#EDITORSNOTE: TEAM MR. WILL TOP TENS OF 2021
While it felt the latter part of 2021 was rather hectic on the release side for films, it certainly was a memorable, although sometimes chaotic year in Cinema. As we saw several films which should’ve surfaced in 2020, banked for our enjoyment on the big screen this year, it makes it even more challenging to narrow down our favourites. Truly, the Films that made the cut in 2021 truly were outstanding as they had to shine amongst a quality slate of releases.
Though it seems we’re making one step forward and two steps back in making it through this Pandemic, we were so happy to have been able to be back in theatres once again and enjoy a hybrid version of the Toronto International Film Festival. For that we are grateful and we look forward to sitting in a theatre once again, full capacity with popcorn and drink in-hand, even if not yet.
Team Mr. Will break down their favourite releases of 2021 for us and as always, it is an exciting and eclectic mix. Films like CODA, ROADRUNNER, NINE DAYS, C’MON C’MON and MASS might not be on all Critics’ Top Tens, but they fared well among the Team and found a home with us. If you’re still deciding what to see or are on the fence about, let us help you out!
So grateful for this amazing family of Writers and their esteemed opinions and hard work delivering for us year-round.
I think Cinema is at its best when it entertains, increases empathy and enlighten us. The films in my Top Ten check those boxes for me. However, 2021 is filled with impactful Cinema and my list could easily be 20! Other films I love are Awards Season favourites King Richard, Belfast & Spencer. This list was made before viewing A Hero, Parallel Mothers & Cyrano.
The Worst Person in the World & Petite Maman would be below but they release in 2022. Keep an eye out for them!
Top Ten Narratives (in alphabetical order):
Drive My Car
Judas & the Black Messiah
The Lost Daughter
The Power of the Dog
tick, tick… BOOM!
West Side Story
Fav Docs (in alphabetical order):
Summer of Soul
Writing With Fire
1. NYC Epicenters
2. Life in a Day: 2020
3. The Last Duel
5. Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain
6. C’mon C’mon
8. The Green Knight
9. Bo Burnham: Inside
In a near-tie for my favorite this year: two Documentaries attempting to process recent history. Life in a Day revisits the original 2010 experiment, sourcing thousands of hours of amateur footage from across the world shot on a single day in 2020 that might as well represent the era. Spike Lee‘s NYC Epicenters–a four part miniseries available on Crave–looks at every major New York disaster since 9/11 up to the present moment with absolutely crushing clarity. Sidenote: Netflix‘s ‘Turning Point‘ gives 9/11 some much-needed context as the inciting incident in a much broader tragedy for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. Bo Burnham’s Inside grapples with our collective quarantine routine, and though I have misgivings about how accurate it is to Burnham‘s real experience of the pandemic–dropping it a bit further down the list–I cannot deny the singular power of his music to bring meaning to our perpetually sealed-off lives. In third–and the first narrative on the list–The Last Duel failed to connect with the Box Office but succeeded in keeping me locked at a 70° angle as I untangled the all-too-familiar cycle of assault, denial, and public scorn told from three distinct perspectives, brought together by a relentless, titular duel more explosive than anything Ridley Scott has ever yelled at a journalist. Dune could not be less connected to our present, so it was nice to become ensnared in its deadly world with the most well-integrated Visual Effects I’ve ever seen. Roadrunner and C’mon C’mon are both stories of Documentarians who live their work. For Joaquin Phoenix, it’s a spiritually healing act. For Anthony Bourdain, it’s a bit more complicated. Spencer synthesized Diana‘s tragedy into a devastating weekend of pheasant hunting, pea soup and Jazz. Sidenote: ‘Diana the Musical‘ is worth a Netflix skim for a horrific glimpse into yet another way of defining her story. The Green Knight revitalized title cards–along with reflections on destiny and death. And Annette finally put an end to our cultural obsession with selfish toxic male stars–j/k!
2021 was the year I capitulated, when it came to the Movies. I firmly believed that they HAD to be seen on a big screen to even be considered worthy candidates to make my personal “Best” list. To me, VOD always stood for movies that studios deemed unworthy of a theatrical release and streaming services were like HBO: good stuff but, like HBO movies, should not be considered Oscar-worthy. My feelings came crashing down when I saw my first movie in a darkened theatre when we were finally allowed to do so. It was the Documentary “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain”. It was also the 107th movie I had watched this year. The final nail in the coffin was when I was given the choice to see “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” in the theatre or to stream it and I chose the latter.
Whittling down the 288 titles I watched in 2021 to my Top Ten was no easy task! And apologies to the movies I haven’t seen yet (The Lost Daughter, Drive My Car, A Hero, Parallel Mothers and The Green Knight) that could have made the list and those that I could not squeeze-in (Annette, Flee, Belfast, Being the Ricardos, Don’t Look Up, In the Heights and Passing).
