a showstopping role, and that crackerjack Sorkin dialogue is prevalent throughout the film’s debut trailer. But I’m incredibly curious to see Sorkin’s take on this story, which deals with themes ranging from feminism to criminality. – Adam Chitwood

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Director/Writer: Martin McDonagh

Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, and Peter Dinklage

I like Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges as much as everyone else, but I also dig his follow-up, Seven Psychopaths. He makes movies that are dark, twisted, and funny, but also have a surprising emotional undercurrent running through them. Three Billboards looks to continue that trend as McDormand plays a mother who goes to war against the police department after they fail to make an arrest in the case of her daughter’s murder. It’s heavy subject matter, but the trailer makes it look like it’s firmly in McDonagh’s wheelhouse of going between darkness and biting comedy. – Matt Goldberg

The Florida Project

Director: Sean Baker

Writers: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch

Cast: Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, and Valeria Cotto

Filmmaker Sean Baker burst onto the scene with the hilarious, heartfelt, and surprising indie comedy Tangerine, so his follow-up feature was going to be highly anticipated regardless. But The Florida Project is coasting off of intense buzz from its debut at Cannes and I can’t wait to get a look at the film myself. The drama is set against the backdrop of Orlando, Florida, following the exploits of a young girl and her mother who live week-to-week at a budget motel in the shadow of Disney World. Willem Dafoe plays the motel manager, and the trailer promises an emotional, hard-hitting family-centric drama with themes that speak to the world we live in today. I’ll have my tissues handy. – Adam Chitwood

Darkest Hour

Director: Joe Wright

Writer: Anthony McCarten

Cast: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup, and Ben Mendelsohn

Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill is pretty much all you need to know to get you excited for Darkest Hour, but that the film is directed by Hanna and Anna Karenina helmer Joe Wright makes it all the more enticing. The historical drama is also timely, as it takes place in the early days of World War II and chronicles Churchill’s fight to convince the people of England to stand up against Nazi Germany rather than negotiating a peace treaty. We know how this one worked out, but I’m curious to see how Wright frames the events and, of course, Oldman’s transformation into a larger than life historical figure. – Adam Chitwood

The Shape of Water

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Writers: Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor

Cast: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Doug Jones, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Michael Shannon

The film has already received rave reviews out of the Venice Film Festival, and it looks like del Toro could finally be back in the Oscar race after his 2006 film, Pan’s Labyrinth, was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. Whether it gets any awards love or not, the story of a mute woman falling in love with a merman is so del Toro it would almost reach the point of self-parody if not for his overwhelming earnestness. Guillermo del Toro doesn’t do irony; he only does his pure, unabashed love for creatures, and I can’t wait to see his latest love letter. – Matt Goldberg

Downsizing

Director: Alexander Payne

Writers: Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor

Cast: Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Laura Dern, Jason Sudeikis, and Neil Patrick Harris

Alexander Payne has never really tackled sci-fi before, but it looks like he’s going there with his latest film, which takes place in a world where people have found a way to miniaturize themselves in order to simplify their lives. Although that may sound like a quick dig at the “tiny house” movement, I expect Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor will be able to take it much further than that, especially when they’ve got a top-notch cast at their disposal. Downsizing has a cute idea at its center, but I expect, like his other movies, that’s really just an entry point for a deeper, more complicated story. – Matt Goldberg

The Current War

Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Writer: Michael Mitnick

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, Katherine Waterston, Nicholas Hoult, Tom Holland, Tuppence Middleton, and Matthew Macfadyen

Described as being in the vein of The Social Network, the long-in-the-works historical drama The Current War aims to chronicle the battle for electricity supremacy between Thomas Edison (Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Shannon). On top of that, visually dynamic Me and Earl and the Dying Girl director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon is behind the camera, and the ensemble is packed with A-list talent. Could The Weinstein Company finally be back in the Oscar race? – Adam Chitwood

