10 of the best films from TIFF — and when you can watch them

Entertainment reporters Eli Glasner and Jackson Weaver compiled some of their top picks from the Toronto International Film Festival's 2021 lineup. 

Spencer, Dune, Night Raiders and more must-watch films from TIFF's in-person return

In this collage, scenes from the films Dune, Spencer and Night Raiders are shown. As the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival comes to a close, CBC News has compiled some of the biggest, buzziest, and most affecting entries. (TIFF)

Despite a return to red carpets and theatre premieres, the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival was anything but normal. 

For an event renowned for its unique ability to generate buzz among its huge audience — the largest for a public film festival in the world — there were few communal events to point to this year. Instead, emphasis was on the hybrid, digital side of TIFF, which led to many moviegoers participating from home.

So in place of compiling the most exciting in-person events, entertainment reporters Eli Glasner and Jackson Weaver have compiled some of their top picks from the festival, with details of when you can expect to see them. 

Eli Glasner


Clifton Collins Jr. plays a jockey who finds the perfect ride in this film by director Clint Bentley. (Sony Pictures International)

I go to TIFF hoping to discover movies like this. It's a scrappy snapshot of a fading subculture, with Clifton Collins Jr. in a role as an aging jockey that, in a just world, would earn him Oscar attention. Director Clint Bentley takes his take time, framing faces to catch the fading light. Molly Parker and young Moises Arias support the story but know not to pull too hard on the reins. The final two minutes, the expression on Collins's face — sublime. 

Jockey opens Jan. 15, 2022. 


WATCH | Director Denis Villeneuve on shooting Dune for the big screen:

Why Dune is a big screen movie

11 months ago
Duration 0:56
Canadian director Denis Villeneuve explains how he shot the movie Dune to be seen in movie theatres.

The opposite of Jockey to be sure, but Dune is also part of the festival experience — that glorious anticipation of The Big Thing. The good news is Dune, filtered through the prism of Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, did not disappoint. His vision for the worlds of novelist Frank Herbert is expansive, majestic and utterly, utterly serious. This is Stars Wars without a funny bone. But in its place is a tale of a messianic prince, warring empires and the implacable enemy — nature itself.  With only Part 1 of Villeneuve's proposed series available, the narrative lacks closure, but what a sumptuous beginning. 

Dune will be in theatres Oct. 22. 

Drunken Birds

Hélène Florent as Julie, the wife of the owner of vegetable farm in Quebec, in a scene from Drunken Birds. (TIFF)

Director Ivan Grbovic presents a visceral look at the real-life ripples of globalism in Drunken Birds, a tale stretching from the deserts of Mexico to a vegetable farm in Quebec. Involving drug cartels and migrant workers, this is a profoundly human look at cogs in the commercial machine. We watch as time slips, the cicadas chirp, and dominoes fall into place. Sara Mishara's cinematography is appropriately lush, and lead Jorge Antonio Guerrero as the isolated worker Willy is excellent. 

Drunken Birds opens in Quebec on Oct. 15. 

Night Raiders

WATCH | Director Danis Goulet on the film's hopeful message:

The message and power of Night Raiders

11 months ago
Duration 1:10
Indigenous director Night Raiders director Danis Goulet talks about why she chose to set her film about residential schools in the future.

Director Danis Goulet and her collaborators could never have imagined how sadly urgent her film would become. But by reframing the history of residential schools in a dystopian near-future context, Night Raiders highlights the timeless strength of Indigenous communities, pushing back and banding together. 

Leaving the history books behind, we find Canada as a war-torn, defeated nation where the government takes children to be indoctrinated. The casting of Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers as a mother disconnected from her culture is inspired, and newcomer Brooklyn Letexier-Hart is a revelation. 

Night Raiders opens in theatres Oct. 8.

The Power of the Dog

From Jane Campion, the writer and director of 1993's The Piano, comes another masterful slow burn of a story. Benedict Cumberbatch utterly sinks into the skin and stink of Paul, the uncompromising cowboy who runs a ranch with his brother (Jesse Plemons). 

