12 Films to Look Out For: Our Faves From TIFF ‘21

12 Films to Look Out For: Our Faves From TIFF ‘21

From sci-fi epics to horror Christmas movies, this year’s Toronto International Film Festival was packed with brilliant films in every genre. Most of us attended TIFF (virtually) and we each found a few movies that spoke to us in one way or another. Since the festival had over 100 films to choose from, we’ve curated a list of our favorites that we think deserve a watch! Some you may have heard of, others maybe not, but we hope this list has something on it for everyone.

Petite Maman

Following Céline Sciamma’s critically acclaimed Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, comes Petite Maman. A beautiful and simple story of childhood, grief, and family connection, Petite Maman brings a hint of the spectral to the everyday. It features lovely, subtle performances from young actresses Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz. - Kristen Maldonado


Céline Sciamma is back with a decidedly more small-scale film - fitting, considering the name and surprisingly brief 72 minute run time. Petite Maman focuses on eight year old Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) during an emotionally tumultuous time in her young life. After the death of her grandmother (Margo Abascal), Nelly and her parents (Nina Meurisse and Stéphane Varupenne) travel to the country to clean out her grandmother’s house. While there, Nelly befriends another young girl (Gabrielle Sanz) with whom she forges an unexpected connection. It’s a simple story that gets off to a bit of a slow start, but it doesn’t take long for this film to craft a personal and engaging tale of grief, imagination, and perhaps a touch of something a little more fantastical. - Alyssa Vitale (Mainely Movies)


WHERE TO WATCH: In theaters in the UK on November 19th 2021 and exclusively on MUBI on February 4th 2022


Titane masterfully blends body horror with tender moments, making for a brilliantly bizarre cocktail of cinema. Written and directed by Julia Ducournau (Raw), the film stars Agathe Rousselle in her feature film debut as Alexia, a young woman who has a titanium plate fitted into her head after being injured in a car accident as a child.

Without giving too much away, the core of the story is about two lost and self-destructive souls finding each other and beginning to heal. It’s a harrowing tale, but the importance of found family hits home. One of the best of the year for sure. - Steph Cozza


WHERE TO WATCH: Available to rent/buy on most streaming platforms

The Guilty

Jake Gyllenhaal stars in The Guilty, an American remake of the 2018 Danish film, as Joe Baylor, an LAPD officer with a troubled past on night duty at a 911 call center. An unexpected abduction call takes us on a wild journey. Despite being a single-location thriller, The Guilty really keeps you hooked with its riveting story. - Kristen Maldonado


What begins as any other night soon transforms into a desperate race against the clock after Joe receives a call from a woman who has been abducted. The Guilty is a captivatingly tense single location thriller that grabs ahold of you in the opening minutes and refuses to let go until the credits roll. This is a remake of the 2018 Danish film Den skyldige, and that original film contributes a good deal to this version, including its well-crafted, twisty story. American remakes of foreign films don’t often surpass the originals (I’ll leave that determination up to you, in this case), but this remake is worth a watch regardless of your experience with the original, if only for Jake Gyllenhaal’s superb performance as the conflicted Joe Baylor. - Alyssa Vitale (Mainely Movies)



Last Night In Soho

The newest film from Edgar Wright, Last Night In Soho stars Anya Taylor-Joy and Thomasin McKenzie in what can only be described as a thrilling 1960s fever dream. A young aspiring fashion designer (McKenzie) mysteriously enters 1960s London through her dreams and finds an aspiring singer (Taylor-Joy) - but the glamour is not all it appears to be and what starts as an exciting adventure quickly turns into a grisly murder mystery. As a huge fan of his work, I think it’s Wright’s most daring picture yet and subverts all expectations. It’s a surreal, mystifying, and atmospheric thriller with powerful performances from the entire cast. Without a doubt my favorite movie of the year! - Steph Cozza


Edgar Wright treats his audience to a vibrant celebration of music, 60s nostalgia, and genre cinema. Told through the eyes of Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), a young girl with a passion for fashion design, Last Night in Soho fuses past and present, reality and fantasy, as her dreams start bleeding into reality. Featuring a stunning cast which includes Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, and Diana Rigg, the film is an unforgettable, wild ride.

