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): Flee 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).
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.
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.
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
2020 Favourites That Were Available This Year Minari Quo Vadis, Aida? Saint Maud
Unreleased Festival Favourites Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes Catch the Fair One The Fallout Petite Maman Sundown
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!
Elevation Pictures x Mr. Will want to give Readers a chance to win a digital download of acclaimed TIFF ’21 selection TITANE. Note, this is not for the faint of heart.
Following a series of unexplained crimes, a father is reunited with the son who has been missing for 10 years. Titane : A metal highly resistant to heat and corrosion, with high tensile strength alloys.
To enter for a chance to win, click “like” on this Post at MR. WILL ON FACEBOOK. Re-Tweet this Contest Tweet for an extra chance.
The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival concludes today and Award winners were announced from this year’s Festival, which still thrived in a hybrid digital and in-person format amidst the Pandemic. Taking top honours of People’s Choice was BELFAST, directed by Sir Kenneth Branagh, in-attendance at the Festival last weekend. Traditionally this title has gone on to achieve Oscars and Awards Season success, case in point, last year’s winner NOMADLAND.
In accepting the Award, Branagh says “It was absolutely overwhelming to myself and Jamie Dornan and we talked about it over a long into a memorable night of laughter and tears in your great city!”.
Winners this year as as follows:
TIFF 2021 People’s Choice Award – Belfast, dir. Kenneth Branagh. The first runner-up is Scarborough, dirs. Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson. The second runner-up is The Power of the Dog, dir. Jane Campion.
2021 Platform Prize – Yuni, dir. Kamila Andini Honourable mention: Mlungu Wam (Good Madam), dir. Jenna Cato Bass.
TIFF 2021 People’s Choice Documentary Award – The Rescue, dirs. E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin. The first runner-up is Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over, dirs. Dave Wooley and David Heilbroner. The second runner-up is Flee, dir. Jonas Poher Rasmussen.
TIFF 2021 People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award – Titane, dir. Julia Ducournau. The first runner-up is You Are Not My Mother, dir. Kate Dolan. The second runner-up is DASHCAM, dir. Rob Savage.
2021 Changemaker Award, presented by the Shawn Mendes Foundation, is awarded to a Festival film that tackles issues of social change, and comes with a $10,000 cash prize – Scarborough, dirs. Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson.
Amplify Voices Award for Best Canadian Feature Film: Ste. Anne, dir. Rhayne Vermette
Special Mention: Scarborough, dirs. Shasha Nakhai, Rich Williamson
Amplify Voices Award: The Gravedigger’s Wife, dir. Khadar Ayderus Ahmed
Amplify Voices Award: A Night of Knowing Nothing, dir. Payal Kapadia
IMDbPro Short Cuts Award for Best Film: Displaced, dir. Samir Karahoda
Honourable Mention: Trumpets in the Sky, dir. Rakan Mayasi
IMDbPro Short Cuts Award for Best Canadian Film: Angakusajaujuq – The Shaman’s Apprentice, dir. Zacharias Kunuk
Honourable Mention: Nuisance Bear, dirs. Jack Weisman, Gabriela Osio Vanden
IMDbPro Short Cuts Share Her Journey Award: ASTEL, dir. Ramata-Toulaye Sy
As announced previously, the winners at this year’s TIFF TRIBUTE GALA, which aired last night, were:
Jessica Chastain — TIFF Tribute Actor Award supported by the Tory Family
Benedict Cumberbatch — TIFF Tribute Actor Award
Denis Villeneuve — TIFF Ebert Director Award
Alanis Obomsawin — Jeff Skoll Award in Impact Media supported by Participant Media
Ari Wegner — TIFF Variety Artisan Award
Danis Goulet — TIFF Emerging Talent Award presented by L’Oréal Paris and supported by MGM
We don’t believe we made it through another TIFF! While this year’s Festival certainly was a bit more scaled-back we definitely were not short of things to do, equally putting in long days. So thankful to the Team for contributing their Reviews of the most key titles to surface at TIFF ’21 including Dave Baldwin, Amanda Gilmore and George Kozera. So thankful to be a Torontonian and be gifted every year with this amazing Festival. We’re so appreciative of the considerations for our safety and the fact that we were able to enjoy the Festival both in-person and at-home. We will never take for granted this flexibility.
Once again we must thank some of our official partners in our coverage of the Festival this year! We couldn’t have done it without their generosity and support and we’re always thrilled to get our Readers and Followers excited about their amazing products and services.
