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TIFF 2017: From breakout movies to insider interviews, full coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival

The 2017 Toronto International Film Festival has come to a close. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” took the coveted audience award, Lady Gaga performed for the premiere of her Netflix documentary, “Bodied” director Joseph Kahn kicked the Beyhive and Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” emerged as the season’s festival darling.

Explore the L.A. Times’ full coverage of the hits and misses, the rising stars and emerging trends.

From James Franco to Alexander Payne: Directors who surprised, and disappointed, at the Toronto Film Festival

Dave Franco and James Franco in the movie "The Disaster Artist." (SXSW)

Perhaps the most useful and instructive function of film festivals, especially in light of the “Star Wars” affair, is that they offer an arena where filmmakers are allowed to fail — and, just as importantly, where filmmakers who have failed before are given a second, third or fourth chance.

One of the most thunderously applauded entries in Toronto this year was itself a fascinating film about failure: “The Disaster Artist,” which revisits the making of that 2003 bad-movie classic, “The Room,” is a triumph for its prolific director and star, James Franco, best known of late for clogging the festival circuit with wan adaptations of “In Dubious Battle” and “The Sound and the Fury.” Who knew that Faulkner would prove a less fruitful source of inspiration than Tommy Wiseau?

Not every director operating outside his or her usual parameters did grade-A work. I wasn’t taken with “Downsizing,” an incredible-shrinking-man comedy that allows the writer-director Alexander Payne to look down on his characters in a more literal sense than usual. “The Third Murder,” a rare foray into police-procedural territory from the great Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda, struck me as an equally rare disappointment, measured and meditative to a fault.

And I’m decisively in the critical minority on “The Death of Stalin,” Armando Iannucci’s audacious but airless attempt to transfer the madcap style of his great political comedies (“Veep,” “In the Loop”) to the moment of the Soviet dictator’s sudden demise. It’s an ingenious premise that Iannucci and his fine cast (including Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor and the great Simon Russell Beale) seek to render in shades both hilarious and disturbing, to increasingly strained effect.

By contrast, Dan Gilroy’s “Roman J. Israel, Esq.,” which many dismissed as a failure across the board, struck me as one of the festival’s most compelling oddities — a moody, intoxicating vision of Los Angeles that I ultimately preferred to Gilroy’s previous one, “Nightcrawler.” Denzel Washington burrows deep into the title role of a brilliant activist lawyer with savant-like tendencies who winds up skittering down a legal and moral rabbit-hole of his own making. The result is a bit of a narrative muddle, but the kind that makes tidier movies look overly timid by comparison.

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Watch: Word-association games with the TIFF 2017 celebs, from ‘binge-watch’ to ‘Trump’

Inside the L.A. Times’ photo suite, we asked filmmakers and celebrities at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival to play a little word-association game, and the results were delightful.

The rapid-fire responses from George Clooney, Ellen Page and Tommy Wiseau were hilarious. See the true faces of anxiety when the phrase “awards season” was thrown out, find out what Julianne Moore binge-watches from the tub and don’t miss Rachel Weisz’s tanning advice for the president.

Jessica Chastain hits TIFF with a one-two punch of feminism in ‘Woman Walks Ahead’ and ‘Molly’s Game’

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Director Susanna White and stars Jessica Chastain, Michael Greyeyes and Sam Rockwell discuss their film “Woman Walks Ahead,” about the bond between painter Catherine Weldon and Hunkpapa Lakota leader Sitting Bull, at the L.A. Times studio at the Tor

Jessica Chastain stars in the historical drama “Woman Walks Ahead” as Catherine Weldon, an artist who left Brooklyn behind and journeyed to the Dakotas to paint a portrait of Sitting Bull (played by Michael Greyeyes) — only to become involved in the Lakota people’s fight for their land.

Weldon is one of two fiery feminist lead roles Chastain brought to this year’s festival, also starring in Aaron Sorkin’s biopic “Molly’s Game” as underground poker madam Molly Bloom. She underscored her commitment to social activism and a push for inclusion and representation in Hollywood, onscreen and off.

“I think we’re living in a time where everyone is so desperate to be heard, to be seen, to be understood,” offered Chastain. “But we don’t understand that actually in order to be heard, you have to listen…. So for me, it’s important to make sure I’m doing whatever I can to listen to those who are telling me stories of what their experiences are, how they’re different from my experiences, how I can grow and evolve as a human being.

“And the more that we all do that, I think, the more we come together in a healthier society,” Chastain said.

Jessica Chastain, right, and Michael Greyeyes in "Woman Walks Ahead."

Alexander Payne stretches himself with ‘Downsizing,’ but the execution proves puny

The issue of climate change figures prominently in Alexander Payne’s wry science-fiction comedy “Downsizing,” though only at the end of a long and convoluted story that seems to be making itself up as it goes along. For a while, that’s not such a bad thing.

The movie has an enjoyable opening hour in which it lays out the basics of its rigorous, ludicrous premise: In a not-so-distant future, an unprepossessing nice guy named Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) opts to shrink himself to just a few inches tall, availing himself of a dynamic new procedure devised by Norwegian scientists that promises stability and even prosperity in an unforgiving economy.

If Paul is shrinking himself, it’s nice for a while to see Payne stretching himself. He’s still working in the barbed humanist vein of films like “Sideways,” “The Descendants” and “Nebraska,” but this time with an out-there twist that raises far broader implications beyond Paul’s quality of life. “Downsizing” begins as a high-concept farce, morphs into a satire of class, consumerism and globalization, and ends with a sincere lament for Third World suffering and the sustainability of the planet.

But the reach of the movie’s topical ambitions far exceeds its tonal grasp. More often than not, Payne’s preferred method of trying to squeeze laughs and tears from the same moment — or rather, following a lump-in-the-throat moment with a carefully timed comic jab — simply cancels itself out. There’s an emotional flatness to this movie, which doesn’t feel like it’s bursting with ideas so much as meandering noncommittally from one to the next.

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Dan Gilroy on bringing ‘Roman J. Israel, Esq.’ to life with Denzel Washington

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Dan Gilroy earned an Oscar nomination for writing his directorial debut “Nightcrawler,” and he dropped by the L.A. Times studio at the Toronto International Film Festival to discuss his second directorial effort, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.," starring De

Among the final films announced for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival lineup was the world premiere of “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”

Written and directed by Dan Gilroy, the film stars Denzel Washington as a political activist who has spent years working in the backroom of a small law firm. In a fast-moving series of events, his finds his beliefs, ideals and personal commitment tested as never before.

Gilroy came into the L.A. Times photo studio the morning after the film’s premiere screening. He spoke about writing the title role with Washington in mind and what it was like directing the two-time Oscar winner.

“He was light years ahead of me with the character by the time we started shooting,” Gilroy said. “It was his character, he was authoring the character, he was bringing the character to life.”

Denzel Washington in the title role in Dan Gilroy's 'Roman J. Israel, Esq.'
(courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival)

Dee Rees and the cast of ‘Mudbound’ create a vibrant, intertwined history

Director Dee Rees stopped by the L.A. Times studio at the Toronto International Film Festival and discussed her period saga “Mudbound.”

Ever since “Mudbound,” directed by Dee Rees, first premiered at Sundance in January it has been one of the most talked-about films of the year.

Now the film is looking to take the fall season by storm as well, screening at the Toronto International Film Festival on the way to its release in November.

The film is a vibrant, complex study of race and class set in the 1940s Deep South. Rees and her cast, with Garrett Hedlund, Mary J. Blige, Rob Morgan, Jason Clarke, Carey Mulligan and Jason Mitchell, all stopped by the Los Angeles Times photo studio in Toronto.

“I think the thing that it shows is that all our histories are connected. It’s not like your history and my history,” said Rees."This story and the way the story is structured shows these intertwining narratives that make up a singular, collective history.”

Garrett Hedlund, from left, Mary J. Blige, Rob Morgan, director Dee Rees, actor Jason Clarke, Carey Mulligan and Jason Mitchell from the film "Mudbound."
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

‘Kings’ is an unexpected sophomore outing from ‘Mustang’ director Deniz Gamze Erguven

“Kings” takes place against the ambitious backdrop of the 1992 Los Angeles riots and opens with a dramatization of the 1991 shooting of Latasha Harlins, the 15-year-old African American girl killed by a Korean convenience store owner that set the city on edge.

