The 46th annual Toronto International Film Festival has concluded its 10-day movie-thon. With more than 100 films (features, shorts, animated, etc.) shown on a variety of platforms to critics, audiences and buyers all over the world, it certainly wasn’t business as usual.

TIFF is as much of a launching pad for awards contenders as it is a film festival. More films play at TIFF than Telluride or Venice, making it the festival where you get more bang for your buck, not to mention state-of-the-art seating and projection in many theaters.

Out of the past 13 Audience Award Winning Films at TIFF, 12 of those were nominated for best picture at the Oscars and five of them won. Saturday’s closing awards ceremony revealed “Belfast” (the only film where press applauded this year) was announced as the audience winner.

Kenneth Branagh’s intimate black-and-white film was the most genuinely comforting at the festival. The performances, which include Jamie Dornan, Ciarán Hinds, Judi Dench and Caitriona Balfe are delightful and charming; all four could land nominations. The film about the darker times in Belfast’s history speaks loud volumes on acceptance and tolerance. It’s a film for any and everyone.

MOVIES DURING THE PANDEMIC

Aside from the pandemic disrupting travel in and out of Toronto, masks and vaccination check before entering every screening, no badges, fewer films and many fewer people, TIFF helped solidify many of the films we’ll talk about the rest of the year.

Watching so many films in a short span of time, you begin to notice patterns or similarities. It became obvious which were shot during the pandemic, as filming safety protocols left many actors on screen alone or at a noticeable distance from co-stars. It’s hard to know exactly which films delayed their release in hopes of a more theater-friendly 2021, but the ones shot during the pandemic were extremely distinctive.

THE BEST OF THE BEST

Out of the 22 films I saw in Toronto, five stood out; those five will likely be on my and many others’ best-of-the-year lists in a few months. You get many middle-ground films, but only a small number of bad ones.

Here’s a sampling of some of the best and worst films to anticipate and avoid in the next six months.

The biggest film at TIFF this year also was one of the best. Denis Villeneuve’s epic “Dune” remake was shown in the gargantuan Scotiabank IMAX. An eye- popping spectacle from beginning to ... well, it doesn’t really have an end, but every second is enthralling.

It’s an all-absorbing world that audiences will get to experience themselves in October, I hope on the biggest screens they can find to get the full experience.

The most tense and anxiety-inducing film was Jane Campion’s western “The Power of the Dog.” The slow-burn thriller starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst will have you squirming before the shocking conclusion. Campion is the real star here, crafting a precise film that’s full of elements to discuss and debate with no right or wrong answers. Its landscape (shot in New Zealand standing in for 1920s Montana) is breathtaking.

One of the best films you can see right now is “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” starring Jessica Chastain, already playing in theaters. I already mentioned “Belfast” above.

The most emotionally effective film I saw this year was “Encounter,” starring TIFF juryman, Riz Ahmed. It’s a film where the less you know the better, but “Encounter” is a thriller about a father who kidnaps his sons to spend more time with them. Part sci-fi, part action, part road trip and coming-of-age story, it’s Ahmed giving another award-worthy performance.

THE WORST OF THE WORST

The worst or most disappointing included “Memoria,” starring Tilda Swinton. A strictly art, almost experimental, film containing some unique sound experimentation, it doesn’t work on a narrative level. Nor is it the type of movie you want to watch in a cinema.

Dear Evan Hansen” was an extraordinary failure — full review on that one later this week — plagued by casting and prosthetic issues. It’s simply too much suspension of disbelief to tolerate or enjoy.

The biggest disappointment goes to “Lakewood,” a thriller starring Naomi Watts, jogging the entire film to get to her son at a high school on lockdown. Scenes that don’t match, and unrealistic use of a cell phone for 83 minutes, fail at adding anything new to the school-shooter genre.

One of the final films at TIFF this year was “Silent Night” starring Keira Knightley, a festive doomsday failure. As the end of the world approaches, an eccentric group of friends and their children spend one last evening together before planning to kill themselves.

Final Thought: TIFF 2021 delivered the least stressful and chaotic film festival in its history, leaving us to wonder if the chaos also isn’t part of the magic and allure.

If you missed Dustin Chase’s TIFF day-by-day coverage, go to GalvNews.com.

Dustin Chase is a film critic and associate editor with Texas Art & Film, which is based in Galveston. Visit texasartfilm.com.

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