Movies I Wish I Had Seen in Toronto

Regrets, I Have a Few

By Meredith Brody

When I was picking up my press pass in Toronto, I ran into the ebullient, ubiquitous Col Needham, the founder of the essential Internet Movie Database, and a tireless festival-goer. He was the first familiar Festival face I’d seen – at the first film festival outside of the SF Bay Area I’d been to since 2019. He was chatting with his Bristol friend Mark Cosgrove, of the Watershed, but I was so happy to see a familiar Festival face after two years of not running into anybody at all, much less at film festivals, that I blithely inserted myself into their conversation, Cosgrove turned out to be a sympathetic soul.

After a few minutes, Col said he had to rush off to a screening. “What are you seeing?” “MOONAGE DAYDREAM,” he replied. And I watched him walk off. I had already planned to go buy a catalogue, sit down somewhere quiet, and try to figure out the next few days.

That was my first mistake. I should have tagged along with Col and seen the Bowie pic right that minute in IMAX. Why didn’t I?

I have a tendency at film festivals to second-guess my choices.  Why go to a film I know is opening in twenty minutes when I can see a film that hasn’t found a distributor yet? Why go to a commercial studio film that cost tens of millions when I can see a first film made for twenty bucks? Why go to a mainstream American movie with movie stars that will arrive at my local multiplex when I can see a Jamaican/Danish/Austrian movie that I will possibly never hear of again?

Why? Because I like to see a movie with a good audience, a full room that is excited about what’s on the big screen – and paying attention to it. Because often when I get home and see a movie in my local multiplex, I’m one of three people there. Because I like to see a movie without sitting through six count ‘em six trailers (that often give away vital plot points).

Toronto famously has such an engaged audience that independent filmmakers love to get prospective  distributors to see their movie in public screenings, where their presence enhances the film.

I’m not unhappy with the forty or so films I managed to see in Toronto – well, I was unhappy with a few of them! But when I look back, I’m sad about a number of movies I either couldn’t see or wouldn’t see, and often haven’t managed to see since. MOONAGE DAYDREAM only played briefly in IMAX at home, and guess who didn’t see it – in IMAX or otherwise?

WEIRD: THE AL YANKOVIC STORY was a surprise hit in Toronto. It had only one early-morning press screening where lots of people couldn’t get in. It created quite a buzz, which has been sustained during Daniel Radcliffe and Al Yankovic’s press blitz afterwards. Weird is only playing on the Roku channel, no theater release at all. I’ve never watched anything on the Roku channel, which can be accessed without a Roku device, but it’s a given that comedies play better with an audience. I don’t see WEIRD: THE AL YANKOVIC STORY in my immediate future. A missed opportunity.

Another comedy that my pretentious side wouldn’t let me go see in Toronto was BROS, promoted as the first gay rom-com made by a major studio. BROS came and went in a flash – star and co-writer Billy Eichner blamed straight people — and was almost immediately available from Amazon Prime for $19.99 (or $24.99 if you want to “own” it). I already pay so much for cable and streaming services that I have a strict no-extra-charges policy, even if the charge is $2.99.

Two movies at TIFF whose trailers I both saw three times on National Cinema Day on September 3rd, my practice marathon three-movies-for-$3-each day four days before flying to Toronto, were TILL and THE WOMAN KING, giving me the odd sensation that I’d already seen them. Well, I hadn’t, I haven’t since, and I’ve subsequently missed TILL at my fallback festival two weeks in Mill Valley, where it was rapturously received.

Festival films that my pretentious side would have allowed me to see in Toronto, and that my you’ve-seen-everything-else-by-this-director insists that I see, but somehow didn’t fit in my schedule, includes imprisoned Iranian Jafar Panahi’s NO BEARS ; Romanian director Cristian Mungiu’s R.M.N.; Hong Sangsoo’s WALK UP; and Werner Herzog’s THE THEATER OF DREAMS, none of which has a US release date set yet. The more fool I.

An independent Canadian film that I’d never heard of before reading TIFF’s catalogue, I LIKE MOVIES, a feature debut from a young female director, Chandler Levack, sounded right up my alley, since it was about a young depressive cinephile. Happily, it’s been picked up by a distributor, so I may not have missed my chance.

I also hadn’t been aware of EMILY, a biopic about the young Emily Bronte from another first-time female director, the actress Frances O’Connor – who once might have been a good choice to play the young Emily Bronte herself. Again, right up my alley; again, didn’t manage to fit it into my TIFF schedule; it has a projected (limited) release date of February 17, 2023.

ALICE, DARLING is another feature by an English woman actress /director, Mary Nighy (incidentally, she’s Bill Nighy’s daughter; Nighy was also at TIFF with his film LIVING. I met him during the Festival, but I hadn’t yet seen the film, so I had to gush about his previous work, including seeing him onstage in the revival of David Hare’s SKYLIGHT). ALICE, DARLING, described as a thriller, stars Anna Kendrick and is being given an Oscar-qualifying release from Lionsgate, i.e. a week’s theatrical run, typically in either LA or NY, before a theatrical release at some unspecified time in 2023. (N.B. After living in NY and LA and not giving it a moment’s thought, it now annoys me no end when I see movie ads touting “NOW PLAYING IN NY AND LA.” Gee, thanks, one thinks from the hinterlands! Which San Francisco will never think of itself as being. But it is.)

BLUEBACK, another movie with an intriguing cast – Mia Wasikowska, Radha Mitchell, and Eric Bana – had its world premiere at TIFF, described as having “images of beautiful blue [ocean] vistas demanding to be seen on the big screen.” It premieres in Australia on January 1, 2023, but no further release plans have been announced.

