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🐝"Chasing the Buzz": 36 films coming to TIFF 2021 that film lovers really want to see

Dystopian thriller "Night Raiders," the feature debut by Cree-Métis filmmaker Danis Goulet, topped the Toronto Star's annual "Chasing the Buzz" poll of hot films heading to the Toronto International Film Festival.

Peter Howell

Movie Critic

The Delta blues can’t drown out TIFF buzz.

Like the rest of us, the Toronto International Film Festival is still battling COVID-19, this time the worrisome Delta variant that is much easier to catch.

But reel life must go on — and so must our annual hunt for the most buzzworthy films at the fest.

The fest’s 46th edition is scheduled to run Sept. 9 to 18, with both in-person screenings (theatres and drive-ins) and online viewings. With 132 features and 37 shorts, it’s less than half the size of a usual TIFF, but it’s hoping to punch above its weight the same way TIFF 2020 did.

So it’s time for the 21st edition of “Chasing the Buzz,” the Star’s annual dive into the hive of pre-TIFF anticipation, taken from a poll of film critics, writers, programmers and scholars.

There’s a runaway winner this year, a movie that’s as unsettling as a nightmare and as urgent as a headline: “Night Raiders,” a dystopian sci-fi thriller by Toronto’s Danis Goulet, a Cree-Métis filmmaker. Set in a military-run North America following a ruinous future war, the film stars Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers as a Cree mother seeking to save her daughter (Brooklyn Letexier-Hart) from a forced education camp that recalls the horrors of residential schools.

Women filmmakers also dominated the next most popular choices, five films that took three votes apiece: “Beba,” an unflinching and racially aware self-portrait by filmmaker Rebeca Huntt; “Earwig,” a trippy drama by Lucile Hadžihalilović about a girl with ice cubes for teeth; “Last Night In Soho,” Edgar Wright’s time-travelling psycho-thriller starring Anya Taylor-Joy and Thomasin McKenzie as two sides of the same woman; “The Power of the Dog,” a fraternally fraught western by Jane Campion starring Benedict Cumberbatch that arrives with much Oscar speculation; and “Titane,” Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or-winning shocker that gives a shocking twist to auto-eroticism.

There were also nine films with two votes apiece and 21 films with one vote apiece.

A total of 36 films shook our hive this year, which we hope will assist you in selecting from the 132 features coming to TIFF 2021.

Films that score in “Chasing the Buzz” are often seen on the road to Oscar glory. That was the path followed last year by “Nomadland,” one of our 2020 top buzz picks that went all the way to Best Picture, Best Director (Chloé Zhao) and Best Actress (Frances McDormand) at the Academy Awards. Previous buzz quests have also turned up Oscar winners: “Moonlight,” “La La Land,” “12 Years a Slave” and more, although the awards potential is really just a bonus. The goal of our poll is to find the best movies among the many unspooling at the festival.

Each of our 30 panellists was asked to name and explain the movie they’re most keen on. Just for fun, and additional insights, we asked them to name a “wild card” pick with no explanations given. Let’s get buzzing:


Night Raiders (Danis Goulet)

◆ “Cree and Métis filmmaker Danis Goulet draws on Canada’s painful ongoing history of colonization to deliver a propulsive piece of genre fiction. The dystopia is us. Brilliant.” — Cameron Bailey, TIFF artistic director and co-head (Wild card: “Montana Story”)

◆ “You had me at Cree dystopian thriller. Danis’s debut feature uses a sci-fi prism to reflect on Canada’s shameful residential school past, present and future, resulting in an unforgettable ride.” — R.T. Thorne, producer, director, screenwriter (Wild card: “Colin in Black & White”)

◆ “It’s a dystopian thriller that looks to be an exciting entry into the Indigenous futurism genre.” — Kelly Boutsalis, freelancer writer, journalist (Wild card: “The Rescue”)

(The other three votes are wild card picks.)