- The Power of the Dog
- West Side Story
- (tie) Summer of Soul/Attica
- Nine Lives
- The Humans
- The Worst Person in the World
What a mess 2021 has been, we thought we couldn’t possibly still be in this god damn pandemic anymore but here we are. Thankfully, even through the endless, and I mean ENDLESS delays we got some content this year that was absolutely incredible. Only one movie on this Top Ten list only played the festival circuit, and I cannot stress enough that it must be viewed when it comes out. Everything on this list deserves its placing, and if you haven’t seen some of these picks, please please please go and see it to warm your Cinephile heart. I present to you my top 10 of 2021. May 2022 bring forward some other excellent Cinema!
Alone With You
I’m your Man
Tick Tick Boom
Note: at the time of publication I have not seen Drive My Car, or Parallel Mothers.
Happy New Year everyone, and Bon Cinema!
Were we wrong thinking 2021 would be better than 2020? While it was not nearly as much of a dumpster fire, there is still so much wrong and so few lessons learned. I loved being able to experience movies in a theatre again, yet am depressed at how few people turned up for anything that did not involve Marvel characters (though I did enjoy some of those ones too). Fingers crossed we can lose the increasingly annoying “Exclusively in Theatres” rhetoric at some point in 2022. All of that said, I was able to experience a whole world of titles at digital festivals and likely saw more movies this year alone than I have in previous years (or at least compared to all the years I have tracked on Letterboxd!). So it was not all doom and gloom.
Here is a look at my ranked Top 10 list of titles that had a profound effect on me, inspiring my creativity endlessly in a year where I felt so little, followed by alphabetical lists of 2020 films I could not see until 2021 and a few festival favourites waiting for proper release.
- Nine Days
- The Mitchells vs. The Machines
- The Worst Person in the World
- Judas and the Black Messiah
- Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain
- Riders of Justice
- Licorice Pizza
2020 Favourites That Were Available This Year
Quo Vadis, Aida?
Unreleased Festival Favourites
Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes
Catch the Fair One
Three things we always look for in a great film. One, it has to take us on a real journey and there’s gotta be something at stake that’s meaningful. It doesn’t matter how big the stakes are. It is the Director and Actors’ jobs to make it feel like the journey they are going on matters. Two, we love it when an Actor transforms and we laud bravado in a performance. Three, we want to feel something when we walk away from a film. These Films meet all the criteria for me. Whether it be Kristen Stewart’s transcendent performance as Diana in Spencer which we’re still obsessed with, or what it means for a father to go for broke because he believes so much in his daughters in King Richard, or films like Zola and Red Rocket which pushed the envelope giving us a glimpse into the lives of Sex Workers, my eyes were opened and sometimes welled-up from some of the masterful work I saw in my Top Ten.
Don’t forget to check-out highlights from our 2021 Star Sightings in Toronto here!
2. King Richard
3. Red Rocket
4. Blue Bayou
5. The Eyes of Tammy Faye
7. West Side Story
10. Licorice Pizza
To another amazing year in Film ahead! Thank you for continuing to join us!
Team Mr. Will
#TIFF: TIFF PRESENT UPCOMING PROGRAMMING IN NOVEMBER 2021
TIFF announce their upcoming programming slate, and trust me, there is some really good stuff including TIFF ’21 favourites SPENCER (we’re definitely seeing this again!) and THE POWER OF THE DOG, plus some cool retrospectives!
TIFF CINEMATHEQUE SERIES
Céline Sciamma: Portraits of Desire – November 11 to 21, 2021
Since the success of the widely acclaimed Portrait of a Lady on Fire — which won both the Queer Palm and the Award for Best Screenplay at Cannes 2019 — French filmmaker Céline Sciamma made both a departure from her three previous films and a masterful culmination of an oeuvre that sensitively and intelligently deals with such urgent themes as gender identity, female bonds, and the blurred boundaries between friendship and love. This programme was created to celebrate her work upon the release of her fourth feature, and now, two years later, it’s even more urgent and resonant as audiences await the theatrical release of the director’s latest film, Petite Maman (2021), which had its Canadian premiere at the Festival. Included in this retrospective are Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Girlhood, Tomboy, and her debut, Water Lilies, as well as the animated film My Life as a Courgette (which Sciamma co-scripted).
Paul Thomas Anderson: Evolution of a Master – November 25 to 28, 2021
Size matters in the films of Paul Thomas Anderson, and the increasing visual and thematic scope of his work is illustrated by these 70mm presentations tracing his evolution from big, unwieldy indie-cinema talent to a refined, mature American master. From the pyrotechnical brilliance of his sophomore breakthrough, Boogie Nights, to the elliptical psychic case study of The Master, to the wry fairy-tale riffage of Phantom Thread, Anderson has always crafted images strong and detailed enough to match his ideas. With introductions by critic Adam Nayman, author of the acclaimed 2020 book Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks, and a screening of David Lean’s 1949 romance The Passionate Friends, a major influence on Phantom Thread, this series seeks to honour these movies’ monumental accomplishments.
