Considering how many journalists and movie industry titans from Africa, Asia, Europe and South America flock to the Toronto International Film Festival, it's no wonder the TIFF schedule includes so many films we North Americans consider foreign. They usually make a big splash in Toronto, becoming solid Oscar contenders, and I'm happy to report the first crop of premieres included three exemplary foreign films worthy of Oscar's attention—and yours.
Sheikh Jackson, set in 2009, tells the unlikely tale of a devout imam (Ahmad Al Fishawy), who is a devoted Michael Jackson superfan. When the King of Pop dies, it triggers the cleric's memories of when he was young (played by Ahmed Malek) and emulated Jackson down to his "Thriller" haircut and bondage pants. This funny, tender film from Egypt offers a new global perspective of the "man in the mirror."
C'est La Vie
The funniest flick at TIFF so far has to be C'est La Vie from directing duo Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano (The Intouchables). The film is a fizzy laughfest about a long-suffering caterer hoping to make it through one last wedding reception at a chic 18th century estate, only to be hit with food poisoning, a power outage and an impossible-to-please groom.
A Fantastic Woman
Finally, one of the best films of the year has to be A Fantastic Woman from Chilean director Sebastian Lelio (Gloria). This beautiful, enigmatic film stars Chilean trans actress Daniela Vega as Marina, a young transgender nightclub singer who loses the love of her life, 57-year-old Orlando (Francisco Reyes), in an accident. Following Orlando's death, his relatives become suspicious of Marina, targeting her for her youth, class and gender. Marina is forced to not only clear her name but to demand the thing no one seems willing to give her: respect. Vega's performance is so powerful, she should get plenty of respect from the Motion Picture Academy without even having to ask—and the timing couldn't be better for the first Oscar nomination for a trans actress.