In a warm, graceful performance, Halle Berry plays Millie, a single woman raising foster children, tending to them all as if they were her own. There are squabbles over noise and nuisances with her neighbor Obie (Daniel Craig), a British writer who is one of the rare white faces in their South Central neighborhood.

As events seem to inevitability hurtle toward violence, the riots erupt in a surreal haze. Millie and Obie go out into the chaos in hopes of bringing the children safely back home.

The film has taken about 11 years to get made. The Turkish-born, Paris-based writer-director Deniz Gamze Ergüven spent time in South Central neighborhoods, with the LAPD and with emergency services workers as well as doing extensive research in an attempt to create a broad view of the events, a portrait at once sweeping and specific of the tremors that led up to the seismic hit of the riots. Some of the film’s most fantastical elements — the manager of a fast-food restaurant bargaining with rioters, police handcuffing people to streetlights — are stories she was told as urban folktales.

The movie has its world premiere as part of the Toronto International Film Festival on Wednesday night, with distributor the Orchard planning to release the film in the spring.

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Guillermo del Toro on finally letting the monster get the girl in ‘The Shape of Water’

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“The Shape of Water’s” Guillermo del Toro and Michael Shannon on taking a big risk by flipping the hero on the monster movie and asking, “What if the creature got the girl?”

Monster movie maker Guillermo del Toro has been cheering on his favorite creatures since he was a little boy.

“When I was about 6 I watched ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon,’” the director said. “I saw Julie Adams and the Gill-man swimming underneath her. At that age all I thought is, ‘I hope they end up together’... they didn’t.”

Determined to reset the scales in favor of the freaks, Del Toro made “The Shape of Water.” Set during the Cold War, the love story actively roots for the star-crossed lovers separated by species, water and the American government.

The film is already making big waves on the festival circuit, landing the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and plenty of critical acclaim. Times critic Justin Chang described it as an “exquisite return to form” for Del Toro.

The cast (including Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones and Sally Hawkins) paused to talk a bit deeper about being a part of the director’s notable, blue-hued imagination at the LA Times studio suite at the Toronto International Film Festival.

“I’ve been in the reality of 1960 three times now,” Spencer said [alluding to her past work in “Hidden Figures,” “The Help” and “Get On Up”]. “I love that Guillermo painted a very different world for us to exist in. Even though it’s set in the same era and the societal constraints are the same, my character gets to blossom in a way that I haven’t in period movies. So it was fun for me.”

As for Del Toro, it appears he’s hit a new high-water mark, which the director credits simply to trying something new, “At age 52 I say, if you don’t risk it, then you are effectively too old.

Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins discuss their roles in Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water.”

Rachel Weisz explains how ‘Disobedience’ tackles big existential questions about life and freedom

“Disobedience” cast members Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams and Alessandro Nivola and director Sebastian Lelio discuss the existential themes explored in the film and share their experiences learning about Orthodox Jewish communities.

In Sebastian Lelio’s “Disobedience,” which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival Sunday, Rachel Weisz plays Ronit, a woman who returns home to the Orthodox Jewish community she fled after her father’s death.

The film also features Rachel McAdams and Alessandro Nivola as Esti and Dovid, Ronit’s childhood friends whom she discovers are married upon her return. During the course of the movie, it is revealed that Ronit and Esti share a passionate, unresolved romantic past.

But “Disobedience” is about more than these characters’ romantic relationships.

“It’s about disobedience,” explained Weisz at The Times’ TIFF video studio. “It’s about obedience. It’s about how far we rebel from the place that we grew up in. Choosing your own path through that and not just doing what you’ve been conditioned to do by your family.”

Watch Weisz, McAdams, Nivola and Lelio discuss “Disobedience” and their experiences learning from real Orthodox Jewish families in the video above.

Martin McDonagh and Sam Rockwell on prize-winning ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’

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Actor Sam Rockwell and writer-director Martin McDonagh sat down with the L.A. Times to discuss “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” at the Toronto International Film Festival. The quirky drama, which takes a look at contemporary life in Ameri

Writer-director Martin McDonagh’s newest film, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” won best screenplay at the Venice Film Festival before arriving this week to play at the Toronto International Film Festival as well.

In the film, Frances McDormand plays a small-town woman who becomes frustrated when no one is brought to justice after the rape and murder of her daughter. So she sets up three billboards outside of town criticizing the local sheriff.

McDonagh and Sam Rockwell, who plays a police officer, sat down to talk about the film at the Los Angeles Times studio at TIFF.

“I wanted to make an American film with American characters,” the Anglo-Irish McDonagh said, “that wasn’t an outsider’s comment on America as much as jumping in there and being with the characters and being with the story.”

A look behind the scenes at The Times’ TIFF photo studio

A glimpse behind the scenes at The Times’ 2017 Toronto International Film Festival photo studio with photographer Jay L. Clendenin.

Margot Robbie, Octavia Spencer, Tatiana Maslany, Jessica Chastain, André Leon Talley, Joseph Kahn and more stars of the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival have stopped by the Los Angeles Times studio to pose for photos and discuss their projects in video interviews. Take a tour behind the scenes with Times photographer Jay L. Clendenin.

Check out our gallery of portraits here and instant print photos here.

Angela Robinson, Bella Heathcote and Luke Evans on ‘Professor Marston and the Wonder Women’

“Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” director Angela Robinson and stars Luke Evans and Bella Heathcote sat down with the L.A. Times at the Toronto International Film Festival to discuss the little known -- and more than a little kinky -- back st

“Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” tells the story of William Moulton Marston, his wife Elizabeth Marston and the woman they both fell in love with, Olive Byrne. Their relationship would be deeply influential to William Marston creating the character of Wonder Woman.

Written and directed by Angela Robinson, the movie stars Luke Evans as Marston, Rebecca Hall as Elizabeth and Bella Heathcote as Byrne.

“I came at this from the starting point of being a Wonder Woman fan,” said Robinson. “It was really important for me to tell the story of the Marstons and also honor and respect the character that they actually created.”

Robinson dropped by the L.A. Times photo studio this week with Heathcote and Evans to talk about the project, the unconventional romance at its center and the now-legendary character that came out of it.

“To me it was always a love story,” said Robinson. “I did a ton of research and I thought about the Marstons so much. And at the end I just tried to make a film about three people falling in love and I wanted you to feel like you feel when you fall in love.”

For more on Robinson, the Marstons and the film, see our recent story.

Louis C.K.'s ‘I Love You, Daddy’ will remind audiences of Woody Allen, in more ways than one

Louis C.K. in new movie "I Love You, Daddy."
Louis C.K. in new movie “I Love You, Daddy.”
(TIFF)

“When I was growing up, a lot of dudes of that [older] generation had teenage girlfriends,” Louis C.K., 49, said in an interview with several of his actors Sunday, a day after the premiere of his new film, ‘I Love You, Daddy,’ at the Toronto International Film Festival.

“You’d see pictures of them at Studio 54, and they would have a girl on their lap who was obviously a teenager. And people would say” — he waves aside his hand — “‘Oh, that guy just likes that.’”

Such taboos are at the center of C.K.’s film. The comedian has made a movie that will at once delight some fans with its audacity and embolden his fair share of critics, what with its talk of sexual politics and parenting in ways that are rarely put on the table.

Shot on the sly earlier this year in C.K.’s home city of New York, the film — which was acquired by specialty distributor The Orchard following the Toronto premiere — is independent in more than just thinking.

The “Louie” creator, famous for overseeing many aspects of the production and even distribution process, funded the entire project himself. As a result, he was able to make noncommercial choices — including presenting the film in black-and-white and using orchestrations from the 1940s. The film feels, early and often, like an homage to vintage Woody Allen.

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Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz continue a terrific TIFF for women’s stories with ‘Disobedience’

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Los Angeles Times critic Justin Chang on the double-Rachel feature (Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz) “Disobedience” and how TIFF 2017 has been a showcase of acting talent for the actress leads.

Sebastián Lelio’s somber and passionate new drama, “Disobedience,” begins with the death of a celebrated Orthodox rabbi in North London — a loss that brings his only child, Ronit (Rachel Weisz), back home from New York to settle her father’s estate.

Received with frosty politeness by the community she fled years ago for a life of secular freedom, Ronit gradually rekindles her friendship with Esti (Rachel McAdams), whom she is surprised to learn is now the wife of Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), a spiritual disciple of Ronit’s father.