What makes it such a unique, exciting experience is that Wright isn’t afraid to mix genres here, going from a coming-of-age story to a nightmare scenario, while also unfolding the narrative in two separate time periods. Last Night in Soho is a film that cautions the audience against romanticizing the past and getting lost in nostalgia, sheds light on the difficult realities of chasing your dreams in the big city, and reveals the darkness behind the neon lights. - Marianna Neal (Impression Blend)


WHERE TO WATCH: In theaters now!


Adapted from the 2017 novel by Catherine Hernandez, Scarborough gives a slice of life look into an underprivileged community in Toronto over the course of a year. Young actors Liam Diaz, Essence Fox, and Anna Claire Beitel are absolute standouts. They deliver incredibly authentic performances as they showcase different life struggles and lessons learned. - Kristen Maldonado


WHERE TO WATCH: Showtime, also available to rent/buy on most streaming platforms


Of all the films I saw at TIFF, this one stuck with me the most and I’ve thought about it nearly every day since. Olivia Munn absolutely slays her performance in Justine Bateman’s feature directorial debut about a young woman plagued by the self-sabotaging voice in her head. While her inner monologue is painfully relatable — almost triggering — I’ve never felt so seen or understood as a woman. I cannot recommend it enough! - Steph Cozza


Justine Bateman knocked her feature film directorial debut out of the park! Violet will undoubtedly speak to people who have struggled with anxiety, insecurity, and felt like they aren’t living the life they are meant for. The titular character is going through just that, as she makes her decisions based on what the deprecating voice inside her head tells her. Bateman experiments with artistic elements to convey the mental state of her lead character, but does so without overwhelming her viewers.

Whether it’s on screen text, the use of color, or chaotic additional footage, all of it creates a cohesive portrait of a woman struggling to connect not only with others, but also with herself. Violet is an honest look at fear, doubt, and self-sabotage, a creative film that will ring true for anyone who’s ever felt lost on their way through life. - Marianna Neal (Impression Blend)


WHERE TO WATCH: In theaters now!


It’s undeniable that Dune is one of the most exciting and talked about releases of the year, and easily one of the highlights of this year’s TIFF. The highly anticipated re-adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi masterpiece novel can at last be seen on the big screen, after multiple delays, and it was absolutely worth the wait - it’s as stunning, grand, epic, and impressive as it promised to be!

Director Denis Villeneuve brings the world of Dune to life with love and attention to detail that it desperately needs. From the vast landscapes of different planets, accompanied by Hans Zimmer's moody score, to the personal moments between characters, and particularly the mother-son relationship at the heart of the story, the film is easily one of the most memorable, and cinematic experiences of the year. The only issue here is that we have to wait until 2023 to see Part Two. - Marianna Neal (Impression Blend)


WHERE TO WATCH: In theaters or on HBO Max

The Syed Family Xmas Eve Game Night

A queer Pakistani Muslim woman brings her Puerto Rican partner home from holidays in The Syed Family Xmas Eve Game Night. Directed by Fawzia Mirza and written by and starring Kausar Mohammad, the short film is funny, heartfelt, and powerful. This is the first time I’ve seen queer Brown people at the center of a heartwarming holiday story and it left me smiling ear to ear. The power of representation! - Kristen Maldonado


WHERE TO WATCH: Release date TBD


Encounter, led by Riz Ahmed, follows a Marine on a mission to save his two sons from a mysterious threat. A heart pounding father-sons road trip, Encounter makes you question -- are these threats real or all in his mind? Actors Lucian-River Chauhan and Aditya Geddada stole the film as Ahmed’s young sons. - Kristen Maldonado


Michael Pearce’s sophomore film is a mysterious sci-fi thriller that boasts an intriguing premise and solid performances across the board. Encounter tells the story of former Marine, Malik Khan (Riz Ahmed), who discovers an inexplicable threat to humanity and vows to do everything he can to keep his two young sons (Janina Gavankar and Lucian-River Chauhan) safe. We’ve seen Riz Ahmed flex his acting chops more than once over the last few years and, once again, he shines in a gripping and multifaceted role. It was the premise that initially piqued my interest in this film, and it certainly delivered the sci-fi thrills that I was hoping for, but it also provided some refreshingly unanticipated elements too. One thing is for sure - this isn’t going to be the film you’re expecting. - Alyssa Vitale (Mainely Movies)


