Some Rambling Thoughts on the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival
I recently spent a week in Canada covering the Toronto International Film Festival . While I was there, I wrote down some random thoughts and observations.
1. The people of Toronto are absolutely delightful. They smile and nod and say excuse me. They don’t butt in front of you. They stay to the right side on an escalator. This is terrific for someone like me, who is used to the more prickly environment of New York City, where nice people tend to hide in pockets, popping up every so often if you’re lost or you’ve dropped your hat on the subway platform.
2. There’s a delicious bahn mi place on Queen St. called Bahn Mi Boys. The restaurant may sound like some third-rate gang who arm themselves with baguettes, but I promise you, they have the best of intentions. It’s cheap, it’s delicious, and they play ’90s and early ’00s hip-hop. The guy making my grilled pork bahn mi nods his head to Ja Rule and Jennifer Lopez’s “I’m Real.”
3. I stop at a grocery store called Loblaws—which I assume is named for Bob Loblaw from Arrested Development—to stock up on some essentials for the week: granola bars, eggs, a bag of chips. This particular Canadian chain also has a gigantic cooler stocked with cheese. I spot it as soon as I enter the store, like some gleaming beacon on the hill. My heart says Yes but my lactose intolerant stomach says Are you fucking crazy? Get away from that thing.
4. I attend my first premiere of the festival. This one is for The Judge, the sappy Robert Downey Jr. / Robert Duvall flick about fathers and sons. All the men at this event are wearing pressed button-downs, slacks, ties, and fancy schmancy shoes. I am wearing jeans and a wrinkled shirt. I also have my laptop bag with me, which sticks out like a third arm. I never realized how cumbersome or noticeable this thing was until I stepped into a room full of rich people. Everyone here appears to have come with someone else. They’re all congregated in groups of two or four, talking and imbibing to themselves. “Let’s play spot the film blogger,” they probably whisper to each other. I cower and head to my seats.
5. I go to the after party for The Judge. I don’t see Downey Jr. but I do see Dax Shepard, who has a bit part in the film as a nervous, small-town lawyer with a penchant for throwing up on the courthouse lawn. But I am not here to stargaze, I am here to gorge on the free food that has been afforded to me as an illustrious member of the press. I haven’t eaten all day, so my eyes immediately dart toward the five-star buffet in the back of the restaurant. There’s Cornish hen, NY strip steak, bruschetta, and three different types of salad. I grab a little bit of everything and look for a table away from the ruckus. No one here needs to see me inhale this, lest they lose their appetite. I eat everything in front of me and lick the plate clean.
6. I head home from The Judge after-party, sufficiently nourished and ready to write. It’s 12:30 a.m. When I enter the house, my two roommates for the week (I am staying at an AirBnB) are having a bit of a get together in the backyard. Yes, a backyard! In thecity! The yard is a bit drab but that only adds to its charm. I meet a group of locals, who are smoking cigarettes and drinking wine. I join them and therefore don’t start writing until 2:30 in the morning. I go to bed two hours later.
7. I spend the morning watching a movie that’s not very good. I spend the afternoon interviewing the director of said movie, but he’s so earnest and nice I don’t have the heart to even delve into the actual plot. I am afraid of being forced to lie about his shoddy camerawork and use of terrible cliches.
8. I eat my lunch for the day: a stick of Wintergreen gum
9. Here’s what a bathroom sink in Canada looks like
10. I attend another premiere, this one for a movie I like slightly better than the one I watched earlier in the day, but not by much. Having learned my lesson from the previous night, I decide to wear a sports coat. I head to the after-party with a fellow film journalist, but it’s pouring rain outside, so we are forced to speed-walk through downtown Toronto, sharing an umbrella. We arrive at the venue to find another giant spread of top-notch grub. I begin to wonder how much money studios and producers waste on this food. This thought goes on for about 10 seconds before I find my chin covered in grease from delicious brisket. I then make my way uptown with a few friends to catch a late screening of Bill Murray’s newest film, St. Vincent. It’s still pouring rain so we take a cab.