•1 $50 Starbucks Canada Gift Card •1 $50 Chatime gift card + 1x T-shirt +1x Tumbler + 1x Stainless Steel Straw set •1 $50 Gift Card at Lone Star Texas Grill •1 $50 Gift Card at Frankie’s Nashville Hot Chicken •1 Happy Gift Set including 1 Rose Quartz Roller + Gua Sha set, 1 Happy Face Mask, 1 bottle 250ml Happy Sanitizer and a Happy 3-Toothbrush set •1 The Beauty of Eczema’s Bathing Oil and Bath Salts At-Home Spa Set •1 Antipodes Manuka Honey Skin-Brightening Beehive Box •1 boscia Skin Nutrition Body Collection •1 bottle of Nature’s Sunshine new Hair, Skin & Nails capsules and BioGuard Hand and Body Cream •1 H&M Canada VIP Card •1 Official MR. WILL WONG Baseball Cap
Team Mr. Will also share their favourites of the Festival and also their predictions which Film will win that coveted People’s Choice Award!
TIFF’21 was a substantial upgrade from TIFF’20. Full Stop. The quality of films was substantially stronger, the in-person and digital offerings were better, and the all-around experience was so much closer to the TIFF we all know and love from those simpler, pre-pandemic times. There are some learnings the programming team will need to reflect on for next year’s festival, but I sincerely hope they continue with the hybrid experience despite some of the hiccups they encountered this year. It allows for an easier and more efficient means of discovery for everyone, and lets audiences still feel like they are part of the action even if they are watching from home. I had a blast watching so many movies this year, and am already looking forward to endlessly re-watching many of them. Yet I know in my bones that I would not have been able to see nearly as many had it only been an in-person festival. And while I am bummed to have missed out on Last Night in Soho and Spencer, I am overjoyed at everything I did get to see — including some of the more forgettable titles. Next year will no doubt look different again, but here’s hoping it will still feel like TIFF because where else can you go from watching a hit Broadway musical adaptation like Dear Evan Hansen to an Oscar-prestige play like The Power of the Dog to the absolute madness of the Palme d’Or winning Titane?
The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Last Night in Soho
Dear Evan Hansen
People’s Choice Award Prediction: Spencer
We’re still mesmerized by Kristen Stewart’s work in Spencer, which almost is side-by-side as our favourite with Jessica Chastain‘s mind-blowing portrayal of Tammy Faye Bakker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye! We still are obsessed with Last Night in Soho and can’t wait to see it again in October! We missed The Power of the Dog but are thankful it will be available soon on Netflix! So excited to see some of these titles propel into Awards Season success.
Body Horror has never looked so good as in Writer-Director Julia Ducournau’s Titane.
An automobile accident creates life-altering repercussions for child Alexie (Agathe Rousselle). In order to survive, she’s forced to get a titanium plate in her skull. But this one moment has disturbing ripple effects throughout her remaining years.
Ducournau has managed to make a Body Horror film laced with themes of sexual and gender fluidity. She introduces us to adult Alexie in a hyper-sexualized car show where she dances on the hood of a flame-painted car, gawked at by the male onlookers. Her use of music, dance and camera angles from this early scene evoke a high-octane thrill ride that kicks off and never stops. Ducournau shoots this scene in a way that shows the hyper-sexualized view of the female body. Later (without giving too much away), she brilliantly flips this on its head when Alexie performs in a similar way but under different circumstances. It’s with these two pivotal yet parallel scenes, Ducournau explores sexual and gender fluidity and makes us question our views.
Another theme Ducournau explores is parenthood. This is where true Body Horror is born. It’s hard to speak of Titane because it’s best to go in blind. Yet, this theme of parenthood must be highlighted as it results in a change in our lead. It’s through this parenthood theme the layers of the story and Alexie’s complexity become exposed. Rousselle shows immense depth with Alexie, exposing her rage, fear, anguish but also a longing ache simmering beneath the surface. She uses her entire body, hypnotizing and captivating audiences from beginning to end. Rousselle gives one of the best performances of the year.
Additionally, the theme of parenthood brings us firefighter Vincent (Vincent Lindon in a commanding performance) who lost his son 10 years ago and desires to be reunited with him. Once again, Ducournau uses music and dance to visualize the inner life of her character. Therefore, giving Vincent desperation and empathy that’s opposite to the rage-infused Alexie. Alone, Lindon and Rousselle are powerhouses but together, they are explosive.
Overall, Titane is a gory, high-octane thrill ride with a dose of needed dark humour. Ducournau is an artist that has something to say and a wild creative vision to get her voice heard. She is truly a master of her craft and in a lane of her own.
