TIFF 2017: 11 Must-Watch Oscar Contenders

Since launching in 1976, the Toronto International Film Festival has become the movie world’s kick-off to awards season. Here are 11 movies from the festival with the best Oscar chances.

1 / 11
Emma Stone as Billie Jean King in "Battle of the Sexes"Photo: Courtesy of TIFF

Battle of the Sexes

Directors: Valerie Faris & Jonathan Dayton
Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman
Possible Nominations: Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Costume Design

Fact-based dramas and comedies ruled TIFF 2017, and Battle of the Sexes was a timely highlight. In the film, 29-year-old tennis superstar Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) learns that a new prize fund is going to pay male players eight times more than female players. Outraged, she launches the Women’s Tennis Association and tours the country playing small tournaments, discovering her lesbianism along the way. Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), a former World No. 1 player, gambling addict, and self-proclaimed chauvinist, challenges King to a match that helps bring pay inequality to the national conversation. Battle of the Sexes continues Stone’s run of stellar performances, and Carell seems to be getting better with every role. Socially-conscious films are rarely this entertaining.

Check out Our Guide to the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.

2 / 11
Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer in "Call Me by Your Name"Photo: Courtesy of TIFF

Call Me by Your Name

Director: Luca Guadagnino
Cast: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg
Possible Nominations: Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor

When the Oscar for Best Picture went to Moonlight last year, it seemed like Academy voters were finally embracing LGBTQ stories. For a movie of such cultural relevance, Call Me by Your Name is wonderfully accessible. It tells the story of 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet in the breakthrough performance of the year), who falls for the dashing 24-year-old Oliver (Armie Hammer), a doctoral student staying with Elio's family at their summer home in Northern Italy. Stylishly directed by Luca Guadagnino, Call Me by Your Name ditches the doom-and-gloom weightiness often found in films about sexual awakening, instead focusing on morning bike rides, mid-afternoon swims and loving exchanges in the dark. It’s an instant romantic classic.

Plus: The 10 Most Romantic Movies of All Time

3 / 11
Jason Clarke as Senator Ted Kennedy in "Chappaquiddick"Photo: Courtesy of TIFF

Chappaquiddick

Director: John Curran
Cast: Jason Clarke, Kata Mara, Ed Helms, Bruce Dern
Possible Nominations: Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score

On July 18, 1969, U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy accidentally drove his Oldsmobile off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts. Kennedy swam free, but his companion—28-year-old secretary Mary Jo Kopechne—became trapped. He left the scene and didn't report the incident until the car and Kopechne's body were recovered the next morning. Chappaquiddick depicts the infamous scandal with striking suspense, detail and wit; each solemn moment is beautifully realized. Australian actor Jason Clarke gives a tour-de-force performance as Kennedy, the black sheep of a powerful political family who makes one blindingly stupid decision after another. Chappaquiddick doesn't pull any punches, and it's all the better for it.

Here are 22 history lessons your teacher lied to you about.

4 / 11
Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in "Darkest Hour"Photo: Courtesy of TIFF

Darkest Hour

Director: Joe Wright
Cast: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane
Possible Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Production Design, Best Makeup

Fans of Dunkirk’s immersive approach to the pivotal World War II evacuation may be wondering, “What was happening behind the scenes?” Enter Darkest Hour and a monumental performance by Gary Oldman (one of the best of TIFF 2017) as Winston Churchill. It’s 1940 and the United Kingdom is faced with the threat of invasion by Hitler’s army. Churchill is succeeding Neville Chamberlain as the new Prime Minister, and despite increasing pressure from his political opponents to enter peace talks (and his own mounting self-doubt), he moves ahead in his plan to fight Germany. Joe Wright keeps the story moving with effortless directorial command, and Anthony McCarten’s script infuses even the simplest lines of dialogue with the tension of a first-rate thriller.

Here are 17 things you didn't know about the Oscars.

5 / 11
Dave Franco and James Franco in "The Disaster Artist"Photo: Courtesy of TIFF

The Disaster Artist

Director: James Franco
Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Alison Brie, Seth Rogen
Possible Nominations: Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay

In 2003, filmmaker Tommy Wiseau directed, produced, wrote and starred in The Room. Critics declared it one of the worst films ever made, but its labyrinthine plot, eccentric performances and healthy supply of WTF-moments made it a cult sensation. Adapted from Greg Sestero’s memoir of the same name, The Disaster Artist lovingly chronicles The Room’s rocky production, and the unlikely bond between Wiseau (James Franco) and co-star Sestero (Dave Franco). A film about the worst film ever made (complete with a roll-call of celebrity cameos) could have easily been mean-spirited in tone, but The Disaster Artist is a film about friendship, impossible dreams and the magic of cinema. If there’s one comedy the Oscars will honour from TIFF 2017, it’s this one. Oh hi, Mark.

Find out how well you know the world of cinema with the Reader's Digest Oscar Quiz.

