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The Conversation: Jenkins’ Moonlight, Escalante’s The Untamed & the Totality of TIFF ’16

As far as the matter of size goes, the Toronto International Film Festival continues to astound, with close to 300 plus titles amassed for its 2016 program. Undoubtedly illustrious, it remains one of the most prestigious film festivals also allowing efficient, streamlined access to the public. Because of this, much of the publicity furor regarding TIFF as the starting gate for North American’s prolific awards season falls on the winner of the People’s Choice Award (this year, it was a deserved bow for Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, but come December, many of us will most likely be tired of hearing about it). But more often than not, no one ever seems to have the same TIFF experience regarding the film program—and it’s reaching a questionable saturation, were quantity outweighs quality.

My tenth consecutive year attending the fest also happened to be one of my least stressful. That’s not to say I was able to avoid choking on five or more films a day, but seeing as I happened to attend several major festivals prior to Toronto’s onslaught, I didn’t have to break my back seeing a number of buzzy titles. And here’s where talking about TIFF gets sketchy—its solar system sized bucket of films don’t allow for any real comprehensive conversation on the subject. Certain press members choose to name films they perused at earlier festivals as their top critical darlings out of TIFF, so it’s hard to gauge the value of TIFF beyond its fantastical array of availability (and besides everyone’s griping about the fest’s magnitude, it’s hard to accuse the festival of being too large to maintain—the fault perhaps lies in an impulse to glut ourselves despite the adverse effects this sometimes has on our ability to perceive).

The festival’s second year of their competition program, Platform, proved to be one of the best sub-lineups, a generous mix of renowned auteurs (Bonello, Larrain, Kurosawa) and rising voices (Jenkins, Troch). It’s easy to see why the jury awarded Larrain’s Jackie, a middle brow prestige pic with a laudable performance from Natalie Portman, but this hardly seemed the most deserving or daring selection available (my bet was on Moonlight, a worthy title which would have benefitted more from the distinction, or even Nocturama, a more formidable and controversial choice).

But for tastes gravitating towards the darker, the distinctive, and subversive, a bevy of new discoveries were unveiled across TIFF’s selections, from Wavelengths, to Vangaurd, and even the dumping grounds of the Special Presentations program. Despite the obnoxious and misinformed critiques launched against Walter Hill’s new film, (Re)Assignment (wrongly labeled transphobic and responsible for a whole lot of unnecessary lashing out from a ‘moral high ground’ by pundits proclaiming their right not to be offended, and by genre film at that) was a thankful addition from a daring programmer. And while TIFF 2016 did have a bounty of the year’s best theatrical offerings (Toni Erdmann, Elle, Things to Come, etc.) of the titles new to me, these stood out as my ten favorite:

10. Indivisible – Dir. Edoardo de Angelis (Italy) and The Dreamed Path – Dir. Angela Schanelec (Germany)
9. Safari – Dir. Ulrich Seidl (Austria)
8. La La Land – Dir. Damien Chazelle (US)
7. (Re) Assignment – Dir. Walter Hill (US)
6. Message from the King – Dir. Fabrice du Welz (US)
5. Nocturama – Dir. Bertrand Bonello (France)
4. The Ornithologist – Dir. Joao Pedro Rodrigues (Portugal)
3. Planetarium – Dir. Rebecca Zlotowski (France)
2. Moonlight – Dir. Barry Jenkins (US)
1. The Untamed – Dir. Amat Escalante (Mexico)

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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