Your friendly neighborhood critical prognosticator heads north in search of gold

Photo: Emma Stone (left) and Steve Carell (right) in “Battle of the Sexes”

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

During last year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), I saw “Manchester by the Sea,” “La La Land,” and “Moonlight,” which went on to snag seven of the top eight Academy Awards—the lone missing holdout was Viola Davis (Best Supporting Actress) for her role in “Fences.” In fact, I kicked off my festival experience with “Manchester” from writer-director Kenneth Lonergan and found myself comparing everything else I saw to that film. It earned the distinction of being the best film I saw last year, while Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” was my favorite film.
While those honors may sound like hairsplitting, the truth of the matter is TIFF, for the last nine years, has been a divining rod, helping me to suss out the films that matter, and despite the fact that this year’s event, which arrives without a clear front-runner ahead of the pack, will likely be no different. My assumption is that 2017 will merely mean that I will have to trust my critical instincts more so than I have in the past.
There will be gold hiding out up in Canada. Here’s a shortlist of what I’ll be watching.

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (Luca Guadagnino)

Working from a screenplay by James Ivory (the director of “A Room With a View” and “The Remains of the Day”) and based on a novel by André Aciman, Guadagnino seeks to build on the international profile he gained thanks to “I Am Love” and “A Bigger Splash.” “Name” settles into the summer of 1983, in northern Italy, and the budding relationship between a young American-Italian (Timothée Chalamet) and an American graduate student (Armie Hammer) living and studying with the young man’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg).

BATTLE OF THE SEXES
(Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris)

The filmmaking duo reteams with Steve Carell, their “Little Miss Sunshine” star, for the epic true story of the 1973 tennis match, dubbed “the battle of the sexes,” between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Carell). King was the world’s number one women’s player, while Riggs was a former champion, but known more for being a hustling schemer on the lookout for his next score. The real win here could be for the modern clown prince Carell, who gets the chance to shine with a role perfectly suited to his talents.

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE
EBBING, MISSOURI (Martin McDonagh)

Writer-director McDonagh won an Academy Award for his 2006 live action short film “Six Shooter” and earned a second nomination for the “In Bruges” original screenplay, but this time, he’s teaming up with Best Actress winner Frances McDormand (“Fargo”) for a darkly comic story—about a mother going to extreme lengths to seek justice for her daughter’s murder—that seems reminiscent of the Coen brothers at their best. That’s really no surprise coming from McDonagh, who’s also making a play for being God’s comic (all apologies to Elvis Costello).

THE SHAPE OF WATER (Guillermo del Toro)

Who else, other than del Toro, would dare to craft a fairy tale for the Cold War? Inside a secret government laboratory, a lonely woman (Sally Hawkins) and a co-worker (Octavia Spencer) stumble upon a classified experiment that changes their life. With stellar talent like Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Richard Jenkins in support, del Toro just might have discovered the alchemic blend of his otherworldly passions—think the pulp thrills of “Hellboy” and the dark fantasy of “Pan’s Labyrinth” (which won three Oscars including Cinematography).

SUBURBICON (George Clooney)

Clooney oversees this Coen brothers narrative about a dangerous home invasion that threatens the security of a small family-oriented community with Matt Damon as a hapless father caught up in the middle of it all. The multi-talented Clooney has an Academy Award for acting (in a Supporting Role for “Syriana”) and as a producer (for “Argo”) as well as a directing nomination for “Good Night, and Good Luck.” So maybe it’s time for him to get another crack at the gold.

DOWNSIZING (Alexander Payne)

Carefully stepping outside his comfort zone, Payne (who has won a pair of Adapted Screenplay Academy Awards with “Sideways” and “The Descendants”) goes small with “Downsizing,” a social satire about a regular guy (Matt Damon, again) seeking to alter his life and circumstances by submitting to an experiment where he re-scales his world. The cast—Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Laura Dern, Jason Sudeikis, and Margo Martindale—plays large, which bodes well for Payne’s outsized ambitions.

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T.T. Stern-Enzi
Reach DCP Film Critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com and visit his blog for additional film reviews at TerrenceTodd.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @ttsternenzi.

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