The Top 30 Films I Want to See at TIFF 2021 (Toronto International Film Festival)

by keithsim | created - 11 months ago | updated - 11 months ago | Public

I'm the managing editor of IMDbPro and the senior film editor for IMDb. I'll be viewing all of these films on TIFF's quite efficient screening service as the pandemic is keeping so many away from Toronto. Here's to hoping that screenings next year take place in the glorious TIFF Lightbox. PS: I did not include Denis Villeneuve's DUNE on this list because, knowing Villeneuve and the source material, that movie has to, has to, has to be seen in a theater. - Keith Simanton

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1. The Power of the Dog (2021)

R | 126 min | Drama, Romance, Western

89 Metascore

Charismatic rancher Phil Burbank inspires fear and awe in those around him. When his brother brings home a new wife and her son, Phil torments them until he finds himself exposed to the possibility of love.

Director: Jane Campion | Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee

Votes: 166,665

Reasons? Campion, of course, with Cumberbatch, Dunst, Plemons. Reviews coming out of Venice have been mixed but a few, from folks I trust, have been stellar and there was that four-minute standing ovation in the Sala Grande, the large, premiere theater. And they're not pushovers in that theater. You have to earn an ovation there.

2. Belfast (2021)

PG-13 | 98 min | Biography, Drama

75 Metascore

A young boy and his working-class Belfast family experience the tumultuous late 1960s.

Director: Kenneth Branagh | Stars: Jude Hill, Lewis McAskie, Caitríona Balfe, Jamie Dornan

Votes: 64,730

Every few years I'll get some drink and watch HENRY V. Some sobbing is usually involved. I imagine that, if Mr. Branagh manages to not get maudlin in this tale that sounds very autobiographical (named after the city of his birth), more sobbing will be called for. The film reminds me, without having seen it, of Boorman's HOPE AND GLORY. Early reviews from Telluride call BELFAST the first sure-fire Best Picture contender.

3. The Forgiven (III) (2021)

R | 117 min | Drama

63 Metascore

The Forgiven takes place over a weekend in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco, and explores the reverberations of a random accident on the lives of both the local Muslims, and Western visitors to a house party in a grand villa.

Director: John Michael McDonagh | Stars: Jessica Chastain, Matt Smith, Ralph Fiennes, Caleb Landry Jones

Votes: 2,255

Love John Michael McDonagh (THE GUARD, CALVARY) and this cast is a ridiculous assemblage of superb-ness. His brother, Martin, finally had his big hit with THEE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE OF EBBING, MISSOURI in 2017. Will this be John's?

4. The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021)

PG-13 | 126 min | Biography, Drama, Romance

55 Metascore

An intimate look at the extraordinary rise, fall and redemption of televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker.

Director: Michael Showalter | Stars: Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield, Cherry Jones, Vincent D'Onofrio

Votes: 30,044

Having done a senior English paper on Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker (as they imploded, long before her redemption) I can't think of better casting for these two lost souls. Can director Showalter (THE BIG SICK) bring the gravitas needed to keep it from devolving into kitsch?

5. Dear Evan Hansen (2021)

PG-13 | 137 min | Drama, Musical

39 Metascore

Film adaptation of the Tony and Grammy Award-winning musical about Evan Hansen, a high school senior with Social Anxiety disorder and his journey of self-discovery and acceptance following the suicide of a fellow classmate.

Director: Stephen Chbosky | Stars: Ben Platt, Julianne Moore, Kaitlyn Dever, Amy Adams

Votes: 14,035

I love this Tony-winning Best Musical from Pasek and Paull (who did the music for THE GREATEST SHOWMAN). And yes, I admit, I flinched seeing the remarkable Ben Platt looking like a digital botox victim in the trailer. And I'm worried about having Stephen Chbosky at the helm because he seems to be able to make one-half of a great film (WONDER, PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER). But damn all that. I won't care and I'll love it. I hope.

6. Encounter (III) (2021)

R | 108 min | Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller

57 Metascore

Two brothers embark on a journey with their father, who is trying to protect them from an alien threat.

Director: Michael Pearce | Stars: Riz Ahmed, Octavia Spencer, Lucian-River Chauhan, Aditya Geddada

Votes: 9,572

It opened Telluride to reviews that clearly indicated confusion on the part of the critics. What was this film supposed to be? That sounds a lot like the early reviews for SOUND OF METAL and NIGHTCRAWLER, both which transcended the early misgivings, both with the incredible Riz Ahmed.