As will soon come to light, in a series of erotic encounters that are at once tasteful and unusually candid for a prestige drama, Ronit and Esti carry a torch for one another that years apart has failed to extinguish. That more or less explains why Ronit left, but the film, adapted from Naomi Alderman’s 2006 novel, is equally curious about why Esti stayed.

Both Rachels are superb here, and if Weisz is ultimately the story’s anchor, the grieving outsider whose perspective we share at every moment, then McAdams is its secret weapon: She’s piercing to watch as she reveals the cracks in her character’s quietly contented facade, in a story that takes the full measure of her tragedy as well.

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Guillermo del Toro’s ‘The Shape of Water’ pretty much guaranteed the TIFF audience award

Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer star in Guillermo del Toro's "The Shape of Water."
Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer star in Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water.”
(Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Guillermo Del Toro’s beauty-and-the-beast love story “The Shape of Water” had its Toronto premiere Monday at the city’s historic Elgin Theater -- the same venue featured in a couple key scenes in the film.

Here are five takeaways from the evening:

  1. Toronto’s top prize -- the People’s Choice Award -- isn’t given by a jury but by audience members dropping their tickets in boxes held by volunteers at the exits. I’ve never seen the bins as stuffed as they were Monday night. Of course, Del Toro’s strong presence in the city -- he has lived here off and on for the last few years -- might have a little something to do with that.
    “I identify with Canada,” Del Toro said, introducing the movie. “I identify with Canadian bacon.”
  2. “The Shape of Water” -- a lush romantic fantasy about the relationship between a mute cleaning woman (Sally Hawkins) and creature straight out of a B-movie -- won the Golden Lion for best film at the Venice Film Festival.
    Its Toronto reception proved equally rapturous. Ticket holders began lining up hours before the movie’s late-evening screening time.
  3. When asked about the film’s modern-day resonance, Del Toro pointed to its Cold War setting and elaborated: “When people say ‘Let’s make America great again,’ they’re dreaming of that era. Everything was great if you were white Anglo Saxon and Protestant. If you were anything else, you were [screwed]. So it’s a false memory of that time.”
  4. Del Toro trumpeted the film’s Canadian credentials, noting that nearly every production head hailed from the country.
    “We’re not just here for the rebate,” he said. He added “Shape” was a $60-million movie made for $19.5 million.
    “It’s as close to an indie movie as you could get with a Mexican in the middle,” Del Toro said.
  5. The festival’s ultimate souvenir, a signed “Shape of Water” poster, went to two lucky audience members sitting in the exact seats in the Elgin where major moments in the movie occurred.

“The Shape of Water” opens in theaters Dec. 8.
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Tommy Wiseau reviews ‘The Disaster Artist’: The movie about the making of ‘The Room’

Cult filmmaker Tommy Wiseau (“The Room”) critiques what actor-director James Franco got right -- and wrong -- in “The Disaster Artist,” based on Wiseau’s own legendary experience making the best-worst movie of all time. The pair stopped by the L.A.

When James Franco set out to make “The Disaster Artist” -- the behind the scenes story of the making of cult classic “The Room” -- he knew he’d have a tough critic in “The Room” director Tommy Wiseau.

When the pair stopped by the L.A. Times studio at the Toronto International Film Festival, Wiseau revealed what he really thinks about the movie and about Franco’s performance as Tommy Wiseau.

He also revealed the unexpected role Nicolas Cage played in making the project happen.

Franco’s brother Dave and “The Room” co-star Greg Sestero also sat in. “The Disaster Artist,” which plays in the Midnight Madness section of TIFF after an enthusiastic world premiere earlier this year at the SXSW Film Festival, opens Dec. 1.

André Leon Talley bequeaths ‘The Gospel According to André'

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Quoting Truman Capote, “Style helps you get upstairs and down,” fashion icon and former “Vogue” editor André Leon Talley discusses his documentary “The Gospel According to André.” Joined by director Kate Novack and producer Andrew Rossi, the trio di

It’s not everyday that one — especially as young, black and fabulous as myself — is able to look in the proverbial mirror and see what life could look like if racism, femme-phobia and other ills of the world fail to win. But that’s exactly what took place Saturday as I interviewed fashion icon André Leon Talley (and director Kate Novack and producer Andrew Rossi) a day after his film, “The Gospel According to André,” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.

I first encountered Talley through the modeling competition reality show “America’s Next Top Model.” As a judge for four seasons, he commanded attention. With a deep yet feminine tremble in his voice paired with a towering 6-foot-6 frame cloaked in the finest custom capes and caftans, he was undeniable. But while Talley was, and is, legendary in his own right for breaking glass ceilings during his multi-decade stint at Vogue magazine, I was swept up in his presentation of self. The bombast, the grandeur, the unbridled audacity had my inner gender-bender clamoring for liberation from the traditional conceptions of black masculinity I grew up with.

Los Angeles Times writer Tre'vell Anderson, left, speaks with fashion icon André Leon Talley.
(Jen Yamato / Los Angeles Times)

So, as he masterfully took over our festival photo studio, draped in a golden yellow caftan, I was in awe. My hands moist with excitement, I teetered on my 3-inch heels trying to grab a quick Snapchat video to document the moment. And then it hit me: This, at 67 years old, is what possibility looks like.

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Tennis on trend at Toronto International Film Festival

Tennis coach Nick Bollettieri is profiled in director Jason Kohn’s documentary “Love Means Zero,” premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival. Both men sat down with the Los Angeles Times to talk about the state of tennis and Bollettieri’s

There are three tennis movies screening at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, an almost Federer-like show of strength given the usual bagel. Premiering Sunday was Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ “Battle of the Sexes,” the tale of the run-up to King’s titular 1973 match with Bobby Riggs, starring Emma Stone as the feminist and LGBTQ trailblazer and Steve Carell as the has-been showman.

Opening the festival just a few days earlier was Janus Metz’s brooding Scandinavian production “Borg/McEnroe,” chronicling the personalities and events around the famous 1980 Wimbledon final. (Shia LaBeouf stars as the hotheaded American and Sverrir Gudnason plays the cool-as-Stockholm legend.)

And also debuting over the weekend weekend was Jason Kohn’s psychology-rich Showtime documentary “Love Means Zero,” about the influential and controversial coach Nick Bollettieri, who fractiously mentored Andre Agassi and scores of other champions.

Making them an even more complete set, each film covers a different period in the evolution of the sport: the early days of professionalization and the Open Era in the King-Riggs story of the early 1970s; the dawn of an international golden age in the McEnroe and Borg moment of the early 1980s; and the waning pre-corporate days of characters and bad behavior in the Agassi-Boris Becker chapter of the early 1990s.

“They really are like three chapters in the history of tennis, each with something new to say about tennis,” Kohn said. (The release dates will be spread out: “Battle” opens Sept. 22 and “Borg/McEnroe” and “Love Means Zero” will likely debut next year.)

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Brie Larson’s directorial debut ‘Unicorn Store’ was made from a proudly feminine point of view

Oscar-winning actress Brie Larson’s first movie as a director, the whimsical fantasy “Unicorn Store,” world premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival. She sat down with co-star Mamoudou Athie to speak with the L.A. Times about making the

At a time when her acting career had reached a new height, Oscar winner Brie Larson could have simply enjoyed her newly minted status of movie star rather than taking on the added responsibilities of directing, in particular to make a movie as boldly earnest and willfully eccentric as “Unicorn Store.”

“I’m really not good at being comfy,” Larson said. “I really want to keep being in this state of being a little bit off-balance and a little bit scared and ready to be surprised.

“There’s this kid in me that doesn’t have a voice, there’s this innocence inside of me, and this dreamer and this hope and this optimism that reside inside of me that was dying,” she said. “Kind of everything I was doing was about digging into the darkness and revealing the darker parts of our world. Which we need to see. But I also think, at least for myself, that I need to remember the other side of it too and that they work together. And to not feel repulsed by innocence or by happiness.”

“Unicorn Store” premieres today at the Toronto International Film Festival.

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Guillermo del Toro’s ‘The Shape of Water’ is the season’s official festival darling

Building on the raves it earned in its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, “The Shape of Water” — a fable of improbable love in the face of fear and intolerance — drew cheers at its first North American screening at the Telluride Film Festival. It went on to win the Venice fest’s top prize, becoming the first English-language film to do so since Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere” in 2010, and plays the Toronto International Film Festival tonight, before opening Dec. 8 in the thick of awards season.

