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Titane releases on Oct. 1, 2021. (Photo provided via @titane on Twitter)

Here's what movies shined at TIFF 2021

Toronto International Film Festival, or TIFF took place from Sept. 9 to Sept. 18, both in person and virtually. Founded in 1976, TIFF started out as a secondary stop on the festival circuit for big films entering the awards season. Over time, it has grown to be one of the most well-regarded festivals in the world. 

In 2019, the well-loved Jojo Rabbit won the Grolsch People’s Choice Award, and in 2020, Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland took the same prize, the latter of which went on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. This year, the Canadian festival featured the world premieres of several star-studded films to great acclaim. Let’s take a look at some of the major prize winners (and where you can see them):

Dune, Spencer and Last Night in Soho, although screened at the festival, were not eligible for awards due to distribution choices.

People’s Choice Award - Belfast 

The buzz from this semi-autobiographical film stems from its writer-director, Sir Kenneth Branagh. Branagh has been a leader on stage and on film for his Shakespearean adaptations as well as films like Thor (2011), Cinderella (2015) and Murder on the Orient Express (2017), the latter of which he also starred in. His newest film takes a page from the book of Alfonso Cuaron, seeing that his semi-autobiographical Roma (2018) was a major contender for Best Picture during its respective year. 

Belfast is in black and white and takes place during a period of major social upheaval. However, the film has an apparently lighter tone than Cuaron’s strategically slow-paced piece and boasts a few more well-established actors such as Jamie Dornan and Judi Dench, which are typically pluses for Academy voters.

Although the film made its official debut at Telluride Film Festival in Colorado a week beforehand, TIFF helped the movie reach a wider audience. Its theatrical success might mean a “past-due” Oscar for Branagh in any of the three categories he qualifies for. Belfast is set to be released Nov. 12th in theaters by Focus Features. 

People’s Choice Award: 2nd Runner Up - The Power of the Dog

Jane Campion was the second woman ever to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director in 1994 for her film The Piano (1993). It’s a bit surprising that her career has fallen off since then. Despite making several critically acclaimed movies and TV series in the past 20 or so years, many see The Power of the Dog as a major comeback for Campion for its potential to be a silver screen classic. 

For her newest film, Campion dives into the western genre with an adaptation of Thomas Savage’s 1967 book of the same name. 

With a cast stock-full of talent who have never quite gotten the praise they deserve, The Power of the Dog seems like a comeback film in more ways than one. Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst are both already getting acting award buzz, with Dunst finally seeming to achieve the honor of being perceived as a serious actor after her work in Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia (2011).

Plus, composer Jonny Greenwood, of Radiohead fame, has been a popular movie musician to follow since the positive reception of his scores for Paul Thomas Anderson films There Will Be Blood (2007) and Phantom Thread (2017). If the film misses its audience mark, it may still find luck in the technical awards.

The film debuted at Venice International Film Festival where it won the Silver Lion, but like Belfast, its performance at TIFF should be a service to it in finding a greater North American fanbase. The Power of the Dog will be released to a limited audience in mid-November, and streaming on Netflix by Dec. 1.

People’s Choice Award: Midnight Madness - Titane

In the realm of non-English language films, Titane is a hot topic. Winner of the 2021 Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in France, and only the second female filmmaker to accomplish this (the first being Jane Campion for The Piano), director Julia Ducournau is bold. Titane is only her sophomore feature outing after 2016’s contemporary horror classic Raw, which also debuted at Cannes.

If you thought that the cannibalism in Raw was taboo, don’t do any further research on Titane. Its premise is unhinged, and it did generate walk-outs and vomit alike at its premiere. Sometimes, however, this kind of reaction helps. It was again met with much acclaim at TIFF.

The one hiccup in Titane’s quest for world domination is that in the foreign film category, the country is in charge of submitting which film they would like to have considered for Best International Feature Film at the Academy Awards. This year, in Venice, Audrey Dewan’s Happening won the highest prize at the festival. 

Both French films tackle difficult subjects. However, a period piece about abortion tends to fit the Oscar mold a little bit better than a body horror-thriller about a woman who has sex with a car. 

Who knows? Maybe the French will surprise people. But they did choose the political drama Les Miserables (2019) over Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019), and only one of those films has managed to stay relevant in the years following. Can you guess which one? 

Titane starts showing at the Athena Cinema Oct. 1. 

People’s Choice Award: Documentaries: 2nd Runner Up - Flee 

Finally, Flee. Yet, another film with a non-TIFF premiere, but instead a renewed opportunity to find a great audience. This animated documentary premiered at Sundance in January and captivated many for its ultra-personal storytelling and unique 2D style. Flee’s strength is its versatility; it is eligible for both the documentary award and the animated feature award at the Oscars. Its testimony by a young Afghan refugee who escaped to Denmark is undeniably timely.

The harrowing tale will undoubtedly connect with viewers, and hopefully, captivate a new audience to go out and see nonfiction films in the cinema. It won the grand documentary prize at Sundance, and its momentum suggests that it might go all the way at the Oscars.

Flee is scheduled to be released in theaters Dec. 3 by NEON.  


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