7. The Worst Person in the World (2021)

R | 128 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance

90 Metascore

The chronicles of four years in the life of Julie, a young woman who navigates the troubled waters of her love life and struggles to find her career path, leading her to take a realistic look at who she really is.

Director: Joachim Trier | Stars: Renate Reinsve, Anders Danielsen Lie, Herbert Nordrum, Hans Olav Brenner

Votes: 55,668

Enraptured. That's what the reviews coming out of Cannes felt like. That the reviewers had been enraptured. It also landed Renate Reinsve a win for Best Actress. From director Joachim Trier (OSLO, AUGUST 31st, THELMA).

8. Last Night in Soho (2021)

R | 116 min | Drama, Horror, Mystery

65 Metascore

An aspiring fashion designer is mysteriously able to enter the 1960s where she encounters a dazzling wannabe singer. But the glamour is not all it appears to be and the dreams of the past start to crack and splinter into something darker.

Director: Edgar Wright | Stars: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Diana Rigg

Votes: 123,566

Writer/director Edgar Wright (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, BABY DRIVER) seems out on a limb here but that's usually where he flourishes. I'm a big fan of both Anya Taylor-Joy and Thomasin McKenzie (the girl in JOJO RABBIT) and it appears to be the last role for Diana Rigg. Unmissable.

9. One Second (2020)

104 min | Comedy, Drama, History

79 Metascore

A movie fan in a remote farmland strikes a relationship with a homeless female vagabond.

Director: Yimou Zhang | Stars: Yi Zhang, Haocun Liu, Wei Fan, Yan Li

Votes: 1,688

All of the powers of legendary director, Zhang Yimou (RAISE THE RED LANTERN, HOUSE OF THE FLYING DAGGERS), appear to be on display here. Near the end of China's Cultural Revolution a man escapes a labor camp for a glimpse of his beloved daughter. She has been immortalized onscreen in a propaganda newsreel as a model worker for the very political system which enslaves him.

10. Spencer (2021)

R | 117 min | Biography, Drama

76 Metascore

Diana Spencer, struggling with mental-health problems during her Christmas holidays with the Royal Family at their Sandringham estate in Norfolk, England, decides to end her decade-long marriage to Prince Charles.

Director: Pablo Larraín | Stars: Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall, Sally Hawkins, Jack Nielen

Votes: 63,230

I'll admit, I'm hoping director Larrain, who made the impressive still-life that was JACKIE, gooses this movie up a bit. Makes it move. Injects some passion instead of restraint. Regardless I'm sure it will be a signature tour de force by Stewart, who has, to our collective shame, never been nominated for an Oscar (or even a lousy Globe! not that she probably laments that). Let's fix that.

11. A Hero (I) (2021)

PG-13 | 127 min | Drama

82 Metascore

Rahim is in prison because of a debt he was unable to repay. During a two-day leave, he tries to convince his creditor to withdraw his complaint against the payment of part of the sum. But things don't go as planned.

Director: Asghar Farhadi | Stars: Amir Jadidi, Mohsen Tanabandeh, Sahar Goldust, Fereshteh Sadre Orafaiy

Votes: 23,304

I adore Asghar Farhadi. A SEPARATION was one of my favorite films of the first 20 years of the new millennium. Plus the guy won the Grand Prix at Cannes, so there's that.

12. The Middle Man (2021)

95 min | Comedy, Drama

Frank Farrelli takes on the job as a middle man in the God-forsaken town of Karmack, USA, a community in a depression so deep that they need a middle man to professionally communicate more of the bad news.

Director: Bent Hamer | Stars: Pål Sverre Hagen, Nicolas Bro, Trond Fausa, Paul Gross

Votes: 364

Director Bent Hamer did FACTOTUM, a film based on the book by Charles Bukowski starring Matt Dillon. While FACTOTUM is no BARFLY it's still a terrific movie about a shambling mess of man, a terrific drunk, who is also quite gifted as a writer. Hamer is quite gifted as a director.

13. Becoming Cousteau (2021)

PG-13 | 94 min | Documentary, Adventure, Biography

74 Metascore

A look at the life, passions, achievements and tragedies surrounding the famous explorer and environmentalist Jacques Cousteau, featuring an archive of his newly restored footage.

Director: Liz Garbus | Stars: Carol Burnett, Vincent Cassel, Louis Malle, Fidel Castro

Votes: 1,095

Liz Garbus has been nominated twice for an Oscar, for 1998's THE FARM: ANGOLA, USA, and 2015's WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE. She's a thoughtful and fluid filmmaker and she's looking into the life of a man I didn't fully appreciate at the time.

