Editor’s Picks: Best flicks screened at TIFF 2021

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By Elizabeth Sargeant

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) wrapped up on Sept. 18 and after 10 days of more than 100 feature films, lucky viewers who had a chance to catch an in-person flick are most likely still giddy with back-to-theatre thrill. 

This year’s festival featured a wide array of seasoned directors, such as Denis Villeneuve and Stephen Chbosky, as well as newbies on the scene including Ryerson alumnus Shasha Nakhai (director of  Scarborough) and Samir Karahoda (recipient of the IMDbPro Short Cuts Award). Until these films hit general theatres, The Eyeopener has reviewed some of the best to tide you over. Roll the tape!

You Are Not My Mother dir. by Kate Dolan

Image courtesy of TIFF

This is one freaky flick. I watched a chunk of this movie through my fingers and even behind the cracks of my clammy hands, I could feel that Kate Dolan’s first feature film, You Are Not My Mother, was leaving the theatre completely unsettled. Fans of Ari Aster’s Hereditary and Midsommar will love this movie as Dolan uses some of Aster’s freakiest film tropes like body horror and death by fire to put the audience on edge. The film follows teenage girl, Char trying to comprehend the major shift in her mentally ill mother’s personality after she returns from going missing for 24 hours. Shot in an eerie small and foggy town in Ireland, Dolan combines Irish folklore and the supernatural to terrify the audience. The acting is animalistic, the music sets an overall tone that something bad is going to happen (even in the middle of the day) and this female-led story of three generations of evil divination is a visceral and surreal experience to behold. The film’s world premiere was Sept. 12.

Burning dir. by Eva Orner

Image courtesy of TIFF

This feature-length documentary follows the Australian forest fires that kicked off 2020. While many of us around the world watched the fires unfold behind infographics and Instagram stories, this haunting documentary pushes the audience directly into the middle of the devastation. The editor of the film, Forrest Borie did an impeccable job of weaving together the narratives of climate change activists, firefighters and survivors of the fires to point an unflinching finger at Australia’s prime minister who did nothing to stop it. The sound production in this film is the most impressive. The ripping winds of fires tearing through the rainforest meshed with the rising drone of an impending consequence for the government’s inaction are both prophetic and terrifying. Burning is set to hit Amazon Prime before the end of 2021.   

Dune dir. by Denis Villeneuve

Image courtesy of TIFF

Frank Herbert’s 1965 epic novel “Dune” is notorious not only for being one of the best-selling science fiction novels, but also for being difficult to adapt for the screen given its complex themes blending ecology, politics, religion, technology and land exploitation. However, French Canadian auteur filmmaker Denis Villeneuve rarely misses, coming off the success of a surprisingly well-received Blade Runner sequel and hit films like Arrival, Sicario and Prisoners. Villeneuve’s Dune (Part One) features Timotheé Chalamet as Paul Atreides, the messianic heir of a noble family sent by the galactic emperor to an inhospitable desert planet that happens to be the only source of the universe’s most valuable “spice,” which provides extended life and interstellar travel. The film is a stunning slow-burn, featuring masterful editing and a score from Hans Zimmer at his best. Plus, the ensemble cast—from Chalamet to Zendaya to Oscar Isaac—looked undeniably and futuristically sexy (except for Stellan Skårsgard, who made me want to throw up every time he was on screen). Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic Dune hits theatres on Oct. 22. 

Spencer dir. by Pablo Larraín

Image courtesy of TIFF

It’s no surprise that Spencer was a long-anticipated film as Princess Diana was a well-loved figure. It’s also no surprise that seasoned director Pablo Larraín took the lead on this film as in 2016, he spearheaded Jackie, the historical drama that follows beloved Jackie Kennedy after her husband’s assassination. Spencer takes place in one weekend, following Princess Diana’s slowly worsening temperament as she faces the fall out from Prince Charles’ affair. This stunning portrait is a reflection of who she was outside of her royal role. Larraín twists this descension into madness while alluding to the tale of Anne Boleyn, Henry the Eighth’s second wife, forcing audience members to lose touch of reality as Diana does on screen. Spencer is set to hit theatres on Nov. 15.

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