best films TIFF 2016

The 10 best movies at TIFF 2016

TIFF 2016 proved to be an exceptionally strong year for the festival. Maybe even one of the best I've ever attended. Few films I saw at TIFF were outright bad, and many were great - even masterpieces. Naturally, that made putting together a list of the best a little bit of a challenge. Still, some films proved to bowl me over more than others.

Here are the 10 best movies I saw at TIFF 2016.

It's not often we get to experience the feeling of awe-inspiring wonder and discovery at the movies anymore. Arrival tells an alien invasion story in an entirely new way that is hypnotizing and thrilling. It's sci-fi wonders are certainly enough to merit greatness, but what drives it right into your heart is that, despite it being a movie about aliens, it's also an affecting human story too.

Barakah Meets Barakah
A deeply charming and funny Saudi Arabian romantic-comedy, Barakah Meets Barakah offers everything you love in an on-screen romance and leaves you still charmed by it days later. It's also a refreshingly rare beast in the rom-com genre: it's political. It proves to be a rich social commentary on restrictions in daily Saudi Arabian life. In other words, a fantasy that's nonetheless about something.

La La Land
Long before it won the People's Choice Award, La La Land was the film of the festival. For good reason. This beautiful blend of Singin' in the Rain and Umbrellas of Cherbourg is heaven for a musical buff like me. Most of all because it's that rare modern musical that understands what made the classics so appealing, and knows how to recreate it in a way that makes you swoon.

Manchester By the Sea
Few directors understand how to put life on screen as well as Kenneth Lonergan. His latest may be one of the most emotionally devastating movies I've ever seen, but it's also full of humour, wit and hope. It's the film's rich understanding of how life -- for better and worse -- goes on no matter what happens to us, that comfortably made it one of the most memorable movies of TIFF this year.

TIFF 16 was a rare year where almost all the most buzzed about movies lived up to their hype. Moonlight exceeded its buildup. Stunningly acted, beautifully shot, and brilliantly conceptualized, what made Barry Jenkins' work stand out most of all is that it achieves what all great art does: it is both specific (to the African American and LGBT experience) and universal.

Nocturnal Animals
I wouldn't have expected the director behind A Single Man to make something as vicious as Nocturnal Animals, but I'm glad he did. There may be gutting scenes to watch in Tom Ford's latest, but it is so beautifully shot, so confidently directed, and so expertly acted, you can't help but be compelled by this entertaining, always unsettling, nasty piece of work.

The Stairs
What made this observational documentary one of the best I saw at TIFF was its complete lack of judgement or editorializing its subjects -- a group of addicts living near Regent Park -- or their plights. It simply grants us intimate access to the lives of these complicated people, and in doing so shines a powerful light on a side of humanity -- and Toronto -- we need to see more of.

Toni Erdmann
It was an exceptionally good year at TIFF, but few films came close to topping this almost indescribably great film about the relationships between kids, their parents and, well, life itself. Impossible to predict, constantly surprising (often mouth-droppingly so), uproariously funny, and achingly poignant, Toni Erdman is everything cinema should be.

As a sucker for anything even remotely like Before Sunrise, this low-scale love story - mixed with a crime film - won my heart over completely. Tramps admirably understands that less can be more, and knows how to both give us the romance cliches we want, while avoiding the ones we don't. Above all else, Tramps was a reminder of the charming gems to be found at TIFF outside the Big Buzzed Movies.

Window Horses (The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming)
Anne Marie Fleming's delightful animated film was one of the biggest surprises for me at the festival. Full of whimsy and charm and deep chuckles, I just wanted to wrap myself in the warm-hearted nature of this movie about a sweet young girl who travels to an Iranian poetry festival and learns who she is as a poet, person, and daughter.

What were the best movies you saw at TIFF 2016? Let us know in the comments.

Film still from Toni Erdmann

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