Beba (Rebeca Huntt)

◆ “Rebeca Huntt’s intimate documentary memoir is a love letter to Black women’s exceptional existence. Created by a rebellious crew of mostly women, Beba’s journey illuminates the stories seldom told.” — Maxine Bailey, executive director, Canadian Film Centre (Wild card: “Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over”)

◆ “At age 31, Huntt makes a stunning debut exploring family dysfunction, racial identity and coming of age.” — Thom Powers, TIFF programmer, podcast host (Wild Card: “Listening to Kenny G”)

◆ “First-time filmmaker Huntt’s personal ruminations on her Dominican-Venezuelan heritage as she navigates race/class issues in young American adulthood sounds like lovely and consequential breakout material (and one that’s especially resonant for this Colombian-American writer).” — Eric Kohn, vice-president, editorial strategy, IndieWire (Wild card: “Earwig”)

Earwig (Lucile Hadžihalilović)

◆ “Hadžihalilović’s latest sounds like a parody of her work for the still-too-small coterie of people who would get such a joke. ‘A young girl with ice cubes for teeth begins a mysterious journey.’ Of course she does.” — Donald Clarke, critic, Irish Times (Wild card: “You Are Not My Mother”)

(The other two votes are wild card picks.)

Last Night In Soho (Edgar Wright)

◆ “I have yet to miss an Edgar Wright film. This sounds very trippy and it stars Anya Taylor-Joy, who is a hypnotic presence in everything.” — Jim Slotek, critic, editor, Original-Cin (Wild card: “Titane”)

◆ “Edgar Wright worships at the shrine of genre cinema, and his foray into psychological horror looks like a giallo-tinged love letter to ‘Repulsion’ and ‘Don’t Look Now.’ — Victor Stiff, senior critic, That Shelf (Wild card: “Night Raiders”)

(The other vote is a wild card pick.)

The Power of the Dog (Jane Campion)

◆ “Campion’s first film in 12 years is a triumph worth waiting for. The film is a mesmerizing, revisionist take on the American western featuring a career-best performance from Benedict Cumberbatch.” — Joana Vicente, TIFF executive director and co-head (Wild card: “Charlotte”)

◆ “The big-screen return of Jane Campion with a Western about warring brothers adapted from Thomas Savage’s groundbreaking novel and a cast led by Benedict Cumberbatch, Thomasin McKenzie, Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons. I’m all in.” — Linda Barnard, freelance film critic (Wild card: “Last Night in Soho”)

◆ “Buzz is very strong for the only film to be chosen for each of the big four fall festivals … Campion won the Palme d’Or in 1993 for ‘The Piano,’ but Oscar has never come knocking at her door. This film could change that.” — Jordan Ruimy, critic, World of Reel (Wild card: “Unclenching the Fists”)

Titane (Julia Ducournau)

All three votes for “Titane” were wild card picks.


All My Puny Sorrows (Michael McGowan)

◆ “I’m looking forward to McGowan’s film, adapted from Miriam Toews’ novel. It was a favourite book club selection and the casting of Alison Pill and Sarah Gadon as the troubled sisters is genius.” — Michèle Maheux, former TIFF executive director (Wild card: “Lo Invisible”)

◆ “I’ve been a Michael McGowan fan since ‘Saint Ralph.’ I love that he leans into emotion. The pairing of Sarah Gadon and Alison Pill in this adaptation of a beloved Canadian novel is gold-star talent from this country.” — Teri Hart, producer, host, Super Channel (Wild card: “Night Raiders”)

Benediction (Terence Davies)

◆ “The combination of Siegfried Sassoon’s famed poetry and books on the First World War, and the fierce determination of Terence Davies’ unerring instinct to uncover unsettling truths is irresistible.” — Piers Handling, former TIFF CEO (Wild card: “Earwig”)

(The other vote is a wild card pick.)

Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over (Dave Wooley, David Heilbroner)

◆ “I’m a sucker for music documentaries so I’m all in for this. It promises rare footage, great music and an in-depth look at a very private superstar.” — Richard Crouse, host, “Pop Life” (Wild card: “Compartment No. 6”)

(The other vote is a wild card pick.)

Learn to Swim (Thyrone Tommy)

◆ “Making the leap to feature films, Tommy’s tale of a stormy romance between two jazz musicians is a must-see love story for me.” — Courtney Small, film critic, That Shelf (Wild card: “Dug Dug”)

(The other vote is a wild card pick.)

Memoria (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

◆ “Apichatpong Weerasethakul teaming up with Tilda Swinton is definitely going to spark up the screen!” — Alice Shih, critic, Fairchild Radio (Wild Card: “Titane”)

(The other vote is a wild card pick.)

The Rescue (E. Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin)

◆ “The ‘Free Solo’ Oscar winners follow their death-defying mountain movie with a deep dive on the 2018 Thai cave rescue.” — Pat Mullen, publisher, POV Magazine (Wild card: “Drunken Birds”)

(The other vote is a wild card pick.)