WHERE TO WATCH: Available on Amazon Prime Video December 10th 2021

I’m Your Man (Ich bin dein Mensch)

German filmmaker Maria Schrader directs this intriguing and frequently funny sci-fi romance. The film focuses on Dr. Alma Felser (Maren Eggert), a skeptical, career-driven archaeologist who reluctantly agrees to take part in an experimental trial for a robotics company. In exchange for research funding, Alma must temporarily live with Tom (Dan Stevens), a hyper-realistic, A.I.-driven robot who has been designed as her ideal partner. I’m Your Man doesn’t reinvent the robot/A.I. romance subgenre, but it’s charming enough to hold its own in the increasingly crowded field. Dan Stevens is a standout here, delivering an entertaining and lovable character in this unconventional romantic comedy about what it means to be human. - Alyssa Vitale (Mainely Movies)


A sci-fi rom-com starring Dan Stevens…need I say more? I loved it! While the concept by itself certainly isn’t revolutionary, Dan Stevens and Maren Eggert give powerful performances and share a distinct chemistry on screen. To no one’s surprise, Stevens is the true star of I’m Your Man and demonstrates the depth of his talents — and absolutely steals my heart. - Steph Cozza


WHERE TO WATCH: Available to rent/buy on most streaming platforms

Out of Sync (Tres)

This was my most anticipated film of this year’s virtually-available TIFF movies. Given that that anticipation was built solely on a single-sentence logline, Out of Sync had its work cut out for it. But I’m happy to report that it did not disappoint and, in fact, exceeded my expectations. Juanjo Giménez Peña’s second feature film tells the story of sound designer and foley artist, C (Marta Nieto), who finds that her vision and hearing are inexplicably falling out of sync. This film will draw a lot of comparisons to Sound of Metal. Although both movies are fascinatingly disorienting and anxiety-inducing experiences, Out of Sync manages to evolve into something wholly unexpected. Incredibly immersive sound design, a unique premise, and a compelling lead performance make for one of the festival’s strongest films and one of my favorite films of 2021. - Alyssa Vitale (Mainely Movies)


This joint venture between Spain, Lithuania, and France was one of the biggest surprises of the festival for me. The film about a sound designer whose vision and hearing start getting out of sync starts off as an unsettling drama, but unexpectedly starts mixing in elements of magical realism, crossing over into a beautiful, metaphoric story that delivers on both technical and emotional levels. Firstly, it engrosses the viewers in the main character’s experience through unforgettable, impressive sound design, which makes some scenes feel very disorienting, while others have an almost whimsical quality. And second, the film has a lot of heart, culminating in a surprising finale that will not only resonate emotionally, but also leave the audience contemplating the meaning behind this unusual story. - Marianna Neal (Impression Blend)


WHERE TO WATCH: In theaters in Spain only. Not currently available to stream, rent, or buy (but hopefully soon!)


This year’s films brought some incredibly moving, introspective, personal stories to the screen, and Flee is definitely one of the best. The animated documentary tells the story of Amin, a refugee fleeing his country, whose unbelievable journey from Afghanistan to Denmark is equal parts tender and heartbreaking. Mixing in some well-placed archival footage, Flee is an unforgettable experience, whether you watch it on the big screen or at home.

It’s no wonder the film has now been selected as the Danish entry for the Best International Feature Film at the upcoming Academy Awards - from the harrowing realities of being a refugee to the heartfelt, personal touch, it’s hard to imagine that Flee could leave anyone cold. The most beautiful thing about it is how honest it feels, refusing to sensationalize or dramatize the events in any kind of emotionally manipulative way. Flee doesn’t need to do this - it’s power lies within its humanity. - Marianna Neal (Impression Blend)

WHERE TO WATCH: Release date TBD


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Marianna Neal (Impression Blend): YOUTUBE | TWITTER | INSTAGRAM

Alyssa Vitale (Mainely Movies): YOUTUBE | TWITTER | INSTAGRAM