The morning after the Telluride bow, The Times sat down with Del Toro to talk about what inspired his surreal adult fairy tale and why its fantastical, period-set, beauty-and-the-beast story is all too relevant in today’s real world.

Your friend and fellow director Alejandro Iñárritu has said that he thinks “The Shape of Water” is your most personal movie. Do you agree?

Guillermo del Toro: It’s the movie that I like the most. It’s this one, then “The Devil’s Backbone,” then “Pan’s Labyrinth,” then “Crimson Peak,” and so on and so forth. That’s the order for me — it doesn’t mean people have to agree. It’s sort of the aim-and-target quotient for a filmmaker — did it land where I wanted it? This landed exactly where I wanted it.

But “most personal” also suggests that, of all the films you’ve done, there’s the most of you in this one.

Del Toro: There is the most of me. Most of the time — in “Pan’s Labyrinth” or “Devil’s Backbone” — I’m talking about my childhood. Here, I’m talking about me with adult concerns. Cinema. Love. The idea of otherness being seen as the enemy. What I feel as an immigrant. What I feel is an ugly undercurrent not in the past — not in the origins of fascism — but now.

It is a movie that talks about the present for me. Even if it’s set in 1962, it talks about me now.

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Instant prints taken at the L.A. Times photo studio show Nicole Kidman, Tatiana Maslany and more in a different light

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

While taking photos of the movie and television industryites coming in and out of the Los Angeles Times’ photo studio at the Toronto International Film Festival, Times photographer Jay L. Clendenin is able to capture Polaroid-style instant prints, giving the subjects a different visual feel.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

MORE INSTA-PRINT PHOTOS FROM TIFF 2017 >>

George Clooney and Julianne Moore on why Hollywood stars shouldn’t shut up about politics

George Clooney and Julianne Moore talk about the importance of art and politics during their visit to the L.A. Times studio at the Toronto International Film Festival. Clooney directed Moore, Matt Damon and Oscar Isaac in the comedy “Suburbicon,” wh

George Clooney’s friendship with former President Obama and high-profile fundraising for Hillary Clinton have made him one of the most visible targets for those on the right who feel liberal Hollywood celebrities should stay out of politics. And of course there are the rumors that Clooney is interested in running for office himself.

Clooney has repeatedly said he’s not looking for a career change, but at the Toronto International Film Festival, where his new film “Suburbicon” is screening, he made it clear that he won’t stop speaking out about the political issues he cares about.

“Just because I have a SAG card doesn’t mean I have to keep quiet about the things I believe in,” Clooney said at the L.A. Times Studio in Toronto, and then added, “or a DGA card.”

“Oh, OK, pull that one out,” said Julianne Moore, one of the stars of “Suburbicon,” the sixth film Clooney has directed.

“Yeah, I threw the big one out,” the actor-director admitted.

Teasing aside, Moore and Clooney talked seriously with The Times’ Amy Kaufman about why they feel so strongly about having a say in issues of the day.

Clooney’s interest in politics goes back to when he was a teenager: "[When] I was 15 years old, I was working on a gubernatorial campaign in Kentucky. I believe in social responsibility and being involved.”

Moore said her motivation to speak out goes back to the founding principles of this country. “This is government for the people and by the people,” she said. “And if it’s going to work, we all have to be involved and we all have to speak out about what’s important to us.”

Five things to know from the TIFF premiere of Denzel Washington’s ‘Roman J. Israel, Esq.’

Denzel Washington in "Roman J. Israel, Esq."
(Sony Pictures)

Denzel Washington’s latest movie, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” had its world premiere Sunday at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Here are five takeaways:

  1. Dan Gilroy wrote and directed the movie, his first film since “Nightcrawler.” It follows Washington’s title character, an attorney grappling with the loss of long-held ideals.
  2. It’s not as accomplished as “Nightcrawler.” Tackling the idea of the burden and blessings that come with following a moral compass, the movie loses its focus midway through and becomes bogged down in plot.
  3. That’s unfortunate because Washington delivers a pretty interesting performance for the first half of the film, playing a plainspoken, direct-to-a-fault idealist. (At a post-screening Q&A with Gilroy, Washington said Roman probably has Asperger’s syndrome.)
    Washington also rocks a wine-colored suit that would have made Prince smile.
  4. Gilroy continues to display an affinity for capturing lesser-seen parts of Los Angeles, here making good use of the Bunker Hill neighborhood near downtown.
    Roman also takes Carmen Ejogo’s grass-roots activist to dinner at Cicada, where they have a lovely meal except, as Roman notes, “the portions were small.” (Can we get an amen?)
  5. We never find out what the “J” stands for.

“Roman J. Israel, Esq.” opens in select theaters on Nov. 3 and expands throughout the month.

Jessica Chastain and Sally Hawkins deserve their best-actress buzz at the Toronto International Film Festival

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“Molly’s Game” is Aaron Sorkin at his talkiest and “The Shape of Water” is probably the best thing Guillermo del Toro has done since “Pan’s Labyrinth” according to LA Times critic Justin Chang.

Always a spirited devotee of old-school Hollywood genres, Guillermo del Toro achieves in his latest film, “The Shape of Water,” an inspired melding of creature feature, spy thriller and wondrously perverse love story, the latter sustained by Sally Hawkins’ achingly delicate performance as Eliza, a mute cleaning lady who immediately bonds with the imprisoned merman (played, naturally, by Del Toro’s prosthetic-happy muse, Doug Jones).

But then, there’s great acting everywhere you look in “The Shape of Water,” from Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins as Eliza’s loyal friends to Michael Stuhlbarg as a doctor who becomes an unexpected ally, as well as Michael Shannon, almost too ideally cast as a scarily menacing federal agent.

The film took home the top prize at the Venice Film Festival on Saturday and will make its Toronto International Film Festival premiere on Monday evening.

Jessica Chastain is rightly drawing raves for her forceful, breathtakingly controlled work in “Molly’s Game.” Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut tells the fiendishly complicated story of how a very smart 26-year-old named Molly Bloom (Chastain) came to operate a high-stakes gambling ring that pulled in Hollywood celebrities, Wall Street billionaires and Russian mobsters — a recipe for very expensive disaster but also for a sensationally entertaining movie that maintains a tight grip on the audience over nearly 2 ½ hours.

Not least among its accomplishments, “Molly’s Game” drives a nail into the coffin of the idea that voice-over is an anti-cinematic device. Sorkin remains a master of breathless, hyper-articulate verbiage; you could cut yourself with some of the dialogue volleys that Molly and her attorney (an excellent Idris Elba) fling back and forth. But in contrast with his fact-based scripts for “The Social Network” and “Steve Jobs,” this time he relies heavily on his protagonist to tell her own story, and she does so, with nearly wall-to-wall narration that doesn’t waste a single word.

It’s a pointed decision from a writer who has often been taken to task for his representations of women, and who has clearly decided to greet that charge head-on. The gamble paid off. By the end of “Molly’s Game,” Chastain isn’t the only one looking like a winner.

Editor’s note: Times film critic Justin Chang is keeping a regular diary at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.

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Sean Baker on his unconventional casting of ‘The Florida Project,’ a realistic reflection on Americans living in poverty

“The Florida Project” wowed critics in its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival and now finds itself in the thick of Hollywood’s awards season despite being made on a very low budget with only one recognizable actor (Willem Dafoe). Director Se

Sean Baker’s latest film, “The Florida Project,” won critics over when it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. And with a release scheduled for Oct. 6 from “Moonlight” distributor A24, the film is already generating awards-season buzz.

Baker, best known for the iPhone-shot “Tangerine” and Fox’s “Greg the Bunny,” sat down with the L.A. Times along with three of “The Florida Project’s” stars -- newcomers Bria Vinaite and Brooklynn Prince and Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe -- at the Toronto International Film Festival to discuss the unusual style Baker brings to his projects.

Ellen Page, Jessica Chastain and a couple of Rachels (Weisz & McAdams) drop by the L.A. Times photo studio

Ellen Page
(Jay L. Clendinin / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Times photo studio at the 42nd Toronto International Film Festival was bustling with movement and star sightings as actress Ellen Page and her cohorts from “The Cured,” actress Jessica Chastain from “Woman Walks Ahead” and members of the casts and crews for films including “Disobedience,” “Mary Shelley” and “The Florida Project” all stopped by for a visit.