It's a tale filled with tiny details to evoke Montana in the 1920s. From the landscape to the costumes, and certainly to the characters, everything is covered with an earthy lived-in patina. The perfect setting for a story that sneaks up on you like a hot, dry breeze. 

The Power Of the Dog opens in select theatres on Nov. 17, and then arrives on Netflix in December. 

Runners up:

  • Spencer
  • Flee
  • Petite Maman
  • Hold Your Fire 
  • The Electrical Life of Louis Wain

Jackson Weaver

Silent Night

Keira Knightley appears in a still from the movie Silent Night. The black comedy, which takes place on Christmas, shows parents and their children grappling with a coming apocalypse. (TIFF)

This darkly comic tale stars Keira Knightley, Lily-Rose Depp, and Roman Griffin Davis of Jojo Rabbit fame — who, once again, carries a star-studded film despite his young age — and likely edges out Die Hard as the most off-brand Christmas movie out there. It had its world premiere at the tail end of TIFF, but has already been purchased by AMC+, so it should be in theatres and available to rent online both in the U.S. and Canada in December.

As one of the first true climate catastrophe comedies — it details a dinner party hours ahead of the apocalypse — there's little out there to compare this feature to. It's sure to keep you engaged — assuming you can laugh along to the end of the world.


This biopic from Chilean director Pablo Larraín was among the most anticipated films at TIFF despite the fact it's not eligible for the coveted People's Choice Award, as it only screened in-person and wasn't available to digital audiences. 

Still, the film delivered on all fronts. Kristen Stewart disappears into her role as Diana, Princess of Wales, during a tense Christmas weekend in the early 1990s. Don't expect fireworks or theatrics — or much in the way of closure — but instead a subtle and effective character study. 

The film is scheduled for wide release on Nov. 5. 

The Hole in the Fence

Characters from the film The Hole In The Fence are shown in this promotional photo. The surreal coming-of-age story, which is set in a Mexican summer camp, shows the cruelty that can often take hold in adolescence. (Wild Bunch International Sales)

A surprise find at a festival dominated by the return of big budget features, The Hole in the Fence is a dark coming-of-age tale about a group of boys at a religious camp in the Mexican countryside, and the cruelty that can come both from youth and burgeoning masculinity.

Much of its strength comes from the surprisingly strong performances of its young stars — a trend at this year's festival. While it doesn't yet have a scheduled release date, keep an eye out for this emotional and urgent film, which will inevitably be compared to Lord of the Flies, even if it is slightly more surreal.

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain

WATCH | Benedict Cumberbatch on why he loves coming back to TIFF:

Benedict Cumberbatch comes back to TIFF

11 months ago
Duration 0:41
Actor Benedict Cumberbatch talks about returning to the Toronto International Film Festival and the value of in-person screenings. Cumberbatch stars in two films at TIFF, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain and The Power of the Dog.

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is one of two Benedict Cumberbatch films to premiere at this year's festival. And in contrast to the other, The Power of the Dog, this one is all about a different animal — cats.

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain shows how the real-life artist's work helped cats become a common household pet in the early 20th century. Cumberbatch plays the enigmatic and slightly neurotic character in a way that echoes his past performances in Sherlock and The Imitation Game, while the story itself is equal parts tender and earnest. 

It's hitting theatres on Oct. 22, and will then move to Amazon Prime in early November. 

The Humans

Fresh off the success of the medieval epic The Green Knight — and with The WitchHereditary and Midsommar in its back pocket — film studio A24 has jumped headfirst back into the horror genre, though not in the way you might expect.

Adapted from the one-act play by Stephen Karam, who also directs the film, The Humans follows a family during an off-kilter, and increasingly uncomfortable, Thanksgiving dinner. While monsters, gore, violence or other staples of horror are never introduced, the film creates all the suspense of the genre, almost entirely from quiet moments and probing questions.

The Humans will premiere both in theatres and on Showtime on Nov. 24, one day before the (American) holiday it celebrates takes place.

Runners up:

  • Scarborough
  • Benediction
  • Titane
  • The Worst Person in the World
  • The Forgiven 


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