Musicals! The Movies that Moved Us – December 2, 2021 to January 6, 2022
Whether you know all the words to each song or you’re discovering these classics for the first time, there’s no denying the show-stopping pleasure of the form. The best musicals are grounded in sophisticated narratives, remarkable visual invention, and towering achievements in technical craft. Watch how Stanley Donen, Vincente Minnelli, Farah Khan, Jacques Demy, Ken Russell, Mani Ratnam, and more turn the delights of movie musicals to their own particular passions. Comprising 25 films, the programme will delight any fun-loving musical fan with movies like Singin’ in the Rain (1952), West Side Story (1961), Moulin Rouge! (2001), Mughal-E-Azam (1960), All That Jazz (1979), Kandukondain Kandukondain (2000), Grease (1978), and Purple Rain (1984).
Guillermo del Toro Presents: Film Noirs from 20th Century Fox – December 3 to 19, 2021
In anticipation of Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming release Nightmare Alley, TIFF Cinematheque presents a curated selection of film noirs from 20th Century Fox, hand-picked by del Toro himself. Inspired by the runs of similar genre-making studio films such as the highly-stylized gangster pictures championed by Warner Bros. in the 1930s (which cemented the anti-hero archetype in the face of the Hays Code’s guidelines) and the legendary monster movies helmed by Universal Studios between the ’30s and ’50s (whose creatures became the visual and emotional reference points for all subsequent horror-movie monsters), del Toro sees the brilliant stream of film noirs made under the 20th Century Fox banner as equally deserving of canonization. Before taking a turn down Nightmare Alley, audiences will have a chance to explore the director’s top five influential film noirs from the studio’s golden age of hard-boiled cinema, all on archival 35mm prints or in restored presentations.
Subscriptions are on sale to Members now and to the public on October 27.
Reel Talk: Contemporary World Cinema – November 7, 2021 to March 20, 2022
Offering a global snapshot of the best cinema from around the world, Reel Talk: Contemporary World Cinema provides a focus on non-English-language, art-house films that may not see wide release.
Secret Movie Club – November 14, 2021 to January 23, 2022
Back again in its old clubhouse, TIFF Bell Lightbox, this series offers some of the best new indie cinema before it hits Toronto theatres. Last season’s lineup included Minari, The Mauritanian, and Together Together.
Viola Desmond Day: Jennifer Holness on Subjects of Desire – November 8, 2021 at 7pm
TIFF is commemorating the 75th anniversary of Viola Desmond’s historic stand against racial segregation and her barrier-breaking work as founder of the Desmond School of Beauty Culture with a special advance screening of the award-winning documentary Subjects of Desire, followed by a conversation with director Jennifer Holness. This provocative and culturally significant film is told from the perspective of women who aren’t afraid to challenge conventional beauty standards, and is partially set around the 50th anniversary of the Miss Black America Pageant, which was created as a political protest against dominant standards upheld by the beauty pageant industry.
Note: A TIFF digital event commemorating Viola Desmond Day is taking place on Monday, November 8 at 12 pm ET with scholar Cheryl Thompson and Cameron Bailey, TIFF Artistic Director and Head, for a special talk about Black representation in 1940s cinema. They will discuss what the film experience was like for Black spectators at the time, and how systemic anti-Black racism continues to persist in the film industry to this day. Watch this conversation on TIFF’s Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube channels.
TIFF Next Wave 48-Hour Challenge Screening – November 28, 2021, 2:30pm to 4pm
The highly anticipated return of the TIFF Next Wave 48-Hour Film Challenge welcomes teams of young creators to produce a short film in only 48 hours. TIFF will showcase all of the films shot during the challenge and celebrate the next wave of emerging filmmakers. Following the screening, one team will be awarded the grand prize for best film by a jury of film industry professionals.
Opens October 27
Rebecca Hall | UK, USA | 2021 | 98 mins.
Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga star as two Black women contending with the notion of “passing” for white, in this 1920s-set psychological thriller. Shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio in beautiful black and white, this film was made for the big screen. Nominated for five Gotham Awards, including Best Feature, Best Screenplay, and Outstanding Lead Performance (Tessa Thompson).
Opens November 4
Pablo Larraín | Germany, UK | 2021 | 111 mins.
Official Selection, 2021 Toronto International Film Festival
Kristen Stewart stars in Pablo Larraín’s haunting chamber drama that imagines a tumultuous Christmas in the life of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Opens November 12
tick, tick… BOOM!
Lin-Manuel Miranda | USA | 2021 | 112 mins.
On the cusp of his 30th birthday, a promising young theatre composer navigates love, friendship, and the pressures of life as an artist in New York City.
Opens November 17
The Power of the Dog
Jane Campion | Australia, New Zealand | 2021 | 127 mins.
Official Selection, 2021 Toronto International Film Festival
TIFF Tribute Actor Award honouree Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst lead Jane Campion’s drama about two brothers whose lives change when a widow and her son arrive at their ranch.
(Photo credit: Elevation Pictures)