Bodied

Director: Joseph Kahn

Writers: Joseph Kahn and Alex Larsen

Cast: Anthony Michael Hall, Calum Worthy, and Debra Wilson

Joseph Kahn makes movies that are ridiculous, fun, and ridiculously fun. Torque is one of the best bad films of all time, and Detention gifted the world with Timebear. Now he’s back with Bodied, a movie that that has something to do with rap battles, but I get the feeling that’s really only scratching the surface. While producer Eminem may be the big name draw for the marketing, I’m interested because of Kahn and because it’s the opener for the Midnight Madness program, so it should be delightfully insane. – Matt Goldberg

Suburbicon

Director: George Clooney

Writers: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, George Clooney, and Grant Heslov

Cast: Matt Damon, Oscar Isaac, Julianne Moore

As a director, George Clooney is a bit hit and miss, but he seems to be back with a vengeance in Suburbicon. Armed with a long-developed Coen Brothers script and Matt Damon as his lead actor, Clooney takes on the dark comedy genre with a 1950s-set story of murder, lies, and life in the suburbs. The trailer was hilarious, the cast is aces, and I can’t wait to see what surprises are in store. – Adam Chitwood

I, Tonya

Director: Craig Gillespie

Writer: Steven Rogers

Cast: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Mckenna Grace, and Allison Janney

It’s going to be tough to top the 30 for 30 documentary The Price of Gold, but the story has so much dramatic heft that I’m eager to see what Gillespie does with it. While the narrative that quickly took shape was that Harding was the white trash who kneecapped a competitor she thought she couldn’t beat, the truth is likely more complicated and sad, and I’m interesting to see how I, Tonya will approach Harding’s story. Presumably, it will approach her as a tragic figure, but hopefully there’s some depth and shading there. I’m also interested to see how Robbie, whose star has taken off in the last five years, takes on the figure of Harding. – Matt Goldberg

Hostiles

Director: Scott Cooper

Writers: Scott Cooper, Donald Stewart

Cast: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Q’orianka Kilcher, Adam Beach, Ben Foster, Jesse Plemons, Scott Lang, and Timothee Chalamet

Christian Bale in a Western? Sign me up. The actor reunites with his Out of the Furnace director Scott Cooper for Hostiles, which takes place in 1892 and finds a legendary Army captain (Bale) reluctantly agreeing to escort a Cheyenne chief and his family through dangerous territory. Cooper has a knack for gritty stories, and I’m extremely curious to see what he does with the Western genre here. – Adam Chitwood

Battle of the Sexes

Directors: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris

Writer: Simon Beaufoy

Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Elisabeth Shue, Bill Pullman, Andrea Riseborough, and Alan Cumming.

Dayton and Faris make movies that have a lot heart, but as they showed with Ruby Sparks, they’re not ignorant of gender issues, which look like they’re at the core of Battle of the Sexes. Based on the real-life bet between Billie Jean King (Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Carell), the film looks like it has a lot more on its mind than just a tennis match, and I’m eager to see how it’s handle. Carell looks like he’s perfectly cast as the chauvinistic Riggs with the actor bringing the full force of his charisma to make the character likable while I wouldn’t be surprised to see Stone notch another Oscar nomination. – Matt Goldberg

Lean on Pete

Director/Writer: Andrew Haigh

Cast: Charlie Plummer, Travis Fimmel, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Zahn, Steve Buscemi, Amy Seimetz, Thomas Mann

Filmmaker Andrew Haigh has a way of crafting emotionally devastating stories in stunningly realistic fashion, and coming off the terrific 45 Years, I’m excited to see him tackle a story of a different sort. Lean on Pete is a coming of age drama about a 15-year-old boy with an unstable home life who takes a summer job working with a horse trainer. That premise in the wrong hands could be incredibly clichéd, but Haigh’s work on 45 Years, Weekend, and the HBO series Looking promises an intimate and emotionally truthful tale. – Adam Chitwood

