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Ta Ta to TIFF: The Best of the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival

Neon

Well, that was something. The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival is in the books. After expressing here some reservations about whether or not it was a good idea, I think it was overall a net positive to attend TIFF. COVID protocols were in place and strictly enforced. Theaters were at half capacity, even the big IMAX screening of Dune I went to at a spot a little ways away from the main TIFF venues. Sure, there weren’t too many people from films in attendance, but it still felt like a film festival. The reason? Well, the movies of course. The fest had some of the year’s best titles, to be sure, so the week i spent up north was pretty great, cinematically speaking. Today, I’m wrapping up my coverage, so let us dive right in now…

What you’ll see below is my roundup of what struck my fancy at TIFF. I’ve separated the sections into my thoughts on the films and performances, as well as a full ranking of the movies, plus final thoughts. If you followed my tweets while I was up in Toronto, little of this will be surprising, but still. Here goes nothing…my summary of my time in Canada for this festival. Plus, be sure to check out all of our festival coverage here.

The Best Films

Focus Features

For my money, six titles really stuck out as the cream of the TIFF crop. Those would be Belfast, Dune, The Power of the Dog, Spencer, Titane, and The Worst Person in the World. Some, like The Power of the Dog and Spencer, were somewhat safe bets for me to like, even if I loved them more than expected. Then, there were surprises like Belfast, Titane, and The Worst Person in the World, though earlier festivals had suggested high quality. Of course, for faithful readers and listeners of our podcast, most notable is Dune working for me. Given my skepticism, Denis Villeneuve‘s science fiction epic winning me over should be cause for celebration.

The Best Performances

The Survivor

A handful of performances really have stayed with me, post TIFF. On the male side, Ben Foster blew me away in The Survivor, turning in career best work, which is really saying something. Also upping the ante on their prior performances are Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog, alongside the Belfast duo of Jamie Dornan and Ciarán Hinds. All deserve Oscar attention, though Foster may have to wait until next season to contend. As for the female performances, that’s where the real gems were. Kristen Stewart is perfection and gives the performance of the year in Spencer. Not only should she get her first Academy Award nomination, she deserves to win the Oscar for Best Actress. Another revelation was Renate Reinsve, who is an instant breakthrough actress in The Worst Person in the World. Jessica Chastain is also having a blast in The Eyes of Tammy Faye. Without question, there were plenty of great turns at the festival to admire.

TIFF Awards

NEON

Best Film: Spencer (Runner Up: Belfast and The Worst Person in the World)

Best Director: Pablo Larraín for Spencer (Runner Up: Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog and Denis Villeneuve for Dune)

Best Actor: Ben Foster for The Survivor (Runner Up: Benedict Cumberbatch for The Power of the Dog and Mark Duplass for Language Lessons)

Best Actress: Kristen Stewart for Spencer (Runner Up: Jessica Chastain for The Eyes of Tammy Faye and Renate Reinsve for The Worst Person in the World)

Best Screenplay: The Worst Person in the World (Runner Up: Belfast and Titane)

Final Thoughts

Warner Bros.

All in all, I’m glad I got to go up to Canada and attend the Toronto International Film Festival. To be sure, it’ll be different next year, but this stripped down fest had a low-key charm to it. Plus, I really didn’t see many bad movies. Only Lakewood struck me as bad, even if things like Dear Evan Hansen, Last Night in Soho, and Where Is Anne Frank disappointed. When you see over two dozen flicks and only a small fraction evoke that reaction, you know you did something right. Here’s to more TIFF coverage for Awards Radar next year!

Full TIFF Ranking

The Worst Person in the World

1. Spencer

2. The Worst Person in the World

3. Belfast

4. Titane

5. Dune

6. The Power of the Dog

7. Language Lessons

8. The Survivor

9. Flee

10. The Wheel

11. Jockey

12. Julia

13. The Guilty

14. Violet

15. The Starling

16. I’m Your Man

17. The Eyes of Tammy Faye

18. A Hero

19. The Mad Women’s Ball

20. The Humans

21. The Electrical Life of Louis Wain

22. All My Puny Sorrows

23. Dear Evan Hansen

24. Where Is Anne Frank

25. Last Night in Soho

26. Lakewood

Stay tuned to see how the TIFF titles do throughout the rest of the year!

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Written by Joey Magidson

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