Movies that Made a Mark at Toronto Film Festival 2016

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Douglas Greenwood charts ten of TIFF's most compelling cuts, from arthouse highlights to beautifully realised blockbusters

Every year, the Toronto International Film Festival plays host to a stimulating line-up of arthouse gems, well-crafted blockbusters and future cult classics. Widely considered to be a springboard for the films that will dominate the awards season, seven of the ten films that TIFF audiences have given the Grolsch People's Choice Award in the past decade have gone on to earn a Best Picture nod at the Oscars. With that in mind, we've selected ten stunning cuts from this year's festival, both big and small, that are worthy of your attention.

This gorgeously realised Jackie Kennedy biopic from No director Pablo Larraín is set in the days following the death of her husband, JFK. By avoiding the grandiose clichés of political cinema, Larraín makes room for Natalie Portman's enchanting, eerily perfect performance. This isn't, however, a no-frills affair: Stéphane Fontaine's nostalgic, 16mm cinematography and Mica Levi's first musical score since the spine-tingling Under the Skin embellish the film, giving it the kind of beauty Jackie would have wished for in a film about her life. 

The Human Surge
From the high rises of Buenos Aires to the remote jungles of Philippines, Eduardo Williams’ radical debut is a disorientating vision built on the fantasy of true freedom. Split into three parts that somehow merge seamlessly, Williams wanders into the lives of unemployed young men armed with quiet, philosophical intent, asking his audience: What is it that binds us to the mundanity of everyday life?

La La Land
Damien Chazelle follows up his fiery, jazz debut Whiplash with a musical tale of starry-eyed lovers in Los Angeles. Everything from La La Land’s dazzling cinematography to the chemistry between the film's leads, played by winning duo Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, make this a woozy, magical ode to Old Hollywood that's bound for Oscar glory.

Isabelle Huppert rounded out a trio of pictures playing at TIFF this year with a film that matches, if not surpasses the controversy of her seedy, 1974 breakout Going Places. Directed by Paul Verhoeven, the paralysing and effective Elle sees Huppert play a video game executive who, after being abused in her home, attempts to track down her rapist in the name of revenge. Tastefully handled, this is the film that could give its lead actress the mainstream recognition she so rightly deserves.

Dreamy and intricate, Rebecca Zlotowski's follow-up to last year's Grand Central sees the director dabbling in both the supernatural and Parisian excess. Following the lives of two clairvoyant sisters (Natalie Portman and Lily-Rose Depp) who bring their talents to the French capital just before the outbreak of The Great War, it has an alluring visual language that blends old-fashioned glamour with the washed out shades we're more accustomed to seeing in period cinema.

Set during the modern day Greek Depression, Sofia Exarchou's electric debut takes us inside Athens' aging Olympic Village, focusing on the disenfranchised youths that now live there. Tonally influenced by the likes of Lucrecia Martel and Harmony Korine, this may be a work of fiction, but Exarchou's film carries an important, valuable subtext that should be seen by blinded politicians the world over.

The Ornithologist
A twisted and narcotising modern fable, The Ornithologist takes the story of Saint Anthony of Padua (the patron saint of finding those who are lost) and transfers it to a birdwatcher, lost in amongst the forests and fjords of northern Portugal. A series of strange encounters, including one with a pair of murderous Chinese tourists and another with a mute goat herder named Jesus, drag him further away from reaching the real world and closer to nature. 

A retired music critic being ousted from her beachfront home refuses to budge in the latest film from Neighboring Sounds director Kleber Mendonça Filho. A passionate parable defined by songs, sex and holding on to the past, Sonia Braga shines as the film’s formidable, honest lead, solidifying her status as Brazil’s most respected cinematic doyenne and earning some highly deserved awards buzz in the process.

Barry Jenkins’ first film in eight years stole the show at this year's festival, and rightly so. A delicately handled, masterful drama that delves into the world of a young black boy doubting the boundaries of his sexuality, it lyrically unfolds in three life stages, taking us from his troubled childhood to becoming a grown man fending for himself. A whole theatre cried when it premiered at TIFF; we challenge you to try and hold back the tears too.