Toronto 2017: Three Billboards wins People’s Choice Award

As the 2017 Toronto Film Festival closes, we take a look at our top picks from the festival. Despite already premiering in Venice, Darren Aronofsky’s unhinged Mother! created the most buzz on the ground, garnering rave reviews from festival-goers and critics alike.

Sadly, that hasn’t translated to box office success, with the film flopping at the US box office this week. The big hitters of the festival – Molly’s Game, Borg vs. McEnroe – impressed too, with Aaron Sorkin on top form directing Jessica Chastain in the former, and Shia LaBeouf in the role he was born to play as short-tempered tennis star John McEnroe.

This year saw an increase in the number of female filmmakers, with a third of the films at the festival directed by women. Many of these were directorial debuts, such as Brie Larson’s Unicorn Store, a warm and very funny portrayal of late-twenties millennial angst. Unicorn Store also starred Larson, and is proof if any were needed of her serious comic chops. Along similar lines, Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut Lady Bird was a wonderful ode to late adolescence, up there with the best high school movies. Lead Saoirse Ronan shines as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson in a film that is as much a tribute to early 2000s teen cinema as it is to the painful transition of late adolescence into adulthood.

Along more serious lines, Dee Rees’ superb Mudbound dealt with racism in the post-Second World War era. I Am Not a Witch and Princesita, also directed and fronted by women, both dealt with extremes of female oppression. The former was a fictional but all-too-believable account of witchcraft accusations in Zambia, the latter the true story of a teenage girl trapped in a Chilean cult who exacts her revenge on the men who abused her. Away from the mainstream offerings, the Wavelengths strand offered some truly boundary-pushing pictures. Bruno Dumont’s Jeanette, the Childhood of Joan of Arc was a wonderfully bizarre mixture of historical drama and modern musical, and Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor’s documentary Caniba was a profoundly disturbing look into the mind of Japan’s most notorious cannibal, Issei Sagawa.

For gothic chills, you could do much worse than Marrowbone and The Lodgers, both well-constructed, family-based ghost stories with lashings of atmosphere and fantastic period settings. But it was Simon Lavoie’s The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches, presented at the Contemporary World Cinema strand, that really showed the others how it was done. A French-language gothic drama set in rural Quebec, Lavoie’s film recalled Iain Banks’ The Wasp Factory as well as the cinema of Carl Theodor Dreyer in its dark examination of grief, abuse and retribution.

At the always-popular Midnight Madness strand, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s arch tribute to the spaghetti western Let the Corpses Tan was a dizzying exercise in extreme style and non-linear storytelling. Brian Taylor’s Mom and Dad was a riotously funny, hyper violent thriller in the mould of 1980s video nasties, starring a fully off-the-leash Nicolas Cage. European-set horror was well-represented too, with The Ritual using forest-dwelling Swedish monsters to explore the perils of male friendships in crisis. Norwegian director Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen’s Valley of Shadows also featured a monster in the woods, but one which was transformed from a horror trope to a deeply moving, understated psychological drama.

But it was Michael McDonagh’s fantastic black comedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri that won the People’s Choice Award, beating festival favourite Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water. Veteran actor Frances McDormand was on fine form in McDonagh’s film, whereas the art design of del Toro’s monstrous romance – shown at the Elgin Theatre where portions of the film were shot – was up there with the director’s best work.

Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell

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