14. Titane (2021)

R | 108 min | Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi

75 Metascore

Following a series of unexplained crimes, a father is reunited with the son who has been missing for 10 years.

Director: Julia Ducournau | Stars: Vincent Lindon, Agathe Rousselle, Garance Marillier, Laïs Salameh

Votes: 42,743

Not often you see the winner of the Palme d'Or in the Midnight Madness section. This is also, a must.

15. Montana Story (2021)

R | 114 min | Drama

73 Metascore

Two estranged siblings return home to the sprawling ranch they once knew and loved, confronting a deep and bitter family legacy against a mythic American backdrop.

Directors: Scott McGehee, David Siegel | Stars: Haley Lu Richardson, Owen Teague, Gilbert Owuor, Kimberly Guerrero

Votes: 690

McGehee and Siegel, a well-regarded duo who attract undeniable talent came closest to breaking out from beyond the festival circuit with WHAT MAISE KNEW. Perhaps this will be their true breakout. Plus Richardson and Teague are pretty great.

16. The Survivor (2021)

R | 129 min | Biography, Drama, Sport

71 Metascore

After World War II, Harry Haft is a boxer who fought against his peers in concentration camps. Haunted by memories, he tries to use fighting legends as a way to find his love.

Director: Barry Levinson | Stars: Ben Foster, Billy Magnussen, Vicky Krieps, Peter Sarsgaard

Votes: 2,926

Is there a more talented actor out there than Ben Foster? Happy to debate. Plus, I'd love to see Barry Levinson have one more ride around the crazy pole of a popular movie.

17. Jagged (2021)

TV-MA | 99 min | Documentary, Biography, Music

62 Metascore

Documentary centers on the life and work of Canadian singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette while making her breakout album 'Jagged Little Pill'

Director: Alison Klayman | Stars: Alanis Morissette, Nicola Gledhill, Lorraine Ali, Glen Ballard

Votes: 1,522

Director Alison Klayman directed Ai Weiwei's NEVER SORRY plus I'm a sucker for music docs.

18. Listening to Kenny G (2021)

97 min | Documentary, Music

81 Metascore

An examination of the most popular instrumentalist of all time, Kenny G, and why he is polarizing to so many.

Director: Penny Lane | Stars: Clive Davis, Craig Ferguson, Kenny G, James Gardiner

Votes: 1,018

The plot synopsis on this has me intrigued with a question I often ask myself: "what makes music good or bad?" Penny Lane directed HAIL SATAN, btw.

19. I'm Your Man (2021)

R | 108 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance

78 Metascore

In order to obtain research funds for her studies, a scientist accepts an offer to participate in an extraordinary experiment: for three weeks, she is to live with a humanoid robot, created to make her happy.

Director: Maria Schrader | Stars: Maren Eggert, Dan Stevens, Sandra Hüller, Jürgen Tarrach

Votes: 8,315

I eagerly await the film that finally leverages all of the skills that Dan Stevens possesses.

20. The Guilty (2021)

R | 90 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

63 Metascore

A demoted police officer assigned to a call dispatch desk is conflicted when he receives an emergency phone call from a kidnapped woman.

Director: Antoine Fuqua | Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Riley Keough, Peter Sarsgaard, Christina Vidal

Votes: 119,560

It will be hard, even for talents like Fuqua, Pizzolatto, and Gyllenhaal, to match the one-man-act, force of nature that director Gustav Möller and Jakob Cedergren brought to bear in the original 2018 GUILTY from Denmark.

21. Wolf (II) (2021)

R | 99 min | Drama, Mystery, Thriller

52 Metascore

A high-concept arthouse drama about a boy who believes he is a wolf.

Director: Nathalie Biancheri | Stars: Lily-Rose Depp, Paddy Considine, George MacKay, Terry Notary

Votes: 11,089

George MacKay, one of our finest, most electric young actors (CAPTAIN FANTASTIC, 1917) is in it.

22. Mothering Sunday (I) (2021)

R | 104 min | Drama, Romance

66 Metascore

A maid living in post-World War I England secretly plans to meet with the man she loves before he leaves to marry another woman.

Director: Eva Husson | Stars: Odessa Young, Josh O'Connor, Colin Firth, Olivia Colman

Votes: 2,202

Sony Pictures Classics has this so it already has the "need to check it out" stamp. O'Connor and Young sound like a magnetic pair.