Spencer (Pablo Larraín)

◆ "Pablo Larraín’s gift for unresolvable tension and the ever-deepening talent of Kristen Stewart means we are in for an insightful and vividly emotional profile of the people’s princess." — Sherry Coman, media professor, Martin Luther University College (Wild card: “Night Raiders”)

(The other vote is a wild card pick.)

Unclenching the Fists (Kira Kovalenko)

◆ “In an industrial town in the North Caucasus, a middle child struggles to escape the stifling grip of the family she both loves and rejects. This claustrophobic second feature from co-writer and director Kira Kovalenko was the winner of the Un Certain Regard Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.” — Dorota Lech, TIFF programmer (Wild card: “The Hill Where Lionesses Roar”)

(The other vote is a wild card pick.)

Charlotte (Eric Warin, Tahir Rana)

(Both votes for “Charlotte” are wild card picks.)


Drive My Car (Ryusuke Hamaguchi)

◆ “Maybe it’s thanks to Lee Chang-dong’s ‘Burning,’ but a Murakami adaptation is my kind of ride. Based on some reactions at Cannes, this film sounds stylish, contemplative, even a little sleepy. I’m buckled in.” — Jake Howell, writer, freelance film programmer (Wild Card: “Spencer”)

A Hero (Asghar Farhadi)

◆ “Few directors set up scenarios that so astutely and subtly capture the foibles and complexities of relationships like Iranian director Asghar Farhadi.” — Karen Gordon, critic, Original-Cin (Wild card: “Memoria”)

The Mad Women’s Ball (Mélanie Laurent)

◆ “This exquisitely made feature debut by Mélanie Laurent is a heart-wrenching portrait of a woman locked up and tortured because she sees spirits.” — Anne Brodie, critic, What She Said! (Wild Card: “Benediction”)

Official Competition (Mariano Cohn, Gastón Duprat)

◆ “Oscar Martinez? Antonio Banderas? Penélope Cruz? Por favor. It’s going to be magical.” — Maria Alejandra Sosa, TIFF head of media relations and strategy (Wild card: “The Box”)

Petite Maman (Céline Sciamma)

◆ “Two years later and I still haven’t fully recovered from the devastating final act of ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire.’ If Céline Sciamma has a movie, I’m there — no synopsis needed.” — Jerry Nadarajah, movie lover (Wild card: “Titane”)

Scarborough (Shasha Nakhai, Rich Williamson)

◆ “This talented Toronto duo’s first narrative feature — Catherine Hernandez’s adaptation of her own acclaimed novel — is a quietly powerful story of love and community.” — Jennie Punter, writer, editor, Variety, Musicworks (Wild card: “Wildhood”)

The Survivor (Barry Levinson)

◆ “Ben Foster, one of the best actors we have working today, plays a boxer forced to fight for his life and the sadistic amusement of his Nazi captors in a Second World War concentration camp. Jumping between that previous timeline and post-captivity, director Barry Levinson’s true-story drama is sure to be … a compelling testament to the fighting power of the human spirit.” — Matt Neglia, editor in chief, (Wild card: “Charlotte”)

The Worst Person in the World (Joachim Trier)

◆ “Longtime TIFF favourite Joachim Trier returns with the third instalment of his trilogy, which began with ‘Reprise.’ This may be his most vibrant film yet. It stars Renate Reinsve (Best Actress at Cannes) as a woman determined to live her life in her own terms.” — Steve Gravestock, TIFF senior programmer (Wild card: “Learn to Swim”)

The remaining one-vote films, all wild card picks, are: “The Box” (Lorenzo Vigas); “Colin in Black & White” (Ava DuVernay); “Compartment No. 6” (Juho Kuosmanen); “Drunken Birds” (Ivan Grbovic); “Dug Dug” (Ritwik Pareek); “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (Michael Showalter); “Jagged” (Alison Klayman); “Listening to Kenny G” (Penny Lane); “Montana Story” (Scott McGehee, David Siegel); “The Hill Where Lionesses Roar” (Luàna Bajrami); “Lo Invisible” (Javier Andrade); “Wildhood” (Bretten Hannam) and “You Are Not My Mother” (Kate Dolan). 🌗

(This story originally ran in the Toronto Star.)

Twitter: @peterhowellfilm


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