Jessica Chastain
(Jay L. Clendinin / Los Angeles Times)
Director Seastian Lelio, left, Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams and Alessandro Nivoa
(Jay L. Clendinin / Los Angeles Times)

MORE STUDIO PHOTOS FROM TIFF 2017 >>

‘Mary Shelley’ star Elle Fanning and director Haifaa al-Mansour reclaim a woman’s story from male ownership

In “Mary Shelley,” which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, Elle Fanning plays the legendary “Frankenstein” author for director Haifaa al-Mansour. The pair sat down with the L.A. Times to discuss the feminist themes o

Now that “Mary Shelley” has had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, star Elle Fanning (who plays the titular literary legend) and director Haifaa al-Mansour hope audiences will appreciate the story of “a woman’s struggle.”

As they said when they stopped by the L.A. Times studio in Toronto, the movie attempts to reclaim Shelley’s ownership over her most famous creation, “Frankenstein,” after the tale has been borrowed and adapted time and time again by men.

Fanning said the film shows Shelley’s personal connection to her most famous creation, and how she “kind of sees herself as the monster being torn apart in pieces. I don’t think a lot of people recognize that as much, they think of [the movie monster] and it’s not that.”

As Al-Mansour added, “A lot of people think the book is pure fiction, but it is all about what she went through as a young woman.”

Obama-era regrets and advice for Donald Trump from former administration officials Samantha Power and Ben Rhodes

In “The Final Year,” director Greg Barker chronicles the last 12 months of President Obama’s administration, including the surprise electoral victory of Donald Trump in November 2016. The Times sat down with Barker, and Obama’s senior advisor Ben Rh

In “The Final Year,” Greg Barker offers an inside look at the Obama administration and its foreign-policy team in the last 12 months of his presidency. Barker opted to bring the film to Toronto instead of his go-to venue of Sundance so it could be seen right away.

The movie follows the 44th president and a team that includes former Secretary of State John F. Kerry, ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power and senior strategist Ben Rhodes in the West Wing and around the world as they apply their brand of engaged globalism on issues ranging from climate change to Syria. To many, the scenes will conjure mental comparisons to Donald Trump even before he makes a brief appearance as president-elect late in the film.‎

“Someone asked me right after election day,‎ ‘How does this affect your movie?’” Barker said. “And I told them, ‘I think it just got more important.’ I don’t mean that politically,” he added. “I just mean that it shows a certain worldview at a time when it’s being questioned more than ever."‎

Barker, Rhodes and Power sat down with the L.A. Times in Toronto to discuss regrets from the Obama years and what advice they’d give Trump.

Greg Barker’s documentary “The Final Year” traces the last 12 months of President Obama’s administration, specifically in foreign policy. The Times sat down with Barker, and Obama’s senior advisor Ben Rhodes and Samantha Power, the former ambassador

Real-life battle rappers of ‘Bodied’ on confronting race in rhyme

Real-life battle rappers Alex “Kid Twist” Larsen, Dumbfoundead, Dizaster, and “Bodied” co-star Shoniqua Shandai talk to The Times at the Toronto International Film Festival about confronting race and racism in America in the controversial battle rap

“A lot of people don’t want to tackle race in anything they talk about,” rapper and “Bodied” co-star Dumbfoundead told The Times after the film from director Joseph Kahn (“Detention”) made its buzzy premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. “This tackles it head-on.”

L.A. native Dumbfoundead (nee Jonathan Park) is one of several real-life battle rappers who star in the Eminem-produced “Bodied,” an audacious comedy about a privileged white academic who loses himself in an intoxicating underground hip-hop world where lyrical gladiators face off in wars of words.

Written by champion battle rapper Alex “Kid Twist” Larsen, the film takes aim at everyone as it interrogates the boundaries of modern identity politics — and brings the no-holds-barred art of battling to the big screen with searing rhymes and incendiary insults.

Larsen, Dumbfoundead, fellow battle rapper Dizaster and “Bodied” co-star Shoniqua Shandai (who spits fire herself in the film as an MC dubbed Devine Wright) sat down in the Los Angeles Times studio at TIFF to discuss the challenges of confronting race and racism so boldly in “Bodied,” and how empowering the bloodsport of battle rap can be.

Read more on “Bodied” and hear from director Joseph Kahn.

‘Mountain Between Us’ cinematographer Mandy Walker set the mood for Idris Elba and Kate Winslet’s romance

When “The Mountain Between Us” premieres tonight at the Toronto International Film Festival, audiences will be treated to a romantic drama starring Idris Elba and Kate Winslet as two strangers struggling to survive after a plane crash, with cinematography by Mandy Walker.

Beyond the film’s amazing scenery, Walker says, the shots were about creating mood.

“So, for instance, sometimes we go a little colder and a little darker when we feel that the characters are maybe going to die, and we’re always moving with them,” she says. “We want the audience to feel like they’re on the journey. They’re in a situation that’s really dangerous and harsh, but beautiful. Like [director] Hany [Abu-Assad] said, the really important thing is that every so often it’s breathtakingly beautiful, and that was really important to him. But you also have to feel their experience and their fear.”

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‘The Girlfriend Experience’ Season 2: Showrunners Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan compare TV and indie film

“The Girlfriend Experience” showrunners and indie filmmakers Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan previewed the second season of their innovative Starz drama series at the Toronto International Film Festival. They sat down with The Times to talk about the

When “The Girlfriend Experience” Season 2 lands on Starz beginning Nov. 5, viewers will be introduced to all-new characters and a dual-storyline overseen by returning showrunners Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan.

The veteran indie filmmakers spoke to the Los Angeles Times at the Toronto International Film Festival, where fresh episodes of the series premiered in the fest’s Primetime section devoted to artistically daring works from the small screen.

Emma Stone reveals her process in playing Billie Jean King for ‘Battle of the Sexes’

Before true-life tennis tale “Battle of the Sexes” opens Sept. 22 and has a splashy premiere tonight at the Toronto International Film Festival, The Times spoke with star Emma Stone and the icon she plays, Billie Jean King, in a joint phone call about King’s famous female-vs.-male match with Bobby Riggs, its enduring impact on the fight for gender equality and what that looks like for the pay equity conversation currently going on in Hollywood.

Describe the process you took to step into Billie Jean King’s shoes for the role.

Emma Stone: It was pretty extensive. Obviously, I am not Billie Jean King, so I had a lot to learn [laughs]. For me, it was about learning so much about Billie Jean and watching footage of her and reading interviews with her, just steeping myself as much as possible in her particular story and learning more about the time period, how much was shifting and what a pivotal time it was for women and equality.

In the film, Bobby Riggs comes off as overblown and pompous. Was he really insufferable?

Billie Jean King: Yes, actually, he was [laughs]. But he had many layers to his character, not just the obvious. He had a lot of turmoil going on in his life off the court as well, and I had my own set of issues with my sexuality and trying to figure out who the heck I am as my authentic self. I was paralyzed at that time and I thought Emma did a great job digging in deep and understanding my dilemma at the time.

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Five things to know from ‘The Current War’ premiere at TIFF

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Thomas Edison in "The Current War."
(Dean Roger / The Weinstein Company / TIFF)

“The Current War,” a drama about the race between Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) to determine what electrical system would power the United States, had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday night.

Here are five takeaways:

  1. There is a LOT of talk. Talk about copper wiring, talk about dynamos, talk about types of electrical current. Does that make it dull? It depends. Does the thought of owning a backup generator get your blood flowing?
  2. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung compensate for all the gab by incorporating an off-kilter visual style that manages to maintain some visual nourishment
  3. Yes, Cumberbatch and Shannon deliver fine work.
  4. But they only have one scene together. And like most of the movie, it’s dramatically inert.
  5. The movie’s Oscar chances are iffy at best, though with the many and varied mustaches, maybe it could land a hair and makeup nod. (And you may be left wondering if Cumberbatch secretly wishes Edison went through a facial hair phase.)

Tennis coach Nick Bollettieri on why so few players achieve superstar status

Tennis coach Nick Bollettieri is profiled in director Jason Kohn’s documentary “Love Means Zero,” premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival. Both men sat down with the Los Angeles Times to talk about the state of tennis and Bollettieri’s

Jason Kohn’s documentary “Love Means Zero,” premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival, focuses on tennis coach Nick Bollettieri. Known for working with superstars of the game including Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Monica Seles, Bollettieri has some blunt thoughts about why we don’t see more tennis superstars.

