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Critics are calling 'Your Name' a legitimate pre-festival favorite

'It's hard to describe why it's so beautiful, but it really is an astonishing work.'

Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer star in director Luca Guadagnino's critics' choice, 'Call Me By Your Name.' (Photo courtesy of TIFF)

TORONTO -- One of the best new traditions at the annual Toronto International Film Festival, at least for yours truly, is the chance to discuss some of the TIFF films with hometown critics before the annual 10-day event actually begins.

In fact, four years ago, we started reporting on how media members here get the opportunity to preview many of the festival movies weeks before opening night which for this 42nd annual get-together.

So, in the last few days. we did it again and quizzed about a dozen movie journalists who simply were asked to name "a couple of their favorite festival movies, so far."

This year's "winner," if you can actually call it that, was "Call Me By Your Name," which former Toronto Sun critic Jim Slotek (now a founder of the new Original-Cin web site) describes as "the one with Armie Hammer as an older gay man in the early ‘90s and his flirty relationship with an artistic teen in Northern Italy.

"I really quite liked it."

Added Jake Howell, a free-lancer for a number of Canadian publications, "It's hard to describe why it's so beautiful, but it really is an astonishing work."

Three other writers also called out "Your Name" when asked the key polling question, making director Luca Guadagnino's take on a 2007 novel an easy pre-fest champ. ( Don't snicker. "Spotlight" and "Moonlight," the last two Academy Award-winning Best Picture(s), walked away from the pack in previous years here as well.)

Meanwhile, the strong runners-up (with three mentions apiece):

"The Disaster Artist," a tribute to a real, if awful filmmaker from director James Franco and an all-star cast. "It's just brilliant work by Franco behind and in front of the camera." -- Bonnie Laufer Krebs (TV and radio freelancer)

"The Square," the Cannes Palme d'Or-winning comedy from Sweden's Ruben Ostlund. "Laugh-out-loud funny, but it asks a serious question: “How much inhumanity does it take before we access your humanity?” -- Peter Howell (The Toronto Star critic and TFCA President)

Some honorable mentions:

"The Florida Project," Willem Dafoe stars in this apparently spellbinding film from co-writer and director Sean Baker-- "It's just very emotional and equally heartbreaking.” -- Kim Hughes (Original-Cin)

"Novitiate," a kind of coming-of-age nuns' story. "There are some very strong moments, especially with Melissa Leo as the Mother Superior." -- Edward Douglas (longtime New York movie writer currently the East Coast editor for The Tracking Board web site).

"The Leisure Seeker," an Italian film with Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland as a couple seeking adventure on one last road trip. "It's surprisingly very smart and has those great performances. I think a lot of people will be touched by it." -- Linda Barnard (The Toronto Star)

By the way, much of the "polling" came at the annual Festival Pre-Party, hosted by the Toronto Film Critics Association, which graciously invites, then cordially welcomes out-of-town scribes to partake in a few cocktails and an assortment of Mexican food from Milagro's on Mercer Street.

Last night's bash, this year tabbed as "Critical Drinking: Pre-Fest Fiesta," smartly featured a theme drink called the "Bloody Mary Pickford" (perhaps youngsters out there can "Google her") and a TFCA tagline: "The only festival party that's for media -- and friends."

Ironically or (maybe not), halfway through my second "Pickford" (actually simply a classic margarita with cranberry juice), I started wondering why -- in the four years I've been conducting this extremely informal survey -- I can't remember anyone ever touting a Mexican movie.

Now, before someone accuses me of not remembering much of anything after imbibing with my north-of-the-border pals, we should note for the record that "artist, political thinker, and community builder" Gael Garcia Bernal (a great Mexican actor, director and producer, too) will be one of the featured speakers at this year's TIFF "In Conversation With..." program.

We'll have more on that this weekend but, hopefully, not before a likely report tomorrow on some Opening Night festival festivities.

Adios, for today.

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