Actress-director (are we sensing a theme here? Toronto programmed scads of women-directed films, seemingly without breaking a sweat) Clea DuVall’s eight-part HIGH SCHOOL, based on the bestselling memoir by Canadian pop duo and identical twin sisters Tegan and Sara, was made for Amazon’s streaming service.  I imagine I’ll happily watch it there. It debuted October 14th, 2022 on Amazon’s commercial-laden Freevee. Have I watched a single half-hour episode yet, despite a 100% rating on RottenTomatoes? No, and I would have watched three in a row on the big screen in Toronto. Fun fact: “The lead actresses, [twins] Railey and Seazynn Gilliland, were discovered on TikTok. This is their first professional acting job.”

I’ve written elsewhere about my preference for seeing films made for streaming services on the big screen, and Apple TV’s LOUIS ARMSTRONG: BLACK AND BLUES had a limited i theatrical release in advance of its debut on the service. I do find documentaries more successful viewed on my medium-sized flat screen than epics or comedies or even intimate dramas, but guess who doesn’t have Apple TV?

And guess who hasn’t yet seen AFTERSUN, another debut feature from a young Scottish director, Charlotte Wells, who wrote as well as directed this semi-autobiographical tale about a young girl’s vacation with her father, starring the much-lauded Paul Mescal? I’d better rush, as it’s now down to one daily screening at my local multiplex.

I must have been temporarily insane, as well as obeying my snootiest don’t-go-to-mainstream-movies-at-a-film-festival side, to miss THE MENU at TIFF. What plays best watched in a crowd? Not just comedies, but horror films. And THE MENU, whose trailer I also saw three times on National Cinema Day, is not only a comedy-horror film starring the redoubtable (and personal favorites) Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy, but as a (recovering) restaurant critic I have even written about my love for food-driven movies – as well as my dread of the tyranny of expensive multi-course prix-fixe meals.  It opens on November 18, and after thinking about all that I’ve missed while writing this, I’m determined to go on its opening weekend. So there!

Another movie that I missed at TIFF and wasn’t even on my initial, gluttonous what-I’d-love-to-see-here list is SUBTRACTION, from Iranian director Mani Haghighi, which had its world premiere there. If I couldn’t fit Jafar Panahi’s film into my schedule, I didn’t even try with this unknown quantity, even though its catalogue description was alluring. But after reading the shocking, revelatory, and coruscating (not to mention heart-breaking) article in The New Yorker “Did the Oscar-Winning Director Asgar Farhadi Steal Ideas” (short answer: it sure seems like it). In the article,  Haghighi’s path often crosses with Fardhadi’s: they collaborated on the script for FIREWORKS WEDNESDAY, Farhadi’s third feature, and shared screen credit for the script. Haghighi says he collaborated on the script of ABOUT ELLY, Farhadi’s subsequent film, but ended up acting in it and was not given a writer’s credit. Haghighi also felt that Farhadi’s THE PAST was based on an episode from his own life, which he had told Farhadi upon returning from Canada, where Haghighi had met with his wife to finalize their divorce. Farhadi dangled an offer for Haghighi to play the role of the husband. He ultimately didn’t, and when Farhadi subsequently told different journalists that he’d been inspired by a friend’s anecdote, he never mentioned Haghighi. Despite saying that he told Farhadi “I really don’t want to collaborate with you anymore,” Haghighi says they worked together for four months on the script for EVERYBODY KNOWS, which starred Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, and opened the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. (It apparently played at TIFF in 2018. Cruz wore a Chanel gown and Bardem an Ermenegildo Zegna couture suit on the red carpet. I didn’t see the movie there, or anywhere else, surprisingly, since I thought I would see an Asghar Farhadi film reflexively.

(I just discovered it’s available on Netflix. I just turned it on, to see if I had possibly seen it and forgotten that I had. Nope! Saved for later.) From The New Yorker piece: “Haghighi was one of fourteen people, including Farhadi’s wife and daughter, thanked at the end of the credits, but he was not acknowledged beyond that. He joked to me that, though perhaps he had ‘a sort of Stockholm syndrome,’ he didn’t care…’We wrote the treatment together, and I can prove it. I have all the documents in my house. My thing is: there’s absolutely no way I would have had this much joy and intensity and pleasure in making art. For me, there was never a sense of transaction. It was: here’s this fabulous guy who is brilliant and fun to talk to, and when we write, it really is a beautiful experience.’ He described it as ‘agape,’ a Greek term for love that persists without the expectation of reciprocation. ‘I acknowledge how deeply painful it is for him to acknowledge me,’ Haghighi said. ‘So I won’t ask him to. Fuck it.’ “

Subsequent to TIFF, Haghighi was prevented from boarding his flight to attend the UK premiere of SUBTRACTION at the London Film Festival in October when the authorities confiscated his passport at the airport with no explanation given as to why.

Knowing now what I didn’t know then, would I have seen SUBTRACTION at TIFF? Fuck yes!

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Meredith Brody, a graduate of both the Paris Cordon Bleu cooking school and USC film school, has been the restaurant critic for, among others, the Village Voice, LA Weekly, and SF Weekly, and has written for countless film magazines and websites including Cahiers du Cinema, Film Comment, and Indiewire. Her writings on books, theater, television, and travel have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Interview. She also contributes to EatDrinkFilms including her“Meals with Meredith,” where she talks about food and film with filmmakers at restaurants in northern California, writes about vintage cocktails and where she eats during film festivals at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. A selection of her EDF pieces are found here.

One could describe Meredith as “hooked on cinema” as she attends four-five films a day at many bay area and international festivals each year.  Somebody has to do it. Read about her journey back to festivals after two years in pandemic mode.

 

TIFF Films streaming on Netflix

TIFF films streaming on Amazon

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