As he says in the video above, “Out of 3,000 players on the pro tour, men and women, 1% will make a living. You have to be in the top 70 or 80 in the world to make a living.”

Awards buzz for ‘I, Tonya,’ Margot Robbie and Allison Janney following Toronto Film Festival premiere

Allison Janney of “I, Tonya” reveals her real-life aspirations to be a figure skater with director Craig Gillespie. Which makes her perfect fit to play the mother of infamous professional figure skater Tonya Harding in the film, which had its world

“I, Tonya,” starring Margot Robbie as figure skater Tonya Harding, had its world premiere last night at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The film’s unusual tone finds plenty of wicked humor in the story but explores a deep, unexpected sense of pathos in Harding’s rejection by the establishment of figure skating for her working-class background and hard-charging style. The way in which events spiral beyond Harding’s control shifts from absurdity to tragedy, as Robbie conveys the disappointment of watching a lifelong dream fizzle out.

The film would be a prime candidate for any distributor looking to bolster its awards season slate, as Fox Searchlight did last year when it acquired Pablo Larraín’s “Jackie” out of the festival, and went on to earn an Oscar nomination for star Natalie Portman.

If “I, Tonya” sneaks into this year’s race, Robbie, Sebastian Stan (as Harding’s partner in love, and possibly crime, Jeff Gillooly) and — in particular — Allison Janney (as Harding’s controlling mother) would all be considered competitive in acting categories, as would Steven Rogers’ script in original screenplay.

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‘Bodied’ director Joseph Kahn and Charlamagne Tha God on battle rap, ‘the last safe space’ for free speech

“Bodied” director Joseph Kahn and stars Charlamagne Tha God, Calum Worthy, Jackie Long and Rory Uphold sat down with The Times at the Toronto International Film Festival to discuss the controversial satire set in the world of battle rap, “the last s

No word is taboo and no race, gender, or degree of self-declared wokeness goes unscathed in the Eminem-produced “Bodied,” the searing and audacious battle rap satire from director Joseph Kahn that has audiences buzzing at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The inspiration for “Bodied,” about a privileged Berkeley grad student who makes a name for himself in the world of underground battle rap? Real life.

“If you say the wrong thing, whether it’s right or wrong, you get attacked like crazy,” Kahn said as he and his cast stopped by the L.A. Times studio in Toronto. “And the one place I saw where there’s a free dialogue happening, in a world of free ideas, is battle rap... it’s almost like the last safe space for that stuff, where two people can say the most amazingly brutal things to each other.”

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

“We all have freedom of speech,” said hip-hop personality and cast member Charlamagne Tha God. “But you have to know that there are consequences to that free speech. I have the right to say whatever I want to say but somebody else has the right to be outraged by it.”

He pointed to the pop controversy that erupted this week when Kahn weighed in on the most heated cultural debates of the year: whether or not Taylor Swift plagiarized Beyonce in her latest Kahn-directed music video, “Look What You Made Me Do.”

“The most offensive thing that Joseph has ever said is that Beyonce copied Taylor Swift,” Charlamagne joked. “I was offended!”

The cast of ‘I, Tonya’ and ‘Bodied’ stop by for coffee-tinis and photos

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Take a look inside the 2017 L.A. Times Toronto International Film Festival photo studio. The ice scandal stars from “I, Tonya” — Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan and Allison Janney — take a break before their world premiere for a few pictures.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Meanwhile, actors Calum Worthy and Jackie Long from “Bodied” got playful along with the rest of director Joseph Kahn’s cast including: Shoniqua Shandai, Kid Twist, Rory Uphold, Calum Worthy, Jackie Long, Dumbfounded and Dizaster.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Full gallery from the 2017 LA Times photo studio >>>

Saoirse Ronan shows her range in ‘Lady Bird,’ ‘On Chesil Beach’ at the Toronto International Film Festival

Saoirse Ronan, left, and Laurie Metcalf in "Lady Bird."
(Toronto International Film Festival)

Editor’s note: Times film critic Justin Chang is keeping a regular diary at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.

Greta Gerwig has noted the semi-autobiographical nature of her film “Lady Bird,” but a basis in real life alone wouldn’t be enough to make it ring true. The casting is impeccable down to the smallest role; there are terrific performances by Beanie Feldstein as Lady Bird’s loyal best friend, Lucas Hedges as her theater-geek crush, Tracy Letts as her easygoing dad and, best of all, Laurie Metcalf as a mother who shows how resentment can be an act of love (and also how it can’t).

And then there is Saoirse Ronan, who, whether or not she resembles the 2002-era Greta Gerwig, owns her role with a flinty intelligence and piercing vulnerability that makes you want to follow her anywhere she goes — by which I don’t mean just Christine/Lady Bird, but also Ronan herself. This remarkable actress has gone from strength to strength in recent years, peaking with her astonishingly fine-grained work in “Brooklyn,” in which she played a very different young woman tentatively finding her way in the world.

Ronan is so good that she can emerge smelling like a rose even from a well-mounted if ultimately unsatisfying effort like “On Chesil Beach,” her other picture playing in Toronto this year. Seeing that movie back-to-back with “Lady Bird,” if anything, only underscored the actress’ versatility: Whereas Gerwig’s film casts her as a 21st century American teenager eager to fall in love and shed her virginity, “On Chesil Beach” locks her into the role of Florence, a British woman who embodies the buttoned-down timidity of the stifling, pre-sexual-revolution 1960s.

Adapted by Ian McEwan from his own novel, the movie centers on Florence and her genial, slightly awkward new husband, Edward (Billy Howle, likable but not quite up to the level of his more established co-star), as they make an ill-fated attempt to consummate their marriage. A painfully awkward beachside retreat is interspersed with telling flashbacks to their respective histories, resulting in a lumpy, lurching back-and-forth structure that suggests a movie forever clearing its throat to articulate something meaningful.

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‘The Final Year’ gives an inside look at how the Obama administration reacted to Donald Trump’s election

Documentarian Greg Barker’s new film, “The Final Year” — which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday as it seeks distribution — is the result of a painstaking process to court President Barack Obama’s foreign policy staff, particularly U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power and senior advisor Ben Rhodes.

Drawing on his reputation and relationships from earlier movies (they include “Manhunt,” about the quest to find Osama bin Laden), Barker eventually persuaded the White House to let his cameras in.

The result is a fly-on-the-wall look at the team — President Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry — huddling in the West Wing and taking their diplomatic show on the road in places from Africa to southern Europe during its last year in power. There also is (some) critique of Obama’s decision not to intervene in Syria.

“The material is classified, but the emotions aren’t,” Barker said. And indeed, viewers watch as each of the movie’s principals goes through a crucible of some kind.

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Greta Gerwig brings tears, laughter and cheers to Toronto at emotional ‘Lady Bird’ premiere

Following a stirring premiere last week at the Telluride Film Festival, “Lady Bird” landed another emotional wallop to the Toronto audience Friday night.

Writer-director Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age story follows a free-thinking high school senior, Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan), looking to escape Sacramento (or as she calls it “the Midwest of California”). Gerwig told me she really sees the movie as a love story between a strong-willed mother (impeccably played by Laurie Metcalf) and her equally fierce-minded daughter.

That mother-daughter relationship is one of the many sharply drawn aspects of “Lady Bird” that is causing a stir with audiences. Gerwig says she has talked to scores of women after screenings who have told her they have been that mother or that daughter depicted in the film or that they hope their daughters do a better job of raising their girls than they did.

“I just want to hug everybody … and I do,” she told me, laughing. “I probably hug more people than is appropriate.”

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Angela Robinson says Patty Jenkins’ ‘Wonder Woman’ got the superhero ‘100% right’

Following the success earlier this year of “Wonder Woman,” directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Gadot in the title role, Angela Robinson’s latest film, “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women,” lands in a very different environment than the one in which it was made.

“Marston,” which premieres Tuesday at the Toronto International Film Festival, is about the relationship between Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans), his wife Elizabeth Marston (Rebecca Hall), and their mutual love Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote).

Though Robinson and Jenkins’ films share no deliberate connection, it will be impossible for audiences not to want to draw that link or look for ways in which they are in conversation.

