10 of the best TIFF movies – and when you can watch them

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Despite a return to red carpets and theater premieres, the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival was anything but normal.

For an event renowned for its unique ability to generate buzz with its huge audience – the largest for a public film festival in the world – there were few common events to report this year. Instead, the focus was on the hybrid and digital side of TIFF, leading many moviegoers to participate from their homes.

So, instead of compiling the most exciting in-person events, entertainment reporters Eli Glasner and Jackson Weaver have compiled some of their top festival picks, with details on when you can expect to see them.


Eli glasner

Jockey

Clifton Collins Jr. plays a jockey who finds the perfect trick in this film from director Clint Bentley. (Sony Pictures International)

I go to TIFF hoping to find movies like this. It’s a rambling snapshot of a declining subculture, with Clifton Collins Jr. as an aging jockey who, in a just world, would earn him Oscar attention. Director Clint Bentley takes his time, frames the faces to capture the fading light. Molly Parker and the young Moises Arias support the story but know not to pull the reins too much. The last two minutes, the look on Collins’ face – sublime.

Jockey opens January 15, 2022.

Dune

WATCH | Director Denis Villeneuve on the set Dune for the big screen:

Why Dune is a movie on the big screen

Canadian director Denis Villeneuve explains how he shot the movie Dune to be seen in theaters. 0:56

Opposite of Jockey of course, but Dune is also part of the festival experience – this glorious anticipation of The Big Thing. The good news is Dune, filtered through the prism of Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, did not disappoint. His view of the worlds of novelist Frank Herbert is vast, majestic, and utterly serious. It is Star wars boneless funny. But in its place is the story of a Messianic prince, warring empires, and the relentless enemy – nature itself. With only the first part of the series proposed by Villeneuve available, the story lacks closure, but what a sumptuous start.

Dune will be in theaters on October 22.

Drunken birds

Hélène Florent as Julie, the wife of the owner of a vegetable farm in Quebec, in a scene from Drunken Birds. (TIFF)

Director Ivan Grbovic presents a visceral look at the real ripples of globalism in Drunk birds, a story that stretches from the deserts of Mexico to a vegetable farm in Quebec. Involving drug cartels and migrant workers, it is a deeply human look at the inner workings of the commercial machine. We watch the time go by, the cicadas chirping and dominoes fall into place. Sara Mishara’s cinematography is appropriately lush, and Jorge Antonio Guerrero as lone worker Willy is excellent.

Drunken birds opens in Quebec on October 15.

Raiders of the night

WATCH | Director Danis Goulet on the film’s message of hope:

The message and power of the Night Raiders

Indigenous Night Raiders director Danis Goulet explains why she chose to shoot her residential school film in the future. 1:10

Director Danis Goulet and her collaborators could never have imagined how urgent her film would become. But by reframing the history of residential schools in a dystopian context of the near future, Raiders of the night highlights the timeless strength of indigenous communities, pushing back and uniting.

Leaving the history books behind, we find Canada as a war-torn and defeated nation where the government takes children to indoctrinate. The casting of Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers as a mother disconnected from her culture is inspired, and newcomer Brooklyn Letexier-Hart is a revelation.

Raiders of the night opens in theaters October 8.

The power of the dog

By Jane Campion, screenwriter and director of the years 1993 The piano, comes another slow and masterful burn of a story. Benedict Cumberbatch sinks completely into the skin and stinks of Paul, the uncompromising cowboy who runs a ranch with his brother (Jesse Plemons).

It is a tale filled with small details to evoke Montana in the 1920s. From the landscape to the costumes, and certainly to the characters, everything is covered with a lived earthy patina. The perfect setting for a story that creeps over you like a hot, dry breeze.

The power of the dog opens in select theaters on November 17, then hits Netflix in December.

Finalists:

  • Spencer
  • To flee
  • Little mom
  • Keep up your fire
  • Louis Wain’s electric life

Jackson Weaver

Silent night

Keira Knightley appears in a still from the movie Silent Night. The black comedy, which takes place over Christmas, shows parents and their children struggling with an upcoming apocalypse. (TIFF)

This dark and comedic tale stars Keira Knightley, Lily-Rose Depp, and Roman Griffin Davis from Bunny Jojo celebrity – who, again, makes a star-studded movie despite his young age – and likely stands out Die hard as the most unbranded Christmas movie on the market. It had its world premiere at the end of TIFF, but has already been purchased by AMC +, so it should be in theaters and available for rental online in the US and Canada in December.

As one of the first true climate disaster comedies – it details a dinner hour before the apocalypse – there’s little to compare to this feature. It’s sure to keep you engaged – assuming you can laugh until the end of the world.

Spencer

This biopic by Chilean director Pablo Larraín was among TIFF’s most anticipated films despite not being eligible for the coveted People’s Choice Award, as it was only screened in person and was not not available to digital audiences.

Yet the film delivered on all fronts. Kristen Stewart disappears as Diana, Princess of Wales, on a tense Christmas weekend in the early 1990s. Don’t expect fireworks or plays – or a lot of closure – but rather a subtle and effective character study.

The film is slated for wide release on November 5.

The hole in the fence

The characters from the movie A Hole In The Fence are shown in this promotional photo. The surreal coming of age story, set in a Mexican summer camp, shows the cruelty that can often set in during adolescence. (Wild Bunch International Sales)

A surprise find in a festival dominated by the return of big budget feature films, The hole in the fence is a grim coming-of-age story about a group of boys at a religious camp in the Mexican countryside and the cruelty that can come from both youth and budding masculinity.

Much of its strength comes from the surprisingly strong performances of its young stars – a trend at this year’s festival. While it doesn’t yet have a planned release date, keep an eye out for this moving and urgent film, which will inevitably be compared to Lord of the Flies, even if it’s a little more surreal.

Louis Wain’s electric life

WATCH | Benedict Cumberbatch explains why he loves coming back to TIFF:

Benedict Cumberbatch returns to TIFF

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch talks about his return to the Toronto International Film Festival and the value of in-person screenings. Cumberbatch stars in two films at TIFF, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain and The Power of the Dog. 0:41

Louis Wain’s electric life is one of two Benedict Cumberbatch films to premiere at this year’s festival. And unlike the other, The power of the dog, this one concerns a different animal: cats.

Louis Wain’s electric life shows how the artist’s actual work helped cats become common household pets at the turn of the 20th century. Cumberbatch plays the enigmatic and mildly neurotic character in a way that echoes his past performances in Sherlock and The imitation game, while the story itself is both tender and serious.

It hits theaters on October 22 and will then switch to Amazon Prime in early November.

Humans

Fresh out of the success of the medieval epic The green knight – and with The witch, Hereditary and Environment in its back pocket – the A24 movie studio jumped head-first into the horror genre, but not in the way you might expect.

Adapted from the one-act play by Stephen Karam, who also directs the film, The Humans follows a family through a quirky and increasingly uncomfortable Thanksgiving dinner. While monsters, gore, violence, or other horror staples are never introduced, the film creates all of the genre’s suspense, almost entirely from quiet moments and probing questions.

While there is still no firm release date, The A24 site currently has Humans is expected to be released in 2021.

Finalists:

  • Scarborough
  • Blessing
  • Titanium
  • The worst person in the world
  • The forgiven

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