6 / 11
Saoirse Ronan in "Lady Bird"Photo: Courtesy of TIFF

Lady Bird

Director: Greta Gerwig
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metacalf, Tracy Letts
Possible Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay

With one-third of the films selected for TIFF 2017 being directed by females, it’s safe to say that women ruled the festival. Sure, great male actors gave stellar performances—and great male directors flexed their auteur muscles behind the camera—but few artists displayed their craft as well as Greta Gerwig and Saoirse Ronan do in Lady Bird. In Gerwig’s semi-autobiographical solo directorial debut, Ronan plays the utterly relatable title character: a brash, ambitious but deeply flawed high school senior trying to navigate her life in Sacramento before her college years. With its hilarious depiction of teenage awkwardness and young adult epiphanies, Lady Bird has the potential to be a generation-defining film—this decade's The Breakfast Club.

Be sure to take a look back at the Academy’s most memorable snubs.

7 / 11
Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba in "Molly's Game"Photo: Courtesy of TIFF

Molly’s Game

Director: Aaron Sorkin
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner
Possible Nominations: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay

Aaron Sorkin's acerbic, rapid-fire dialogue has been lauded and parodied in equal measure. In Molly’s Game, his directorial debut, he brings his sensibilities to the world of poker. Jessica Chastain plays real-life figure Molly Bloom, a former professional skier turned “Princess of Poker,” who ruled her own exclusive high-stakes game for a celebrity, banker and gangster clientele. Idris Elba shines as her by-the-book lawyer, and so does Costner as her domineering father. But this is The Jessica Chastain Show through and through: we learn through a series of flashbacks that Molly is a woman of brilliant ambition and searing compassion, the lady boss in a traditionally-male environment. Molly’s Game is the best (and funniest) rise-and-fall story from TIFF 2017.

Pay homage to the Big Apple with these 15 must-see filming locations.

8 / 11
Jennifer Lawrence in "Mother!"Photo: Courtesy of IMDB

Mother!

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer
Possible Nominations: Best Actress, Best Director, Best Cinematography

Mother! is many things: a brutal retelling of the Bible; a metaphor for the creative process; a literal depiction of the dangers of celebrity; and the most talked-about film of TIFF 2017. A married couple live in a secluded mansion: the wife (Jennifer Lawrence in a fearless performance) is busy renovating it, while the husband (Javier Bardem) is a poet experiencing a severe case of writer’s block. When an older couple suddenly drop by, a string of increasingly violent and bizarre events unfold. Love it or hate it: Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! is a hell of a ride, and the weirdest movie to debut on 2,000-plus screens in recent memory. It isn't, however, for the faint of heart.

Here are the biggest box-office hits since 1933. Did your favourites make the cut?

9 / 11
Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer in "The Shape of Water"Photo: Courtesy of TIFF

The Shape of Water

Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon
Possible Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Original Score

In Cold War-era Baltimore, Eliza, a mute cleaning lady, lives above a large movie theatre. One day, she stumbles upon a half-man, half-fish creature at the top-secret research facility she works at, and falls in love. When she learns that this fish-man is going to be killed, she takes matters into her own hands. If that all sounds too far-fetched for you, it’s not: Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water is a gloriously weird mix of fantasy, science fiction and old-school Hollywood filmmaking that wowed audiences at TIFF 2017. Richard Jenkins is great as Eliza’s supportive neighbour, and Michael Shannon is terrifying as the facility’s security supervisor. But The Shape of Water belongs to Sally Hawkins, whose eyes, face and gestures tell the whole story.

Test your cinematic knowledge of the 10 most romantic locations from the big screen.

10 / 11
Jake Gyllenhaal in "Stronger"Photo: Courtesy of TIFF

Stronger

Director: David Gordon Green
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson
Possible Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress

Stronger tells the true story of Jeff Bauman, an everyman who lost his legs in the 2013 Marathon bombing. When Jeff (Jake Gyllenhaal in a truly committed performance) tries to win back his ex-girlfriend (Tatiana Maslany) at the Boston Marathon, he witnesses one of the suspects and later wakes up with both legs amputated above the knee. The bombing’s political repercussions fade into the background—the film is, above all, about Jeff’s complicated relationship with Erin and his dysfunctional family. One scene between Gyllenhaal, Maslany and the changing of bandages is in the running for best of the year. In a world where terrorism dominates the headlines, Stronger reminds us that heroism can bring families and communities together.

Plus: In Conversation with the Cast and Crew of "Stronger"

11 / 11
Frances McDorman in "Three Billboards" at TIFF 2017Photo: Courtesy of TIFF

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Director: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson
Potential Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor

What would you do if your daughter was raped and murdered, and seven months later, the police department in your town had yet to make a single arrest? The premise of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri—a TIFF 2017 highlight—rests on that question. Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) becomes a small town’s most controversial resident when she installs three signs with a message for the town’s chief of police (Woody Harrelson) and his cronies. Despite its narrative, the film is often hopeful; compared to director-writer Martin McDonagh’s previous works, the light at the end of the tunnel is a little brighter. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a darkly funny take on bureaucratic incompetence, the nature of grief and the path to redemption.

Plus: 10 Famous Movies You Didn’t Know Were Filmed in Canada