TIFF 2021: What’s Premiering and What’s Missing So Far

A festival that will henceforth be known as "TIFFord."
Tiff Preview

This article is part of our ongoing press coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival. From reviews to interviews to recap lists, follow along for all things TIFF 2021.

Well, gang, it’s that time of year again. The smell of Tim Hortons double-doubles is in the air. The Scotiabank escalator has broken down. And you can practically taste the excitement of looping around the corner of Yonge Street in the middle of a torrential downpour. The Toronto International Film Festival is back, baby. Where last year’s festival was fully digital, things are looking a little more in-person this year, hopefully. While the specifics (especially for non-Canadians) have yet to shake out, we’re at least excited to see the first inklings of a schedule taking shape.

In all the excitement, it seems the invite for what is sure to be the best movie of the year got lost in the mail. That’s right, folks, we’re talking about Paul Verhoeven’s dogmatically erotic nun thriller, Benedetta. The film, which we’re pretty sure won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and will not be fact-checking, is primed for a North American festival rollout. For us, and many other devout, big-brained cinephiles, its Toronto absence is a glaring one that we can only hope will be remedied any day now. But we won’t let this oversight stop us from highlighting the major talking points of TIFF so far.

So join us: for a giddy peek at what we know is coming to the festival and what, we believe, is still missing from the perfect TIFF 2021 slate.

This article was co-written with Anna Swanson.

Bergman Island

What is it?: Mia Hansen-Løve’s meta homage to the Swedish master Ingmar Bergman follows a filmmaking couple who journey to the island of Fårö, where reality and fantasy start to blur as their creative process unfolds.

Why we’re excited: With a cast that includes Phantom Thread’s Vicky Krieps plus Tim Roth and Mia Wasikowska, Bergman Island is sure to be a wonder to behold. Hansen-Løve is a deft and delicate filmmaker. She’s experienced in drawing out magnificent performances from her cast and capturing some of the most breathtaking images you’ll see on the silver screen. If her past work, including Eden and Things to Come, is any indication, this will be another home run.

What’s missing: Hansen-Løve is one of the greatest French filmmakers working right now. Speaking of the French, and to borrow a line from George Michael Bluth, we like the way they think. Specifically, we like the way they think about what goes on behind closed doors in Medieval convents. This is something we sure would like to see more of, perhaps from the film Benedetta.

The Worst Person in the World

What is it?: The Norweigan dramedy completes director Joachim Trier’s Oslo trilogy (including Reprise and Oslo, August 31) by following Julie (Renate Reinsve) as she rethinks her calling as a med student and uproots her life.

Why we’re excited: Upon premiering at Cannes, the film was met with widespread acclaim. Trier has been building his reputation as an impressively bold filmmaker with films such as Thelma and Louder Than Bombs, and this character study will surely elevate his status even further.

What’s missing: TIFF 2021 will host the North American premiere of The Worst Person In The World. The worst person in the world is also what cowards called Benedetta director Paul Verhoeven when Showgirls came out. Hopefully, Trier’s film fares better with critics. Meanwhile, we’ll be waiting for everyone who made the wrong call in 1995 to apologize.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

What is it?: Jessica Chastain stars as the flamboyant, big-hearted televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker in what promises to be a humanizing portrait of the rise and fall of the Bakker network empire. Directed by Michael Showalter (The Big Sick), The Eyes of Tammy Faye also stars Vincent D’Onofrio and Andrew Garfield.

Why we’re excited: Tammy Faye Bakker is a confounding personality within the wide and often frightening world of American Christian fundamentalism. But few fundies can also claim to be queer icons. Tammy Faye’s story is a wild one and certainly primed for a prosthetics-happy biopic.

What’s missing: In a way … Benedetta’s gay nuns walked so that religious-turned-LGBTQ personality Tammy Faye Bakker could run. This is a double bill begging to happen. Come on, TIFF.

Dear Evan Hansen

What is it: Directed by Stephen Chbosky and based on the musical of the same name, Dear Evan Hansen’s titular teen (Ben Platt) writes himself a therapeutic letter, which is stolen by a classmate who later commits suicide. When the classmate’s family misunderstands the origins of the letter, Evan begins to insert himself into the boy’s past. The movie also stars the likes of Kaitlyn Dever, Amandla Stenberg, Julianne Moore, and Amy Adams.

