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The best movies of Toronto 2018

First Man
Photo: Universal Pictures

Piers Handling was right. This was a great year for the Toronto International Film Festival. I didn’t quite see any masterpieces, but as regular readers can attest, I have an annoying habit of tempering my enthusiasm at festivals, withholding that full rave out of fear of coming on too strong. Which is to say, plenty of what looked very good from the ground here in Toronto could look even better when I see it on the other side of this multi-day, multi-movie haze.

Thank you to everyone who followed along with my dispatches, which can be found here, and apologies for not getting to everything I saw; we’ll have reviews of The Sisters Brothers, Fahrenheit 11/9, Hold The Dark, Peterloo, Beautiful Boy, 22 July, and The Front Runner when they hit American theaters this fall. In the meantime, here are the best films of TIFF 2018, along with info (as available) on when Stateside audiences will be able to see them. Safe to say it’s going to be a good next few months for movies.


1. Transit

Photo: Music Box Films

Gloriously baffling. In this tricky throwback noir, Christian Petzold (Phoenix) collapses the past into the present to tell the tale of a man (Franz Rogowski) fleeing an unspecified wave of fascism in an indeterminate time period. The temporal dislocation speaks to how the horrors of World War II play out again and again on the global stage, and Petzold fries our synapses to get at the essential cognitive dissonance of the refugee experience: To become unmoored from country is be unmoored from self. (Music Box Films will release Transit in theaters sometime next year.)

2. First Man

Self-punishment in pursuit of greatness is the overarching theme of Damien Chazelle’s work, and in his follow-up to the Oscar-winning La La Land, the writer-director steeps the audience in the grueling hardships of the space race, plunking us down into metal cockpits that look like claustrophobic deathtraps. As biopics go, it’s singularly procedural, remote, and unromantic, until a climax that turns Neil Armstrong’s famous leap for mankind into a glimpse into his wounded, closely guarded soul. (Select theaters October 12.)


3. Roma

Some are already calling Alfonso Cuarón’s pristinely filmed flashback to the Mexico City of his youth an all-timer. If I’m not quite there yet, it’s only out of a nagging feeling that the film’s robust staging sometimes feels a little out of step with its intimate story of the bond between a domestic worker and the wealthy housewife who employs her. Still, Roma offers a bounty of memorable moments and images, recalling at its best the personal-cultural panoramas of Edward Yang. I’d be happy to see the great film everyone else is seeing when I inevitably rewatch it. (Select theaters December 14.)


4. Sunset

Like Roma, the new film from Son Of Saul director László Nemes transports audiences to a chaotically alive past—in this case, the Budapest of the 1910s—through elaborately blocked long takes. But there’s nothing romantic or wistful about its depiction of an old world coming apart at the seams. A.V. Club contributor Noel Murray positively likened it to an open-world video game, but I thought, too, of some perverse, gunless, costume-drama shooter: The aristocrats descend upon its roving scion heroine like the hellspawn of Doom. (Sony Pictures Classics will release Sunset sometime over the next few months.)


5. If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk
Photo: Annapurna Pictures

Moonlight is the definition of an impossible act to follow. But Barry Jenkins rises to the challenge with this sensitive, ambitious James Baldwin adaptation about young lovers in 1970s Harlem who find their bright future blotted out by a miscarriage of justice. The nonlinear structure packs a tragic wallop, even as Jenkins keeps optimism and despair in poignant equilibrium. (Select theaters November 30.)

6. Shoplifters

Somehow, I managed to miss Hirokazu Koreeda’s tender drama at Cannes back in May, only to watch it go on to win the Palme D’Or. The jury was definitely on to something, as Shoplifters turns out to be one of the Japanese filmmaker’s very best films, applying his signature compassion to the misadventures of a surrogate family of thieves, stealing to make ends meet in a bustling city. Koreeda’s work can coast on its sweetness, but this one is heartbreaking and true. (Select theaters November 23.)


7. Widows

Few might have predicted that Steve McQueen would make a crowd-pleasing crime opus after 12 Years A Slave. But Widows, which he adapted from a 1980s British miniseries with the help of Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, turns out to be the best kind of mainstream thriller: intelligent, propulsive, even moving, with a top-to-bottom stellar cast (headlined by Viola Davis, affectingly weary and determined) and a plot that touches on social inequity without ever losing track of its genre objectives. It’s a film that deserves the love audiences are going to have for it. (Theaters everywhere November 16.)


8. The Old Man & The Gun

Robert Redford insists that The Old Man & The Gun will be his final screen performance. He couldn’t have picked a more appropriate swan song than this agreeably relaxed crime lark, which casts the aging movie star as a famously prolific bank robber and escape artist. Director David Lowery feeds off our relationship with Redford’s filmography; it’s as much of a ghost story as A Ghost Story, haunted by memories—his, ours, the actor’s—of an unforgettable outlaw career. (Select theaters September 28.)


9. In Fabric

In Fabric
Photo: Toronto International Film Festival

The bifurcated structure of the new lavishly arranged genre pastiche by Peter Strickland (Berberian Sound Studio, The Duke Of Burgundy) betrays the thinness of its premise: a goofy EC Comics affair about a sentient, unholy red dress. But In Fabric is still a gas, getting almost nonstop laughs from the discrepancy between its outrageous high-style giallo approximation and the mundane relationship foibles it chronicles. (No U.S. distributor yet.)

10. Her Smell

Bouncing back from the stilted, artificial relationship studies of Golden Exits, Alex Ross Perry reinvigorates the imploding rock-star legend, casting a fearlessly bilious Elisabeth Moss as a Courtney Love-like riot-grrrl idol alienating everyone in her life as she circles the drain of her waning career. But there’s a generosity, too, to Her Smell’s upshot, in the bittersweet redemption it locates after two hours of backstage meltdown and mayhem. (No U.S. distributor yet.)


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