Mary Shelley

Director: Haifaa Al-Mansour

Writers: Emma Jensen and Haifaa Al-Mansour

Cast: Elle Fanning, Maisie Williams, Stephen Dillane, Bel Powley, Joanne Froggatt, and Douglas Booth

Mary Shelley went ahead and pretty much shaped a genre with Frankenstein, but I’m eager to see a biopic of her relationship with Percy Shelley through the eyes of Wadja helmer Haifaa Al-Mansour. Wadja is a pretty remarkable film, and I’m eager to see Al-Mansour work on an even bigger canvas and tackles a biopic of one of the most influential authors of all-time, especially when you’ve got Elle Fanning in the lead role. Biopics can sometimes be a little dry and obvious, but I think Al-Mansour will have an interesting read on her subject. – Matt Goldberg

Professor Marston & the Wonder Women

Director/Writer: Angela Robinson

Cast: Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote, Connie Britton

We spend so much time nowadays talking about superhero movies, but sometimes the story behind the source material is even more compelling. Professor Marston & the Wonder Women tells the true story of Wonder Woman creator Luke Evans, who was inspired to create the comic by his polyamorous relationship with his wife and his mistress. It’s a surprising and compelling story, and one that I’m eager to see told on the big screen. – Adam Chitwood

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Writers: Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou

Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Bill Camp, and Alicia Silverstone

I was not a fan of Lanthimos’ Dogtooth or Alps, but The Lobster blew me away, and I know that when I go into one of his films, love it or hate it, I’m going to get something completely unexpected. He’s making films that are completely unlike anything else out there today, and armed with actors like Farrell and Kidman, and I’m eager to see what kind of twisted tale he’s got prepared. The movie already received rave reviews out of Cannes, so hopefully it will be more on the side of The Lobster than Alps. – Matt Goldberg

The Disaster Artist

Director: James Franco

Writers: Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber

Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Zoey Deutch, Alison Brie, Zac Efron, Seth Rogen, Adam Scott, Sharon Stone, Kelly Oxford, Josh Hutcherson, and Eliza Coupe

James Franco makes so many movies these days that you’re forgiven for not having seen them all, but The Disaster Artist is a can’t-miss. The film tells the true story behind the making of one of the worst movies of all time, The Room, with Franco filling the role of The Room writer/director/star/producer Tommy Wiseau. I’m just as excited to see how this film got made as I am to see Franco and this incredible cast have fun with this crazy story. – Adam Chitwood

Brawl in Cell Block 99

Director/Writer: S. Craig Zahler

Cast: Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Udo Kier, and Don Johnson

When your previous movie features a guy getting ripped in half longways, you’ve pretty much guaranteed I’m going to see what you do next. Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk was a rich, gruesome western, and now he’s back with a prison thriller that finds Vaughn’s character brawling for his life. I’m glad that Vaughn is starting to take on more interesting characters, and I trust that Zahler has a vision here to make Brawl a compelling feature. I don’t know if he’ll be able to top treating a guy like a wishbone at Thanksgiving, but I expect some bonkers violence to go down. – Matt Goldberg

The Death of Stalin

Director: Armando Iannucci

Writers: Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin

Cast: Richard Brake, Jason Isaacs, Olga Kurylenko, Jeffrey Tambor, Andrea Riseborough, Rupert Friend, Paddy Considine, Steve Buscemi

It was a sad day when Veep creator Armando Iannucci left the HBO comedy series, but now we get to see what he left to go do. The Death of Stalin is the new film from the In the Loop filmmaker, and the farce chronicles the final days of the titular dictator and the chaos that erupts after his death. The cast is terrific, and as seen in the trailer, Iannucci is letting everyone keep their native accents so as to keep the comedy free flowing. It looks absolutely ridiculous and I can’t wait to see it. – Adam Chitwood

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