It’s showtime! The 2017 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is upon us and some of the brightest stars in Hollywood (Angelina Jolie, Grace Jones, Jake Gyllenhaal, Idris Elba, George Clooney, Lady Gaga, Eminem and Octavia Spencer, to name a few) will touch down in our city from September 7th to 17th to preview screenings of buzz-worthy films they’re either starring in, directing, or both!  

Being that TIFF is one of the most acclaimed film festivals in the world, the who’s who of cinema all clamour to get their films showcased. Many of the past films screened at TIFF have gone on to win multiple Academy Awards, such as Moonlight, 12 Years A Slave, Argo, and Dallas Buyers Club. This year, however, landing a showtime at TIFF has proven to be harder than ever, as organizers announced the reduction of the overall number of films it will screen by 20 per cent. They also removed two of the 16 major programs – both the Vanguard and City to City sections.

“As we build on the success of the festival’s past four decades, we’re challenged to balance providing a generous choice of movies for over 400,000 festival-goers, with maintaining strong curatorial focus,” artistic director Cameron Bailey said in a statement.

Nevertheless, the city of Toronto will transform into an 11-day marathon of movie magic; from daily press conferences, VIP after parties, media galas and – if you’re lucky – celebrity sightings at some of the city’s most swanky event spaces, hotels, and theatres. No tickets? Go for a stroll in and around Yorkville for a potential celebrity sighting. In 2015, I stumbled into Geoffrey Rush of Pirates of the Caribbean outside of the Four Seasons Hotel.

Drum roll, please! I’ve compiled a list of 15 of the most popular films at TIFF this year, accompanied by the festival’s official synopsis of each. Grab your tickets – on sale September 4 – and enjoy the film(s)!


A Worthy Companion [Canada]
Genre: LGBTQ/Drama/Romance/Thriller
Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Denis O’Hare
Directors: Carlos & Jason Sanchez

A 30-year-old woman (Evan Rachel Wood) embarks on an intimate yet ultimately manipulative relationship with a 16-year-old runaway (former TIFF rising star Julia Sarah Stone) in this highly anticipated feature debut from Montreal-based photographers Carlos and Jason Sanchez.
Click for tickets/showtimes.


Genre: Drama
Starring: Mahour Jabbari, Vahid Aghapoor
Director: Sadaf Foroughi

In Tehran, upper-middle class teen Ava abides by a strict routine of school, violin lessons, and home time. When Ava’s mistrustful and overprotective mother questions her relationship with a boy — going so far as to consult a gynecologist — Ava is stunned by the outrageous privacy violation. What’s more, the tightly controlled environment around Ava, who is forbidden to date, go out, or pursue her more artistic aspirations, foments feelings of suffocation and isolation. That her parents — including her sympathetic but powerless father — seem more concerned with social optics than their daughter’s welfare only escalates Ava’s rebellious behaviour, triggering serious and life-altering choices.
Click here for tickets/showtimes.


Battle Of The Sexes [USA]
Genre: Comedy/Biography/Sport
Starring: Emma Stone, Steve Carell
Directors: Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton

The 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs was a turning point in the politics of their game. Scripted by Academy Award winner Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) and directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (Little Miss Sunshine), Battle of the Sexes is a rousing recreation of that moment, featuring winning performances from leads Emma Stone and Steve Carell.
Click here for tickets/showtimes.


Bodied [Canada]
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Anthony Michael Hall, Calum Worthy, Debra Wilson
Director: Joseph Khan

A satirical exploration of the world’s most artistically brutal sport — battle rapping — from music video director Joseph Kahn, based on a script by Toronto rapper Alex Larsen (Kid Twist) and produced by Eminem.
Click here for tickets and showtimes.


Call Me By Your Name [Canada]
Genre: LGBTQ/Drama/Romance
Starring: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet
Director: Luca Guadagnino

Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash) has fashioned André Aciman’s 2007 novel of sexual awakening into a joyous romantic adventure. Set in the sun-kissed landscape of Lombardy, Northern Italy, and with a script by James Ivory, Call Me By Your Name is a note-perfect tale of forbidden love. It brings together Timothée Chalamet (also at the Festival in Hostiles) and Armie Hammer as the two protagonists whose summer in the countryside opens new doors for both of them.
Click here for tickets/showtimes.


First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers  [USA]
Genre: Biography/Drama/History
Starring: Sareum Srey Moch
Director: Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie co-produces, co-writes, and directs this adaptation of the memoir by Loung Ung, which recounts the author’s horrifying childhood experiences under the murderous Khmer Rouge regime in her native Cambodia. The second youngest of seven children born to upper-middle-class parents in Phnom Penh, Loung leaves her comfortable life behind when the Khmer Rouge army storms the city in April 1975. As she flees with her family to the countryside in an old pickup truck with only a small suitcase each, gone are the days of afternoon dance parties, breezy balconies and long, lazy lunches. Concealing their bourgeois roots and her father’s past as a high-ranking official, they eventually settle in a labour camp, where luxury now means secretly roasting crickets under the cover of night.
Click here for tickets/showtimes.


Gaga: Five Foot Two [USA]
Genre: Documentary/Music
Starring: Lady Gaga
Director: Chris Moukarel

Chris Moukarbel’s revealing documentary offers a rare snapshot of the raucously public music icon Lady Gaga and the offstage woman that is Stefani Joanne Germanotta. Following the screening, Lady Gaga will deliver an intimate performance.
Click here for tickets/showtimes.


Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami [Canada]
Genre: Documentary/Music
Starring: Grace Jones, Jean-Paul Goude
Director: Sophie Fiennes

Grace Jones, the statuesque Jamaican model-turned-singer, actress and icon has made a career performing versions of herself. But who is the real Grace Jones behind the masks and makeup? This film moves between her personae onstage and off. Don’t expect a traditional music biography with sit-down interviews and archival footage. This treatment is as stylish and unconventional as its subject. In the subtitle, “bloodlight” refers to the studio signal for recording and “bami” is a Jamaican flatbread. They stand for art and life.
Click here for tickets/showtimes.


I, Tonya [Canada]
Genre: Biography/Drama/Sport
Starring: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan
Director: Craig Gillespie

Margot Robbie stars as controversial Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding in this alternately tragic, hilarious and absurd look at one of the biggest scandals in US sports history. In 1994, the figure-skating world was rocked by a brutal attack on US medal hopeful Nancy Kerrigan. The more shocking news was that the attack was allegedly conceived and executed by those close to — and perhaps including — rival figure skater Tonya Harding. You might expect to see a film about Kerrigan, her triumphant recovery, and her silver medal at the Lillehammer Olympics, but that’s not the story we get here. This is Tonya’s story.
Click here for tickets/showtimes.


Long Time Running [Canada]
Genre: Documentary
Starring: Gord Downie, Paul Langlois, Gord Sinclair
Directors: Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier

Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier capture the emotional and powerful 2016 final tour of Canadian rock icons The Tragically Hip. No other band encapsulates the rugged rock ‘n’ roll soul of Canada like The Tragically Hip. For 30 years, the Kingston-born quintet have recorded and toured steadily, releasing over a dozen studio albums and bringing their guitar-driven sound and gritty anthems to an uncommonly passionate fan base. When it was announced last year that singer Gord Downie had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, it looked like the end of the road for the Hip. Instead, their greatest journey was just beginning.
Click here for tickets/showtimes.


mother! [USA]
Genre: Drama/Horror/Mystery
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfieffer, Ed Harris
Director: Darren Aronofsky

A young, pregnant woman (Jennifer Lawrence) busies herself in a vast, unfamiliar house,  trying to renovate it into submission. Her new, older husband (Javier Bardem) is a brilliant author, acclaimed all over the world for his insight into humanity and his mastery of language. They love each other deeply, so why are their days so fraught with tension? Why do small misunderstandings seem to pile up? Why do these newlyweds on the verge of welcoming new life into the world seem about to tear each other apart? Darren Aronofsky begins mother! in the unnerving tradition of Roman Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy. His camera chases his characters, capturing glimpses of her fear or his aloofness just as they try to profess undying love for one another. This relationship is clearly teetering on a knife’s edge. And then guests show up.
Click here for tickets/showtimes.


The Mountain Between Us [USA]
Genre: Action/Adventure/Drama
Starring: Idris Elba, Kate Winslet
Director: Hany Abu-Assad

Oscar winner Kate Winslet and Golden Globe winner Idris Elba star in this powerful drama about strangers brought together by fate, hurled into a punishing environment, and forced to depend on each other for survival.

Photojournalist Alex Martin (Winslet) and surgeon Ben Bass (Elba) have never met before, but they have at least one thing in common: both need to get back to Baltimore. She’s getting married the next day; he’s to perform emergency surgery. When their flight out of Denver is cancelled, the two hire a charter plane but once they’re in the air, things go tragically wrong. Stranded atop a snow-covered mountain with paltry provisions and no hope of rescue, Alex and Ben must work together — and trust each other — if they are to get out alive.
Click here for tickets/showtimes.


The Shape of Water [Canada]
Genre: Adventure/Drama/Fantasy/Horror
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins
Director: Guillermo del Toro

No filmmaker has plumbed the soul of screen monsters with more fire and empathy than Guillermo del Toro. The master behind Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, and Pacific Rim has long shown a deep understanding of what monsters mean to us, and why we need them. The Shape of Water is his strongest expression yet of the shivering appeal of monsters, and the unsettling notion that the monstrous can be revealed in many forms. At the height of the Cold War, circa 1962, two workers in a high-tech US government laboratory (Sally Hawkins and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer) discover a terrifying secret experiment, in this otherworldly fairytale.
Click here for tickets/showtimes.


Stronger [Canada]
Genre: Biography/Drama
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany
Director: David Gordon Green

This inspiring true story of tragedy and rebirth stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany as two people whose lives are forever altered by a terrifying act of violence. Directed by David Gordon Green, Stronger follows a survivor of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing as he struggles to rebuild his life — and discover himself anew.
Click here for tickets/showtimes.


Suburbicon [USA]
Genre: Crime/Drama/Mystery
Starring: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac
Director: George Clooney

Academy Award winners Matt Damon and Julianne Moore star in this deliciously dark satire about desire, murder, and insurance. Directed by George Clooney from a script by Clooney, Grant Heslov and Academy Award–winning filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen, Suburbicon sneaks us in through the back door of 1950s suburbia to see what happens when American dreams go horribly south.
Click here for tickets/showtimes.

About the Author

Joey Viola is the Co-Founder of MoJo Toronto and an LGBTQ community leader who utilizes his passion and flair for the art of writing by bringing a fresh perspective in reviewing entertainment and advocating for equality, tolerance, and social/political justice.