More titles have been announced for TIFF ’21 in the TIFF Docs, Midnight Madness, Wavelengths and Contemporary World Cinema Programmes. Among those premiering at the Festival this September in Toronto are Cannes Palme d’Or winner TITANE in the Midnight Madness Programme, getting the Opening Film slot.
Also surfacing at TIFF is Sundance hit JOCKEY starring Clifton Collins Jr. The Film competed in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition, and also win Collins the US Dramatic Special Jury Award for Best Actor and got picked-up by Sony Pictures Classics shortly after. TRUE THINGS starring The Affair‘s Ruth Wilson also will be presented in the Contemporary World Cinema Programme alongside Jockey, among others.
The Festival runs September 9–18, 2021 and will be a combination of in-person and virtual events and screenings.
Titles announced today include:
TIFF DOCS Presented by A&E IndieFilms
TIFF Docs Opening Film Attica Stanley Nelson | USA World Premiere
Beba Rebeca Huntt | USA/Mexico World Premiere
Becoming Cousteau Liz Garbus | USA International Premiere
Burning Eva Orner | Australia World Premiere
Comala Gian Cassini | Mexico World Premiere
The Devil’s Drivers Mohammed Abugeth, Daniel Carsenty | Qatar/France/Lebanon/Germany World Premiere
Flee Jonas Poher Rasmussen | Denmark/France/Sweden/Norway Canadian Premiere
Hold Your Fire Stefan Forbes | USA World Premiere
Listening to Kenny G Penny Lane | USA World Premiere
Oscar Peterson: Black + White Barry Avrich | Canada World Premiere
The Rescue E. Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin | USA/United Kingdom International Premiere
Three Minutes – A Lengthening Bianca Stigter | Netherlands/United Kingdom Canadian Premiere
Wochiigii lo: End of the Peace Heather Hatch | Canada World Premiere
Futura Pietro Marcello, Francesco Munzi, Alice Rohrwacher | Italy North American Premiere
The Girl and the Spider (Das Mädchen und die Spinne) Ramon Zürcher, Silvan Zürcher | Switzerland North American Premiere
Wavelengths Opening Film Neptune Frost Saul Williams, Anisia Uzeyman | Rwanda/USA North American Premiere
A Night of Knowing Nothing Payal Kapadia | India/France International Premiere
Ste. Anne Rhayne Vermette | Canada North American Premiere
The Tsugua Diaries (Diários de Otsoga) Maureen Fazendeiro, Miguel Gomes | Portugal North American Premiere
The Capacity for Adequate Anger Vika Kirchenbauer | Germany World Premiere
Dear Chantal (Querida Chantal) Nicolás Pereda | Mexico/Spain International Premiere
earthearthearth Daïchi Saïto | Canada North American Premiere
Inner Outer Space Laida Lertxundi | Spain North American Premiere
Polycephaly in D Michael Robinson | USA World Premiere
“The red filter is withdrawn.” (“Le-deu-pil-teo-ga Cheol-hoe-doeb-ni-da.”) Minjung Kim | South Korea North American Premiere
Train Again Peter Tscherkassky | Austria North American Premiere
After Blue (Dirty Paradise) Bertrand Mandico | France North American Premiere
DASHCAM Rob Savage | United Kingdom/USA World Premiere
Saloum Jean Luc Herbulot | Senegal World Premiere Midnight Madness Opening Film Titane Julia Ducournau | France North American Premiere
You Are Not My Mother Kate Dolan | Ireland World Premiere
Zalava Arsalan Amiri | Iran North American Premiere
SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS Presented by Visa (New additions to previously announced programme)
Ahed’s Knee (Ha’berech) Nadav Lapid | Israel/France/Germany North American Premiere
The Box (La Caja) Lorenzo Vigas | USA/Mexico North American Premiere (previously announced in Contemporary World Cinema)
France Bruno Dumont | France/Germany/Italy/Belgium North American Premiere
Where Is Anne Frank? Ari Folman | Belgium/France/Netherlands/Luxembourg/Israel North American Premiere
CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA Presented by Sun Life (New additions to previously announced programme)
7 Prisoners (7 Prisioneiros) Alexandre Moratto | Brazil North American Premiere
Compartment No. 6 Juho Kuosmanen | Finland/Germany/Estonia/Russia North American Premiere
The Gravedigger’s Wife Khadar Ayderus Ahmed | France/Somalia/Germany/Finland North American Premiere
Jockey Clint Bentley | USA International Premiere
Small Body Laura Samani | Italy/France/Slovenia North American Premiere
True Things Harry Wootliff | United Kingdom North American Premiere