This year, The Toronto International Film Festival will be a hybrid of online, outdoor, and in-cinema screenings, allowing Canadians across the country to take part in the annual celebration of film (call it one of the few good things to come out of the pandemic). As always, the 2021 programming lineup includes big films with big stars, some indie standouts, and screen gems from across the globe. Unlike previous festivals, it also includes movies we’ve been waiting an extra year to watch (see: Denis Villeneuve’s Dune). Whether you plan to view these movies online at Digital TIFF Bell Lightbox or check out one of the IRL screenings at this year’s festival, these are the movies you won’t want to miss.
Once best-known for her central role in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, Mélanie Laurent has evolved into a powerhouse writer/director herself. The Mad Women’s Ball is her
third film to screen at the festival and is based on Victoria Mas’ best-selling novel. The trailer introduces us to Eugénie (Lou de Laâge, who also featured in Laurent’s 2014 TIFF film, Breathe), a wealthy Parisien consigned to a sanitarium and subjected to the abuse that, at the time, passed for psychiatric “care.” The clip manages to leave viewers on their seat edges without giving away the secret at the centre of the movie — leaving us counting the days ‘til its TIFF debut.
With Spencer, Pablo Larraín continues to build a reputation for himself as a filmmaker who handles history and its icons with a careful, creative touch. His CV includes the Golden Globe-nominated Neruda and the triple Oscar-nominated Jackie. But it’s Larraín’s Princess Diana biopic that’s sure to cause the most conversation. With Kristen Stewart in the title role and a children’s choir belting out a tear-jerker of a Lour Reed song, the film’s trailer already has us tearing up over the tragedy we know is inevitable.
Screening as part of TIFF’s Toronto-centric Short Cuts YYZ programme, Defund stars and was written and directed by the city’s own Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah and Araya Mengesha. The film, which clocks in at under 15 minutes, manages to take audiences through the turbulent storm of emotions that Black North Americans were forced to navigate during (as well as before and ever since) the summer of 2020. The creative duo pulls it off with both insight and humour, as is evident in the teaser clip below.
Writer/director Julia Ducournau’s film has a reputation that precedes it. Following the movie’s Palme d’Or-winning debut at Cannes this summer, media outlets declared Titane the most shocking film of 2021 (and in the same year that the Paw Patrol movie came out). This new addition to the horror film genre has a trailer that isn’t for the squeamish but even for those capable of steeling themselves against a bit of gore, expect to be thinking about this one-of-a-kind film for a long, long time.
Like TIFF 2015 selection Mustang, a Turkish gem that followed teenage girls with outsized dreams stuck in the smallness of rural life, The Hill Where Lionesses Roar explores that same frustration and constraint of place and age and gender. Director Luàna Bajrami takes viewers to Kosovo where her protagonists find themselves fenced in by a lack of opportunity and a closed border — so they do what they can to transgress the borders that are within their reach. Bajrami’s movie is a Sofia Coppola-like celebration of young women… with an edge.
Prepare to have your heart warmed by at least 10 degrees when you watch the trailer for Dear Evan Hansen. When it comes to this film “feel-good” doesn’t quite cut it — “feel amazing”? Maybe. The film adaptation of the Tony-winning musical stars Julianne Moore, Ben Platt, and Kaitlyn Dever in one of those stories where an initial miscommunication leads to bigger revelations about life itself. Try not to experience what they call “all the feels” while watching the promo clip.
Night Raiders is Canadian director Danis Goulet’s debut feature film and already we can’t stop thinking about it. Rooted in the historical trauma committed against Indigenous Peoples of Canada, Goulet employs a dystopian lens to tell her story in a way that instantly captures her audience’s attention and doesn’t let go. Aided by her talented lead, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Goulet has produced work that critiques, educates, and thrills. It’s a TIFF 2021 must-see.
Do you want to see a film that star Jessica Chastain joked required so much heavy makeup that it did permanent damage to her skin? Because we do. Just how much makeup did televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker wear on a daily basis? Enough, says Chastain, to “stretch your skin out.” Do your eyelids even lift, bro? Besides the incredible work of makeup artists on this Michael Showalter-directed biopic, we can’t look away from the story at the film’s heart: that of a woman who made her own moral decisions even when what she believed went against the dogma of the evangelical community she was at the centre of.
If it feels like you’ve been waiting to see a successful adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel Dune for decades it’s because you have. First, there were the decades between Dune’s publication in 1965 and the year 2019. Then, there was the decade we lived through between 2020 and now. Originally slated to hit theatres in November of 2020, Dune will now have its North American premiere at TIFF this September. And it’s about time because this trailer hasn’t paid rent in a year.
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