Well kids, I haven’t slept properly in two weeks and have spent roughly ¾ of my waking hours in a movie theatre during that time. I guess that means another Toronto International Film Festival has come and gone. That also means it’s time for an annual tradition that TIFF neither endorses or is not likely aware exists: The 2017 CGM TIFF Awards. In addition to the few prizes that the festival officially gives out to filmmakers, we here at CGM slather our own awards onto the best and wildest movies projected onto TIFF screens every year. It’s an extraordinary honour, even if the winners receive nothing (not even notification).
If you haven’t seen any of our awards before, you should know one thing: they are highly selfish. I choose these winners. No one else is consulted. I invent all the categories and they rarely repeat. That’s just how it is around here and it’s how we like it. So if you’re looking some grand consensus on the finest achievements of this year’s TIFF, go hunt for that elsewhere, bucko. On the other hand, if you’d like to see some awards picked by a guy who’ll honour a damn fine decapitation on the same level as a damn fine performance, this is the place for you. So without further ado, let’s start announcing the winners. You never know, someday one of these filmmakers might actually discover that they’ve won one of these awards! Stranger things have happened!
Best Film: The Shape Of Water
Generally speaking, Guillermo Del Toro has two directorial careers. He tends to either make big imaginative fantasy Hollywood blockbusters in English like Pacific Rim and Blade II, or smaller introspective art horror fantasies in Spanish like The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth. Lately he’s started to blur that line and get the studios to bankroll his personal projects. The Shape of Water is Del Toro’s most artistically ambitious studio production to date. Caught somewhere between old timey romantic melodrama and old timey monster movie, it’s a love story between a big hearted mute played by Sally Hawkins and a Black Lagoon-style creature (as well as being party\ cold war paranoia thriller with Michael Shannon as an evil government agent because why not). Del Toro crafts a beautiful fairy tale flavoured with harsh genre asides that captures a certain brand of intoxicating movie magic. Imagine an R-rated cross between Amelie and Hellboy and you’re almost there. This just might be Del Toro’s finest film, or at least his most moving Hollywood offering.
Best Actor: James Franco (The Disaster Artist)
Just the concept of James Franco making a film about noted cinematic lunatic Tommy Wiseau was hilarious enough to make The Disaster Artist worth seeking out. The fact that director/star Franco pulled off a peculiarly moving ode to the worst movie ever made and its mysterious creator is something of a miracle. The best aspect of the whole strange production is Franco’s portrayal of The Room auteur as a lost dreamer and tragic eccentric. Somehow you end up empathising with Wiseau by the end of the movie and will even root for The Room to become a success—that shouldn’t be possible. This movie shouldn’t even exist. But it does thanks to Franco, who pulls off not just a flawless Tommy Wisseau impression but transforms him into a heartbreaking hero. Well done you.
Best Actress: Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Despite its unfortunate mouthful of a title, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a brilliant new small town crime comedy from writer/director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) that I will definitely discuss in detail on this site soon enough since it’s destined to be one of the best films of the year (genre or otherwise). For now, I’ve got to single out the always brilliant Frances McDormand who delivers one hell of a performance in the centre of the film as a grieving mother who goes after her local idiot police force after they bungle the murder investigation of her departed daughter. It’s easily McDormand’s finest work since Fargo, yet in ways that couldn’t be more different from the delightful Marge Gunderson. McDormand is harsh, direct, driven, hilarious, and unpredictable in the film. It’s electrifying work that can’t be described in too much detail without spoiling the wonderfully unpredictable screenplay. For now, just know that McDormand delivers damn fine work here that won’t go unnoticed.
Creepiest Kid: Barry Keoghan (The Killing of a Sacred Deer)
Bleakly comedic art house auteur Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, The Lobster) has been nudging himself towards making a horror movie for ages and in The Killing of a Sacred Deer he probably gets as close as he ever will. It’s a strange and nightmarish tale of a surgeon (Colin Farrell) whose children are suddenly struck ill. A strange boy claims responsibility and also promises Farrell’s entire family will die unless Daddy murders one of them himself. So, harsh stuff played with a mix of the darkest possible humour and psychological horror. It’s a brilliant and nasty little ride featuring a bizarre and squeaky-voiced performance from Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk) as the teen who causes all the trouble. It’s never clear how he accomplishes it. Perhaps there’s some supernatural element? Who knows? Keoghan never gives the game away and he always plays the creepy kid as unknowable and oddly innocent figure of evil. It’s cracking stuff, guaranteed to disturb and push this talented teen actor towards some sort of stardom.
Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Nic Caginess: Nicolas Cage (Mom And Dad)
Unsurprisingly, the great Nicolas Cage claims this award again this year. Headlining the sick new horror comedy from Crank director Brian Taylor about parents inexplicably murdering their children en masse (Nic plays ‘Dad’), Cage unleashes his unique overacting magic to do everything from tonguing a beer can while chatting with his son to smashing a pool table with a sledgehammer while singing “The Hokey Pokey”. This is Cage unleashed like we haven’t seen in years, all within a movie just dementedly disturbing and hilarious enough to contain good ol’ Nic’s wild digressions. Hopefully Taylor and Cage team up again soon, because this is one director who can push the star into meme worthy territory without sacrificing the rest of the movie in the process.
Most Insane Achievement in Action Movie Nonsense: Manhunt
John Woo returned to TIFF this year with a Hong Kong/Japanese co-production that brought him back to his basics. That means a lovingly ludicrous bit of action pulp featuring enemies bonding over a jet ski chase, a handcuffed sword and gun battle against motorcycle riding assassins, and of course, doves photographed in slow motion. Lushly stylized, overflowing with ludicrous action, and boasting plot and characterization so over-the-top that they become comical, Manhunt is pure vintage Woo. Everyone hungering for the days of his old bullet ballets need look no further. Manhunt is the real deal and a hell of a swansong for the action movie legend. Plus, the flick featured easily the finest line of dialogue of the entire festival: “There’s only one end for a fugitive…a dead end!”—that’s just good stuff.
Sweetest Sci-fi: Downsizing
Writer/director Alexander Payne was probably the least likely person to ever mount a sci-fi epic after his career of humane character studies like Election, Sideways, and Nebraska, but that’s exactly what he did; delivering a big spectacle about a world where humans can shrink themselves to conserve resources and maximize wealth. Both a brightly bold blockbuster and an amusingly small story about embracing the little things in life, Downsizing is something special. It’s hardly perfect, yet Payne made an intelligent and hilarious antidote to the doom and gloom contemporary sci-fi satire of Black Mirrorfor folks who need a brief and hopeful break from darkness.
The Annual CGM WTF Award: mother!
Normally the CGM TIFF WTF award goes to some insane and daring genre film produced far from Hollywood. This year we’ve got to give it up to Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, an absolutely insane dark nightmare of an art film that somehow got produced at Paramount and released to shopping centres and suburbs by the time TIFF was done. Seriously, a movie like this shouldn’t exist on that scale. Whether you like the final product or not, you have to appreciate the audacity.
Goofiest Special Effects: Vampire Clay
This delightful midnight movie romp from former effects artist turned director Soichi Umezama was a charming surprise. A simple story of art students plagued by evil flesh eating clay, the flick is a goofy romp. What makes it special is how Umezama achieved his monster effects through old fashioned puppetry, costumes, and old timey animation. It’s a glorious tribute to latex rubber reality horror movies of the 80s that’ll make anyone who grew up binge watching ANightmare on Elm Street sequels pine for a simpler time in surrealistic horror.
Most Disturbing Experience: Brawl in Cellblock 99
Bone Tomahawk writer/director S. Craig Zahler returns with this nasty nightmare of a prison movie starring Vince Vaughn (of all people). It’s not worth giving away the specifics of why this movie won such a prestigious award. For best results, you should watch the film knowing a little as possible. For now, just earmark this title for a night that you want to get shaken and disturbed by a harsh genre story. Enjoy it, but don’t say we didn’t warn you. Because…whew! You’ll never look at Vince Vaughn or Don Johnson the same way again.
Best Use of Gratuitous 3D: Thriller 3D
So John Landis remastered his iconic music video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller in 3D. Is it necessary? Obviously not. But it’s Thriller in 3D! Try to pretend you don’t want to see that and giggle incessantly in a movie theater? You can’t. It’s great. Zombies dancing in 3D was but a beautiful dream before now. Appreciate that the dream came true, people!
Biggest Disappointment: Suburbicon
Ugh…this was just a tone deaf mess. George Clooney bungled an old Coen Brothers’ screenplay and a fantastic cast to make some sort of statement about race in America that’s more irritating than insightful. So much talent wasted. Make sure your time isn’t wasted when this comes out. Sigh…