“I came at this story as a straight-up Wonder Woman fan. I think she’s incredible. I thought Patty Jenkins’ movie got it 100% right,” Robinson said. “Some people have issues with Wonder Woman, which are just kind of baked in, but I don’t. When I was a kid, she was the only one.

“Wonder Woman is the only superhero whose ideas are founded on love, everyone else is for something else. Batman is there for vengeance, Superman is there for the sense of right and wrong, and Marston thought that the path to peace was love and that women were just inherently more loving and they weren’t inherently violent and anarchic in the way that men were in his psychological studies.

“So he created her to literally spread the message of love, which is what Wonder Woman does. And I think that is so valuable and poignant and necessary. And that’s why I think she’s hit such a chord. Literally her message is powerful.”

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‘I, Tonya’ stars Margot Robbie, Allison Janney and Sebastian Stan on figure skating, love and Tonya Harding

Margot Robbie plays infamous figure skater Tonya Harding in “I, Tonya,” while Sebastian Stan plays Harding’s nearly-as-infamous ex-husband Jeff Gillooly. The Times spoke with the actors at the Toronto International Film Festival, where “I, Tonya” ma

Margot Robbie plays infamous figure skater Tonya Harding in “I, Tonya,” while Sebastian Stan plays Harding’s nearly-as-infamous ex-husband Jeff Gillooly. The Times spoke with the actors at the Toronto International Film Festival, where “I, Tonya” made its world premiere, about bringing the real-life couple’s highly unconventional love story to the screen.

And the Times also spoke with “I, Tonya” co-star Allison Janney, who plays Harding’s fierce mother, and director Craig Gillespie (“Lars and the Real Girl”).

Allison Janney of “I, Tonya” reveals her real-life aspirations to be a figure skater with director Craig Gillespie. Which makes her perfect fit to play the mother of infamous professional figure skater Tonya Harding in the film, which had its world

‘Brad’s Status’ kicks off a very big fall for Ben Stiller

Ben Stiller got the script for “Brad’s Status,” which premieres today at the Toronto International Film Festival, by mistake.

He was supposed to be receiving the script for a CGI children’s film Mike White had written but instead was sent the story of a man coming to terms with his life as he takes his high school-age son on a tour of potential colleges while also grappling with the outsize successes of his own old college buddies.

White did not write the part with Stiller in mind, but once the actor had read the script and became interested, White became hooked by the notion too.

“There is an element that feels like a Ben Stiller vehicle. [With the character’s] urban anxiety and ambition — he is somebody who obviously comes to mind,” said White. “And I knew that he would do a great job, but also because the movie has some melancholy, some different tones than I’ve seen from him, it seemed like it might be exciting to present him in a way that seems like a more familiar Ben Stiller movie and then kind of subverts that with more existential dread.”

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Armando Iannucci on comedy in the age of Trump and ‘The Death of Stalin’

“Veep” creator Armando Iannucci returns to the film world for the first time since “In the Loop” with his latest political satire, “The Death of Stalin.” The Times caught up with Iannucci at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the film ma

“Veep” creator Armando Iannucci returns to the film world for the first time since “In the Loop” with his latest political satire, “The Death of Stalin.” The Times caught up with Iannucci at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the film made its world premiere, and he spoke about making comedy in the age of Donald Trump.

As Iannucci notes in the above video, “If Trump is denigrating the news as fake, it’s interesting that comedians are now becoming journalists. John Oliver, Samantha Bee and Bill Maher -- they have teams of researchers. They explore the facts and lay them out and that’s where they get their comedy from. It’s interesting that switch has happened.”

Greta Gerwig’s inspirations for ‘Lady Bird’ are close to her Sacramento hometown

Writer-director Greta Gerwig and co-stars Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts discuss the film “Lady Bird.”

Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut “Lady Bird” has been gathering buzz after its world premiere at last weekend’s Telluride Film Festival. The actress-turned-filmmaker sat down with the Times at the Toronto International Film Festival, along with the movie’s co-stars Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts, to discuss her inspirations for the Sacramento-set coming of age story.

As Gerwig notes, the film is about “how home is something that you can’t completely understand while you’re there, it’s something that you understand while leaving.”

Lady Gaga talks about Madonna, Taylor Kinney in Netflix documentary ‘Gaga: Five Foot Two’

For all of you Little Monsters who can’t wait to see Lady Gaga’s upcoming Netflix documentary, here are some moments we expect everyone to be buzzing about after tonight’s premiere of “Gaga: Five Foot Two.”

1. The Madonna beef

It’s no secret that Madonna isn’t the biggest fan of Gaga. The 59-year-old once said she felt the younger pop star “blatantly ripped off” her song “Express Yourself” in “Born This Way.” In the doc, Gaga addresses the feud, saying she doesn’t have a problem with what Madonna said — rather, the fact that she never said it to her face. “She wouldn’t look me in the eye and tell me that I was reductive or whatever,” Gaga says, admitting she learned about the diss while watching television. “Telling me you think I’m a piece of ... through the media? It’s like a guy passing me a note through his friend.”

2. Her chronic pain

In 2013, Gaga was forced to cancel dates on her “Born This Way Ball” tour to have surgery on her broken hip. Though she’s discussed the injury before, it’s only in the film that we see the extent of her pain. She still suffers muscle spasms as a result of the accident, which cause her to feel pain from her hip to her face. It often gets so bad that she has multiple people rubbing her muscles and putting ice on her while she sobs hysterically. In one scene, things get so bad that she looks forlornly at the camera and asks through tears: “Do I look pathetic?” questioning how she’ll handle the pain of childbirth. “I’m so embarrassed.”

3. Her breakup with Taylor Kinney

From the first scene of the movie, it’s evident that Gaga’s relationship with the “Chicago Fire” actor is in trouble. “Me and Taylor are fighting, so that sucks,” she says while cooking chicken in her kitchen. “My threshold for ... with men is just — I don’t have one anymore.” She goes on to write “Million Reasons” about him, and after they split, she alludes to the fact that she often gets into relationship trouble right when her career is soaring. (She and Kinney broke up after she landed “A Star Is Born.”) Still, the two don’t seem to be on bad terms: She is shown receiving flowers from him on the day of her Super Bowl performance.

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Toronto International Film Festival serves up a solid opening night movie with ‘Borg/McEnroe’

The festivities got off to a slick, serviceable start on Thursday night with the official opening-night selection, “Borg/McEnroe,” a lightweight dramatization of the nail-biting 1980 Wimbledon showdown between powerhouse players Björn Borg and John McEnroe.

Directed by Danish-born Janus Metz, it’s one of a few movies this year that suggest the Toronto International Film Festival might as well temporarily change its name to the Tennis International Film Festival; the others include “Battle of the Sexes,” starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell as Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, respectively, and “Love Means Zero,” Jason Kohn’s documentary about the legacy of star tennis coach Nick Bollettieri.

At times suggesting a less-adrenalized version of Ron Howard’s Formula One rivalry saga, “Rush” (2013), “Borg/McEnroe” is an involving if low-impact study in emotional contrasts. Crosscutting between his protagonists in precise, well-targeted editorial volleys, with occasional flashbacks to their respective troubled childhoods, Metz shows how the cool, calculating Swedish stud and the foul-mouthed American hothead may have had more inner demons in common than you might expect.

Shia LaBeouf, always an erratic talent, acquits himself nicely — or not so nicely — as McEnroe; there’s something fitting about enlisting one notoriously filter-free bad boy to play another.

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Why Morgan Spurlock went after Big Chicken instead of McDonald’s in his new ‘Super Size Me’ sequel

Director Morgan Spurlock and producers Jeremy Chilnick and Matthew Galkin discuss the reasons behind the sequel to his 2004 film “Super Size Me” -- and why chicken was the focus this time around. For “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!” -- screening at

Morgan Spurlock, union organizer? That was one of the director’s rejected plans when he was trying to come up with an idea for a sequel to his eye-opening 2004 documentary, “Super Size Me.”

But then he started noticing changes in the fast-food industry. “All this healthier food kept coming out, all this manipulation of consumers,” Spurlock tells Amy Kaufman in the L.A. Times video studio at the Toronto International Film Festival.

That got Spurlock thinking: “What if we tell the story of the food industry from the industry perspective and open our own fast-food restaurant?”

For “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!” — screening at Toronto — Spurlock and his team opened a pop-up, fast-casual chicken restaurant in Ohio to tell the story of the many ways consumers should be wary of the labels “organic,” “natural” and “healthy.”