23. Silent Night (I) (2021)

92 min | Comedy, Drama, Horror

52 Metascore

Nell, Simon, and their son Art are ready to welcome friends and family for what promises to be a perfect Christmas gathering. Perfect except for one thing: everyone is going to die.

Director: Camille Griffin | Stars: Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Roman Griffin Davis, Annabelle Wallis

Votes: 12,370

Well, this sounds irresistible. On Christmas Eve friends and family head to the home of Nell (Keira Knightley) and Simon (Matthew Goode) to celebrate. But, in a twist either delicious or grotesque, everyone knows they're going to die. A poisonous gas cloud is descending on the UK and no one will be spared. Ho-ho-ho. As a fan of SEEKING A FRIEND AT THE END OF THE WORLD I'm wondering what drew Knightley to slightly familiar ground. And I have to assume it's because it's damn original.

24. Benediction (2021)

PG-13 | 137 min | Biography, Drama, War

81 Metascore

Legendary 20th Century war poet Siegfried Sassoon's life-long quest for personal salvation through his experiences with family, war, his writing, and destructive relationships goes unresolved, never realizing it can only come from within.

Director: Terence Davies | Stars: Kate Phillips, Tom Blyth, Jack Lowden, Anton Lesser

Votes: 1,291

Okay, okay, I'll admit that I often find the films of Terence Davies to be a, stuffy, but I think I could use stuffy in these crazed times.

25. The Electrical Life of Louis Wain (2021)

PG-13 | 111 min | Biography, Drama, History

63 Metascore

English artist Louis Wain rises to prominence at the end of the 19th century for his surreal cat paintings that seemed to reflect his declining sanity.

Director: Will Sharpe | Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy, Andrea Riseborough, Toby Jones

Votes: 13,173

A "dazzling, career-best performance" The TIFF guide called it Louis Wain, "dazzling, career-best performance?" Well, I'm put my BIG EYES reservations aside.

26. Learn to Swim (2021)

90 min | Romance, Drama, Music

Two contemporary jazz musicians develop a stormy and tragic romance.

Director: Thyrone Tommy | Stars: Thomas Antony Olajide, Emma Ferreira, Andrea Davis, Andrea Pavlovic

Votes: 74

This is the feature debut of the director Tommy but its two leads, Thomas Antony Olaj and Emma Ferreira, are two of TIFF's Rising Stars (which recognizes, often quite accurately, talent on the rise whose names you'll know several years from now).

27. The Falls (2021)

129 min | Drama

While quarantining, the relationship between a mother and daughter takes an unexpected turn.

Director: Mong-Hong Chung | Stars: Alyssa Chia, Gingle Wang, Yi-wen Chen, Lee-zen Lee

Votes: 1,614

Director Chung Mong-hong made A SUN, a film that seemingly was only discovered domestically once it hit Netflix, landing in the Oscar Short List for Best International Features (though it didn't make the final five).

28. The Good House (2021)

114 min | Comedy, Drama

62 Metascore

Life for New England realtor Hildy Good begins to unravel when she hooks up with an old flame of hers from New York. Based on Ann Leary's 'The Good House.'

Directors: Maya Forbes, Wallace Wolodarsky | Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Kevin Kline, Morena Baccarin, Rob Delaney

Votes: 59

Who doesn't want to see Weaver and Kline in a autumnal feature? And will I be able to NOT imagine that this is really THE ICE STORM sequel?

29. Flee (2021)

PG-13 | 89 min | Documentary, Animation, Biography

91 Metascore

FLEE tells the extraordinary true story of a man, Amin, on the verge of marriage which compels him to reveal his hidden past for the first time.

Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen | Stars: Daniel Karimyar, Fardin Mijdzadeh, Milad Eskandari, Belal Faiz

Votes: 15,434

Not new but TIFF will be my chance to catch up on this well-reviewed Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner.

30. The Starling (2021)

PG-13 | 102 min | Comedy, Drama

31 Metascore

After Lilly suffers a loss, a combative Starling takes nest beside her quiet home. The feisty bird taunts and attacks the grief-stricken Lilly. On her journey to expel the Starling, she rediscovers her will to live and capacity for love.

Director: Theodore Melfi | Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Chris O'Dowd, Kevin Kline, Timothy Olyphant

Votes: 12,763

This is the kind of film that critics hate and audiences love (check out the trailer if you have lingering doubts about that assertion). And I'm going to give it a chance.

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