10. American Honey

Andrea Arnold, USA

Female filmmaker Andrea Arnold’s American Honey is a coming-of-age drama that is bold, raw and beautiful. At almost three hours long, the film can sometimes be indulgent and aimless. However, Sasha Lane’s breakout performance is hard to resist and the film is essentially at its best when Arnold explores the beauty of her characters through its soft and dreamy cinematography against a harsh backdrop of Middle America. With incredible performances including supporting roles from Shia Laboeuf and Riley Keough, the film shines through Arnold’s distinctive cinematic style, particularly the film’s soundtrack which complements the narrative of the often brutal reality of kids chasing the American Dream.

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9. Arrival

Denis Villeneuve, USA

With all the B-level sci-fi features out there, it’s difficult to find a film about aliens that hasn’t been done in an already over-saturated genre. It’s been a good year for sci-fi in television with the release of HBO’s Westworld, Netflix’s Stranger Things and most recently The OA. However, I haven’t seen a good sci-fi film in a number of years. Denis Villeneuve’s latest sci fi feature about an eerie alien invasion, is original, smart and poetic. The film slowly builds with an excellent performance from Amy Adams, culminating into a powerful and satisfying ending.

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8. Moana

Ron Clements & John Musker, USA

If there is anyone out there who doesn’t like this animated film, they are literally dead inside. You simply cannot and will not dislike this epic journey across the ocean.

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7. Personal Shopper

Olivier Assayas, France

I have to admit I will watch anything Kristen Stewart is in, but this new feature directed by Olivier Assayas is definitely worth watching. For me, this is undeniably Stewart’s best performance. This thrilling mystery about a woman’s search to connect with her deceased twin brother leaves you constantly on the edge of your seat. With elements of horror and drama, Personal Shopper explores notions of loss, grief and the challenges of letting go of a loved one.

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6. Divines

Houda Benyamina, France/Qatar

Houda Benyamina’s directorial debut is this year’s Girlhood. Now streaming on Netflix, Divines is a fierce, empowering coming-of-age and female driven drama taking place in the ghettos of Paris. Female lead Oulaya Amamra is absolutely breathtaking, and with newcomer Déborah Lukumuena, the two make a very entertaining pair. The film can often be suspenseful and comedic, with an emotional punch. Now that the film is widely accessible to viewers across Canada, this film is one you should make time to see.

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5. Toni Erdmann

Maren Ade, Germany/Austria

Maren Ade’s unique comedy about a father’s surprise visit to see his daughter in Bucharest is unpredictable, hilarious and heartwarming. Its deadpan humour is both awkward and sometimes downright absurd, but at the centre is an honest film about family and emotional bonds. At almost three hours long, the film is a slow burner but requires all the minutes to accurately portray the fragility of their father-daughter relationship.

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4. Moonlight

Barry Jenkins, USA

We screened Moonlight at SWIFF ‘16 so you know how we feel about it. Moonlight is surely one of the best films of the year. The critically acclaimed feature by Barry Jenkins has received plenty of praise and with awards season already underway, we hope the momentum continues to give this mesmerizing work of art what it deserves.

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3. Manchester By The Sea

Kenneth Lonergan, USA

I read on the film’s poster that it is both “heartbreaking and heartwarming”, and it is exactly that. Award-winning writer and director Kenneth Lonergan’s latest feature is deeply affecting, and will make you laugh and cry. A lot. On top of that, Casey Affleck’s performance is incredibly moving and impossible to dismiss. We follow this portrait or a character study rather of a man grieving after unimaginable trauma, and while a lot sad stuff happens, at the same time it is surprisingly very funny. Through Lonergan’s characters, he tells us that sometimes in the most devastating situations, you can still find laughter.

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2. La La Land

Damien Chazelle, USA

It’s hard to hate this movie really, and what was expected to be one of the most overrated films of the year, turned out to be completely irresistible. In fact, it’s enchanting. This captivating, charming and whimsical musical starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling is constantly teetering on cliche, yet pulls back and gives elements of surprise at every turn. Director Damien Chazelle creates a colourful aesthetic that is both nostalgic yet refreshing as we watch our leading actors sing and dance their way to the top.

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1. The Handmaiden

Park Chan-wook, South Korea

This gorgeous erotic thriller by South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook is highly stylized and visually stunning. If not for the romance, the aesthetics alone is enough to carry this film. With lush tones paired with a dark and perverse narrative, The Handmaiden is inherently a feminist tale with twists and turns. This film is one of my favourites from last year, and Park’s incredible attention to detail is unlike anything I’ve seen from 2016.

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Jennie Chu

Lead Programmer

Jennie attended the University of Toronto with a major in Cinema Studies. During her third year, she completed an internship as a Development Assistant for producer Teddy Zee in Los Angeles for three months. After graduating, she started a position as an Executive Assistant at Cinemavault, an international film sales agent located in Toronto. Within a few years, she became the Director of Acquisitions representing the company as a buyer at film festivals such as Cannes, Sundance, Berlin, SXSW, Busan and more. After taking a break from the industry to travel, she began her work at the Toronto International Film Festival as a Short-Cuts Pre-Screener and Filmmaker Host Coordinator. She now works alongside Ravi Srinivasan as the Festival Programmer at SWIFF.