TIFF 2021: 10 movies with the biggest buzz that aren’t Dune

From Princess Di and Tammy Faye to Ben Platt's distracting Evan Hansen wig, here's what's causing buzz ahead of the fest


We’re kicking off NOW’s coverage of TIFF 2021 – which, like the 2020 edition, is moving ahead as a hybrid experience, with both in-person screenings in Toronto venues (with a vaccination mandate, masks and distancing) and a virtual component that brings the festival’s 100-plus films to audiences across Canada.

Whether you’re planning to attend in person or planning to watch from home, keep checking back with us to see what we’re recommending or what we’re interested in catching ourselves. Here, for example, are 10 movies that are generating buzz – and not always for the right reasons – ahead of their TIFF screenings.

(And before you ask why high-profile entries like Dune, Last Night In Soho, Night Raiders and Jagged aren’t on this list, they’ve already found berths on our upcoming genre, Canadian and documentary lists. Jeez, people are demanding.)

Spencer

Watching the royal family implode has become a popular pastime again. And even though the Netflix series The Crown has a lot of that drama covered, there’s still plenty of room and anticipation for Pablo Larraín’s take. The Jackie director casts Kristen Stewart as the late Princess Di at the moment she begins pushing back against her marriage and her overbearing in-laws. We’re fans of Stewart in these pages, especially after her arthouse turns in Clouds Of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper. Plus: the Twilight star knows a little something about being hounded by paparazzi. And we’re curious to see how this collab with writer Steven Knight works out. The latter could swing wildly and embarrassingly with out-there genre thrillers like Serenity. But in films like Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises, Knight has shown a skill for picking at British society’s dark and oppressive tendencies. (RS)

Colin In Black And White

Ava DuVernay’s take on Colin Kaepernick fits snugly alongside her MLK biopic Selma and Central Park Five limited series When They See Us, forming a trilogy of the past half-century’s Black activism. But Colin In Black & White is not your typical biopic or docudrama. Vampires vs. The Bronx star Jaden Michael plays Kaepernick as a biracial teen figuring out his place in the world. The real Colin is on board as co-creator and executive producer, providing narration for every episode. (RS)

Dear Evan Hansen

Even before TIFF announced that this adaptation of the Broadway musical about a socially anxious student who gets caught in a huge lie was going to open the festival, the film was already getting buzz – thanks to its trailer. Most people were freaking out that Ben Platt, who won a Tony for the role in 2017, looked way too old to play a high schooler. Plus there was his distracting wig. And could Julianne Moore, as Evan’s overworked single mom, even carry a tune? But realistically, musical lovers would have called foul if Platt hadn’t played the role. On the plus side, it looks like the script has altered a Jewish character who had many people groaning about stereotypes. And director Stephen Chbosky has shown he can handle serious teen stories with tact and taste in The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. And at least James Corden isn’t in it, you know? (GS)

The Worst Person In The World

The final film in Danish-born, Norway-based filmmaker Joachim Trier’s Oslo trilogy – which begun with Reprise in 2006 and continued with 2011’s Oslo, August 31st – concludes with this drama about a woman called Julie (Renate Reinsve) who’s facing the end of her 20s and determined to blow up every aspect of her life before anyone else can do it for her. Reinsve was named best actress at Cannes for her performance here, and the reviews have been strong; after the underwhelming Louder Than Bombs and Thelma, it sounds like Trier is back in his sweet spot of precise, merciless character studies. And really, that’s best for everyone. (NW)

An image from Julia Ducourneau's Titane.

Agathe Rousselle and friend in Titane.

Titane

Five years ago, Julia Ducournau freaked out Midnight Madness audiences with Raw; now, she’s returning with nothing less than a Cannes Palme d’Or winner. That would make Titane one of the most highly anticipated films at this year’s festival, before we even get to the film’s content, which finds newcomer Agathe Rousselle and veteran Vincent Lindon negotiating a twisty, kinky tale of car sex, dead bodies, missing children and assumed identities – and that’s just the stuff we’re willing to talk about. (NW)

The Power Of The Dog

Jane Campion’s first feature since 2009’s Bright Star looks to be altogether different from that delicate, tender tale of doomed romance. An adaptation of Thomas Savage’s novel, it’s set in 1920s Montana, where the placid working relationship of rancher brothers Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George (Jesse Plemons) is shattered by the arrival of widow Rose (Kirsten Dunst) and her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Netflix is positioning this as a major awards contender – hence the festival run – and we’re very curious to see what Campion’s take on the American Western looks like. (NW)

The Eyes Of Tammy Faye

Two decades ago, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato’s documentary The Eyes Of Tammy Faye dared to seriously consider the life and legacy of Tammy Faye Bakker, the garishly costumed televangelist who, with her preacher husband Jim, built a Christian TV empire (complete with a theme park) in the go-go 80s, only to see it all came crashing down. Now, Jessica Chastain buries herself in prosthetics to play her, along with Tammy Faye’s signature makeup, opposite Andrew Garfield as Jim. Michael Showalter (The Big Sick, The Lovebirds) directs, and our only question is whether he’ll dare to have the same level of compassion for his subjects as the documentary did. Because that would be something. (NW)

The Humans

Last year, TIFF screened Florian Zeller’s The Father – an adaptation of a stage play, directed by the playwright himself. This year, the festival offers another such adaptation, with Stephen Karam directing Steven Yeun, Beanie Feldstein, Amy Schumer, Richard Jenkins, Jayne Houdyshell and June Squibb in the screen version of his own Tony Award-winning drama about a working-class family gathering for a very uncomfortable Thanksgiving. The cast alone would get us in the door, mind you. (NW)

Memoria

Revered Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul is no stranger to the festival, enchanting audiences over the years with films like Tropical Malady, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Cemetery Of Splendor – gentle magic-realist studies of people experiencing inexplicable events that lull the viewers into a sort of dream state. His latest casts Tilda Swinton – a muse to all artists, apparently – as a Scottish orchid cultivator who becomes convinced she’s experiencing a premonition of disaster while visiting her sister in Colombia. TIFF is screening this at the Cinesphere, which will be the ideal venue to experience Weerasethakul’s enveloping vision. (NW)

The Guilty

Did someone order two hours of an increasingly manic Jake Gyllenhaal? That’s what Antoine Fuqua delivers with his remake of Gustav Möller’s 2018 Danish thriller about a cop trying to rescue an abducted woman from a 911 call centre. The twist is that the story is told entirely from the perspective of the cop, who’s stuck on a land line and can’t leave the room without losing the call. Which means, assuming Fuqua’s remake sticks to the concept, we’ll spend the whole picture watching Gyllenhaal think his way through an impossible challenge. And given that their last collaboration resulted in one of the actor’s best performances, our expectations are pretty high. (NW)

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