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The Globe and Mail’s film festival writers present the highs, lows and all the moments in between from this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, which wrapped up Sept. 18.

Most satisfying

Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz in Official Competition, an oddball send-up of art-house pretensions.Manolo Pavon/Handout

At the end of the film-industry satire Official Competition, Penelope Cruz confronts the viewer in a tight close-up. When does a movie end, she asks? When the credits roll or in the hours afterward as the audience discusses its merits? Official Competition, an oddball send-up of art-house pretensions from the Argentinian directors Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat, had me giggling over its inside jokes hours after I had left the theatre. But it was The Power of the Dog, a psychological Western from director Jane Campion, that gave me days of chewing. In an uncharacteristic tough-guy performance, Benedict Cumberbatch plays Phil Burbank, a Montana rancher and misogynistic bully who terrorizes his new sister-in-law. Burbank does get his comeuppance in a twisted ending that leaves you wanting others to see the film so you can debate the moral. – Kate Taylor

TIFF 2021: Latest reviews of films playing at the festival

Most frustrating

The news that The Power of the Dog and The Guilty, two of Netflix’s most anticipated fall titles, showed up on a pirate site shortly after premieres at TIFF cast a black shadow over the festival’s thoughtful hybrid model. It is not clear where the pirated copies came from: reportedly they did not carry the various watermarks that TIFF includes on both public and industry screeners. Still, the timing couldn’t be worse for both fans and professionals who value TIFF’s user-friendly digital screening platforms – and the future of cinema. – Kate Taylor

Most nostalgic

At TIFF this year, I tried my best to see movies IRL, without feeling haunted by memories of the past. While riding the Scotiabank escalator all the way to a screening is a lot easier without having to fight your way through the packed rush line, I missed the frenzied excitement of what TIFF used to feel like: catching up with old friends, celebrity spotting and the collective awe of experiencing a movie for the first time. It was emotional to re-enter spaces like the TIFF Bell Lightbox and Royal Cinema, which I consider churches, and to see filmmakers greet an audience of 30 instead of 300. – Chandler Levack

Most surreal

Tilda Swinton in a scene from Memoria.1996-98 ACCUSOFT INC./Handout

I began TIFF watching Memoria by Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul, starring Tilda Swinton. The film starts in glacial silence until a sonic boom shakes you out of your seat. Seriously. My heart skipped a beat. The movie is about Swinton trying to figure out what that sound was. That heart-skipping sound set the tone of the festival for me. It was a surreal feeling just being in a theatre. TIFF is usually about rushing from one theatre to the next, trying to grab whatever seat you can, gabbing with colleagues in between, swapping notes. We had none of that this year. Seats were assigned, which created less anxiety. But you also felt trapped. I’d booked my tickets with a colleague, so every show was a game of “how far are you sitting from me?” Thrice we were just one seat apart, which was a treat. – Aparita Bhandari

Proudest

All My Puny Sorrows, based on the novel by Miriam Toews, is the culmination of so many things that have been building in Canada.AMPS Productions Inc

Something is happening in Canadian film. Industry veterans are working at the peak of their powers; new voices are rushing in who were too long unheard. All My Puny Sorrows (my favourite film of TIFF 21) is the culmination of so many things that have been building here, growing toward this moment: a brilliant Canadian novel; a screenwriter who knows how to edit; local crews so skilled they can shoot in 20 days during a pandemic; two stars raised in the public-arts school system who blossomed in the wider world. Scarborough is the debut of two talented directors who mine a previously untapped vein of Canadian life, with characters and events that are specific, textured, lived-in, real. Night Raiders embraces a genre (dystopian thriller) and subverts it, too, showing us our history in a way no textbook has ever done. – Johanna Schneller

Best Canadian discovery

Filmed for a mere $125,000 through Telefilm’s Talent to Watch Program, Thyrone Tommy’s debut feature, Learn to Swim, premiered at TIFF’s Discovery program this year. Filmed in the third wave of the pandemic, this moving, beautiful drama about two musicians from Toronto’s experimental jazz scene is a testament to indie filmmaking at its bravest and most resourceful, with some of the most gorgeous music and cinematography I saw all festival. – Chandler Levack

Inescapable theme

Politicians and economists may be studiously ignoring the international mood of mourning, but so many TIFF films dug into grief, loss, depression, loneliness: Belfast, Scarborough, Sundown, Mothering Sunday, Benediction, All My Puny Sorrows, The Humans, The Mad Women’s Ball, The Guilty, The Starling, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, The Gravedigger’s Wife and I could go on. They arrive in a moment when the whole world is confronting human frailty, our deep need for connection and how difficult but necessary it is to go on. (The live audiences I was in even applauded one of the Bell ads that ran before every screening, the one that mentioned how good it is to be together again in a cinema.) – Johanna Schneller

Strangest reaction

Some film reviewers and social media mavens complained that Ben Platt was too old to play a teenager in the musical drama Dear Evan Hansen.Ryan Emberley/Getty Images

Am I the only one who doesn’t think Ben Platt is too old to play a teenager in the musical drama Dear Evan Hansen? Film reviewers and social-media mavens trashed what The Guardian newspaper referred to as Platt’s “creepy teen makeup” and complained that the 27-year-old actor (who starred in the original Broadway stage production) was not believable as a geeky high schooler. But a dubious plot and the notion of characters randomly breaking out in song, that all checks out? – Brad Wheeler

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