Why we’re excited: Something at TIFF 2021 has to be dubbed “the movie we need right now” and “the Oscar frontrunner,” and it might as well be this.

What’s missing: People are already angry with Platt’s “how do you do, fellow kids” vibe. So why not lean into the absurdity of it all and add in some lesbian nuns? All we’re saying is it couldn’t hurt.

Clifford the Big Red Dog

What is it?: From Walt Becker, the auteur who brought us Wild Hogs and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip, comes Clifford the Big Red Dog, a movie that was probably foretold in Revelations. Based on Norman Birdwell’s illustrated series of the same name and starring Jack Whiehall, John Cleese, and Tony Hale, it promises to do exactly what it says on the dog food tin. It’s going to be about a big red dog named Clifford.

Why we’re excited: How can you not be excited about this? Clifford the Big Red Dog is, quite literally, too big to fail. It will be a lot of things: monstrous, uncanny, unsettling, probably not family-friendly. But it will not be boring. And that is more than most movies can say for themselves.

What’s missing: What is Clifford, a large red crime against nature, if not the Devil? And who deals with devils? Nuns. Clifford needs nuns. Lesbian nuns, preferably.

More films coming to TIFF 2021:

Gala Presentations 2021

  • Belfast, dir. Kenneth Branagh | United Kingdom
  • The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, dir. Will Sharpe | United Kingdom
  • Jagged, dir. Alison Klayman | USA
  • Last Night in Soho, dir. Edgar Wright | United Kingdom
  • The Mad Women’s Ball (Le Bal des folles), dir. Mélanie Laurent | France
  • Night Raiders, dir. Danis Goulet | Canada/New Zealand
  • One Second, dir. Zhang Yimou | China
  • The Survivor, dir. Barry Levinson | USA/Canada/Hungary

Special Presentations 2021

  • Ali & Ava, dir. Clio Barnard | United Kingdom
  • All My Puny Sorrows, dir. Michael McGowan | Canada
  • Benediction, dir. Terence Davies | United Kingdom
  • Charlotte. dir. Eric Warin, Tahir Rana | Canada/France/Belgium
  • Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over, dir. Dave Wooley, David Heilbroner | USA
  • Drive My Car, dir. Ryusuke Hamaguchi | Japan
  • Encounter, dir. Michael Pearce | United Kingdom/USA
  • The Guilty, Antoine Fuqua | USA
  • I’m Your Man, dir. Maria Schrader | Germany
  • Inexorable, dir. Fabrice du Welz | Belgium/France
  • Lakewood, Phillip Noyce | Canada
  • The Middle Man, dir. Bent Hamer | Norway/Canada/Germany/Denmark
  • Official Competition (Competencia Oficial), dir. Mariano Cohn, Gastón Duprat | Spain/Argentina
  • Paris, 13th District (Les Olympiades), dir. Jacques Audiard | France
  • Petite Maman, dir. Céline Sciamma | France
  • The Starling, dir. Theodore Melfi | USA
  • The Story of My Wife, dir. Ildikó Enyedi | Hungary/Germany/Italy/France
  • Three Floors (Tre Piani), dir. Nanni Moretti | Italy/France
  • Violet, dir. Justine Bateman | USA
  • The Worst Person In The World (Verdens Verste Menneske), dir. Joachim Trier | Norway/France/Sweden/Denmark
Meg Shields: Meg has been writing professionally about all things film-related since 2016. She is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects as well as a Curator for One Perfect Shot. She has attended international film festivals such as TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Nitrate Picture Show as a member of the press. In her day job as an archivist and records manager, she regularly works with physical media and is committed to ensuring ongoing physical media accessibility in the digital age. You can find more of Meg's work at Cinema Scope, Dead Central, and Nonfics. She has also appeared on a number of film-related podcasts, including All the President's Minutes, Zodiac: Chronicle, Cannes I Kick It?, and Junk Filter. Her work has been shared on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Business Insider, and CherryPicks. Meg has a B.A. from the University of King's College and a Master of Information degree from the University of Toronto.