Watch this video from The Times’ Mark Potts to find out how Spurlock and producers Jeremy Chilnick and Matthew Galkin chose to focus on chicken, “the most eaten food on the planet,” and how much things have changed since 2004 when McDonald’s was the king of fast food.

Chris Moukarbel tells us the most surprising thing about directing Lady Gaga in her Netflix documentary

Lady Gaga is starring in a new Netflix documentary, "Gaga: Five Foot Two." Director Chris Moukarbel talks about what it was like to work with her.
(Collier Shaw)

Chris Moukarbel, best known for directing “Banksy Does New York,” is used to working with mysterious icons. But Lady Gaga is a whole other level of icon.

And yet, as the director of the new Netflix documentary, “Gaga: Five Foot Two,” revealed to The Times’ Amy Kaufman during his visit to the L.A. Times Studio at the Toronto International Film Festival, the glamorous Gaga is “a very chill rocker chick” offstage. In this video, shot by Mark Potts, Moukarbel talks about how he got the directing job and the thing he found most surprising about working with Gaga.

Chris Moukarbel, director of the new Netflix documentary, “Gaga: Five Foot Two” tells us the thing he found most surprising about working with Lady Gaga. Also during his visit to the L.A. Times studio at the Toronto International Film Festival, he t

Jake Gyllenhaal and Jeff Bauman forged a ‘Stronger’ friendship during and after filming

When “Stronger” has its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival tonight, audiences will see Jake Gyllenhaal play Jeff Bauman, a survivor of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

The two got close during filming, as Bauman opened up to the actor about his recovery process.

Sometimes, when he’s feeling particularly depressed about “relationship stuff,” Bauman touches base with Gyllenhaal.

“I’ll say ‘I’m really down’ and he’ll call me,” Bauman said. “We’ll talk, and he’ll give me some positive info and just remind me that I have to focus on myself and making me a better person.”

Seeing the movie, he acknowledged, brought those dark feelings back to the surface. “But it also made me realize a couple days later: Look at me now. I’m doing great, and I just gotta keep going.”

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Greta Gerwig’s ‘Lady Bird’ soars with Oscar buzz on the fall festival circuit

In its first outing, warmly introduced by “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins at the Telluride Film Festival last weekend, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut “Lady Bird” soared.

The Telluride crowd gave a rousing response to the semi-autobiographical film about a fiercely independent high school senior (Saoirse Ronan) who yearns to go to college in New York to escape what she sees as her drab hometown of Sacramento and a stormy relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf).

Within minutes after the lights went up, speculations about awards prospects for the film, which opens Nov. 10, were bouncing across social media.

Next up for “Lady Bird”: Playing the Toronto International Film Festival at the Ryerson Theater.

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From Toronto To The Oscars: Why TIFF Matters

Sure, we’ve heard Oscar buzz as far back as Sundance in January. But even after Cannes, Telluride and Venice have all launched major titles, the buzz really starts ramping up at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Past winners of Toronto’s coveted People’s Choice Award, selected by the audience instead of a jury, include “12 Years a Slave,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” and “The King’s Speech.” They all went on to land a Best Picture win at the Academy Awards.

The Los Angeles Times film team breaks down the long road from TIFF to the Oscars.

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The Los Angeles Times film team breaks down the long road from TIFF to the Academy Awards.

‘Bodied’ director Joseph Kahn says Beyoncé copied Taylor Swift, not the other way around

Director Joseph Kahn of "Bodied," above, throws shade at Beyonce's "Formation." (Cinetic Media)
( (Cinetic Media))

Filmmaker Joseph Kahn is already dropping bombs ahead of the Toronto midnight premiere of his controversy-courting battle rap pic “Bodied,” rattling the legions of Beyoncé fans who have accused Taylor Swift of lifting from Bey in her music video for “Look What You Made Me Do,” which Kahn directed.

“It’s not ‘Formation’ at all,” Kahn said when the subject of his Twitter war with the Beyhive came up during a Times chat about “Bodied,” his unapologetically brazen satire about race, hip-hop, cultural appropriation and freedom of speech.

“They try to say she’s wearing a black crop top and Beyoncé wore a black crop top. But they don’t realize in 2015 in ‘Bad Blood,’ Taylor Swift was wearing a black crop top. I really do think, by the way, that Beyoncé copied ‘Bad Blood.’ ”

The Tay vs. Bey fandom war has been raging since Kahn and Swift debuted the “LWYMMD” video, their fourth collaboration. The video has racked up over 255 million views on YouTube and shattered the record for the most-viewed video in 24 hours in the streaming platform’s history.

Kahn’s irreverent “Bodied,” written by Toronto battle rapper Alex “Kid Twist” Larsen, stars Calum Worthy, Jackie Long, hip-hop personality Charlamagne Tha God and real-life battle rappers Dumbfoundead and Dizaster in the tale of a privileged white grad student who breaks into the underground world of battle rap.

“Bodied” — a film “people will hate,” Toronto International Film Festival programmer Peter Kuplowsky gleefully promised — premieres at midnight Friday and is poised to be one of the fest’s buzziest acquisition titles.

Read the full story on the Eminem-produced pic here.

Follow our ground team at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival

Want to know every, single detail that springs up at 2017 TIFF? We’ve got you covered.

The L.A. Times movie team is on the ground, in the theaters, and behind the scenes bringing you all the movie news straight from the streets of Toronto. Get all the information first hand by following them online.

The Toronto International Film Festival is ready to get political

This year’s Toronto International Film Festival, which runs Sept. 7-17, will provide an artistic response and even collective therapy to the roil emanating from Washington — all while offering a glimpse at how the country might debate issues and seek solace at movie theaters in the months to come.

“Our job is to try to rip down walls and start conversations, and this year’s festival reflects that,” said TIFF Artistic Director Cameron Bailey just days before the controversy over DACA boiled over in the U.S. “What TIFF is here to say is that the forces trying to build walls are not going to win.”

Bailey and other festival executives say they don’t explicitly privilege movies about current affairs or identity politics. Yet charged social topics percolate through many of the fest’s North American premieres just the same as the films play in the Canadian metropolis ahead of what is typically a major commercial rollout in the U.S by the end of the year.

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Films by Darren Aronofsky, Angelina Jolie and Guillermo del Toro top a quality-over-quantity lineup

Matt Damon, left, and George Clooney promote "Suburbicon" at CinemaCon.
Matt Damon, left, and George Clooney promote “Suburbicon” at CinemaCon.
(Angela Weiss / AFP/Getty Images)

The Toronto International Film Festival will slim down its lineup this year by about 20%, hoping to remove some of the bloat that lately has made the festival a comprehensive but dizzying affair.

But if the quantity of the films has decreased, the quality of the included filmmakers has not. New movies by Darren Aronofsky (the genre tale “Mother!”), Alexander Payne (magical-realist class picture “Downsizing”) and Guillermo del Toro (creature-feature drama “The Shape of Water”) will all play the post-Labor Day gathering. So will films by Wim Wenders (romantic drama “Submergence”) and Stephen Frears (immigrant-themed royals tale “Victoria and Abdul”).

The festival also will showcase a number of movies from prominent actors turned directors, organizers announced Tuesday. Among them are George Clooney’s home-invasion race critique “Suburbicon” featuring Matt Damon (he does double duty with “Downsizing”); Angelina Jolie’s fact-based Khmer Rouge drama “First They Killed My Father,” a Cambodian production rooted in native culture; Greta Gerwig’s California comedy “Lady Bird” starring Saoirse Ronan as the title character; and Andy Serkis’ “Breathe,” about the real-life polio activist Robin Cavendish, played by Andrew Garfield.

Organizers this year are reacting to a view of recent festivals that Toronto can be overwhelming for participants and yield diminishing returns for studios; executives annually scramble to lobby for the best slots and worry their movies will be overshadowed by competitors’ titles.

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The must see movies at 2017 Toronto International Film Festival

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Los Angeles Times film team members pick their most anticipated films at TIFF, including Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” and Darren Aronofsky’s “Mother!” starring Jennifer Lawrence.

The Los Angeles Times film team pick their most anticipated films at Toronto International Film Festival, including Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” and Darren Aronofsky’s “Mother!” starring Jennifer Lawrence.

Check out our full trailer round up of the most buzzed about films in the TIFF lineup >>>