Autumn at the movies tends to be a mixed blessing. After exhausting their supply of sequels and reboots during the summer months, the studios deign to release their “serious” movies for “adult” audiences to enjoy as award season draws near. The Toronto International Film Festival marks the unofficial beginning of this months-long campaign, and with it come a number of selections well worth attention as the year draws to a close. Here are the five best movies your humble correspondent saw at TIFF that are scheduled to be released in 2016.
Voyage of Time (October)
The films of Terrence Malick have always been instantly recognizable for their reliance on natural imagery and wistful narration. In Voyage of Time, he’s finally removed everything else. A documentary about nothing less than the universe itself, the project can be seen in two different versions: Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey runs 90 minutes and is narrated by Cate Blanchett; Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience is 45 minutes and features the dulcet tones of Brad Pitt. Blanchett’s voiceover is occasionally hokey, but as an experience this film is like a transcendentalist view of everything under — and beyond — the sun.
Certain Women (October)
Kelly Reichardt and Michelle Williams have always brought out the best in one another, which makes it all the more remarkable that the best performance in Certain Women belongs to Lily Gladstone. It’s an even more impressive feat considering Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart are also on the cast list. The Montana-set adaptation of Maile Meloy’s short-story collection Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It is a portrait of tenuously connected individuals striving for meaning in ways that rarely align. It features only a wisp of a narrative but is hugely affecting all the same.
The Handmaiden (November)
The best movie I saw in Toronto — and maybe anywhere else this year, with the possible exception of The Lobster — was Park Chan-Wook’s The Handmaiden, which would be nominated for (and deserve) a dozen Oscars if it were in English and slightly less graphic. (In other words, expect a toned-down remake sometime in the next few years.) Stunningly well made, the film alternates between several different modes, all of them entrancing: moving love story, lurid con-man thriller, explicit sex drama. It clocks in at 145 minutes and could easily have gone on for another hour.
La La Land (December)
If you don’t like musicals, you’ll probably still hum along to La La Land. If you don’t like to be charmed, you’ll probably still be charmed by La La Land. And if you don’t “ship” fictional characters, you’ll probably still want Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone to end up together IRL. (Sorry, Eva Mendes.) Damien Chazelle’s followup to Whiplash is both a tribute to and an endlessly charming exemplar of movie magic, a song-and-dance number that grows increasingly bittersweet as it switches from major to minor chords. It seems fated to be a centerpiece of the awards season soon to come but, unlike most movies preordained for Oscar glory, actually feels worthy of that sometimes dubious honor.
Toni Erdmann (December)
A tragicomic marvel, Toni Erdmann is a film of constant surprises. What begins as a comedy slowly, imperceptibly morphs into something more nuanced over its 162 minutes. The change applies to the narrative — about a practical joker of a father who surprises his adult daughter with an extended visit — as much as to the ever-shifting tone. Like The Handmaiden, it boasts a runtime that sounds imposing but only serves to reinforce how immersive this world is. If you ever glance at your watch, it’ll be in the hope that there’s more time left.