11. The next day, I am scheduled to interview Jake Gyllenhaal for 15 minutes about his new film Nightcrawler. I check in at the hotel press suite. After informing the publicist who I am and what time my interview is, I sit down on the couch and wait my turn. The room is filled with all sorts of free products, along with materials for the movie. It’s like a twisted, corporate-sponsored waiting room at a doctor’s office. There are two small refrigerators, one filled with cans of Red Bull, the other with bottles of Perrier; a box half-filled with Tim Hornton’s donuts; a few copies of something called Nespresso Magazine (yes, Nespresso the coffee brand), which has Breaking Bad star Anna Gunn on the cover; and a stack of press notes for Nightcrawler. I get up and grab one of the donuts, then scarf it down in about 15 seconds. I immediately regret this decision. I (again) haven’t eaten food all day so the fried dough is now uncomfortably sitting in a pile at the bottom of my stomach. I begin to get heartburn. I stand up and snag a Perrier to help wash it down. This donut is starting to wreak havoc on my digestive tract and the last thing I need is to puke all over Jake Gyllenhaal. I stay seated, pop a Tums, and start reading through the film’s press notes. I go to the bathroom and find the bathtub filled with unused cans of Red Bull and empty boxes of club soda.
12. Later that evening, I end up at a party that actually takes place at a normal hour for dinner. Most of the crowd is made up of Hollywood types, so I make my way toward the only normal-looking folks in the room: a middle-aged couple from Toronto. We trade stories about our careers and talk about the films playing at the festival. Conversation soon makes its way toward infamous Toronto mayor Rob Ford (as I am sure all conversations in this province do). They tell me what he was like before he turned into a worldwide shitshow—apparently, he was a good guy! During our conversation, waiters walk around with h’orderves like fried mozzarella balls with chili sauce you inject into the center. They’re gross but I eat them anyway.
13. I go see Chris Rock’s new movie, Top Five. Adam Sandler is sitting a few rows away. Premieres have an air of exclusivity about them, but many of the people around me are treating Sandler like a zoo animal, taking photos of him as he sits quietly in his seat. I guess celebrities just get used to this sort of thing? What an odd life to lead. Here’s a blurry photo of what I witnessed (Sandler is in the bottom left corner of the picture, facing a guy with a cell phone camera):
14. The after-party for Top Five is the best one of the festival. All my film journalist friends are in attendance. We dance and laugh and eat and drink. Fellow New York comedians like Jon Stewart and Ben Stiller stop by to pay their respects to Chris Rock. Michael Moore is there too, but only briefly. Greta Gerwig is on the other side of the room busting a move to “Pumped Up Kicks.” She looks like she’s having a good time.
15. The next day, I find a store that’s just for me:
16. I see Noah Baumbach’s new film While We’re Young. I love the movie but wonder if its New York-tinged humor will work on a non-New York audience. The crowd in Toronto doesn’t seem quite as enthralled as I do with all the Brooklyn hipster jokes.
17. I interview Al Pacino. He’s soft-spoken and accommodating. I feel like I am speaking to my grandfather. I can’t believe this is the same guy who played a character who once threw his face into a mountain of cocaine.
18. I go to the premiere The Theory of Everything, the Stephen Hawking biopic. It’s not my favorite film of the festival but it’s enough to make me cry. Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne come out after the credits and get a standing ovation. People begin whispering about the film’s Oscar chances.
19. Another party. Another free drink. Another free plate of food. Andrew Garfield is here, and it turns out Spiderman has grown a thick, bushy beard. Like, really thick. Thick enough to house a bird’s nest.
20. On Monday night, I meet up for a late-night drink with one of my AirBnB roommates. We go to a dive-y bar called Bar Squirrely and down gin tonics (me) and tequila (her). We walk around the city and head to a park up the block. We get on the playground swings and talk about technology and fashion and getting older. We stop in a field and I take a photo of the CN Tower.
21. I am averaging about four hours of sleep a night while I am here. I am very tired.
22. I am invited to go to a luncheon celebrating the 25th anniversary of Michael Moore’s Roger and Me. The line to get in is a block long but I am so hungry and desperate for quick/free food that I decide to wait. The line moves 10 feet in 20 minutes. I get out of line and head to the movie theater.
23. I enter Scotiabank—the multiplex where most of the films at TIFF are shown—for the next movie on my schedule. To kill time, I sit on the floor and catch up on some emails. I make the mistake of placing my hand directly on the carpet. It’s as sticky as tar. I begin to wonder what sorts of diseases are crawling on the lobby of a movie theater rug. I decide that I am too tired to give a shit and stay seated.
24. I interview Al Pacino for a second time. I did not mean for this to happen, but figure it’s not a big deal since a) it’s for a different movie (Manglehorn), and b) this interview has him paired with director David Gordon Green.
25. I walk around the city on my last day and stop in a combination vintage store/barbershop/music store called Black Market. I buy two t-shirts, one featuring Grandmaster Flash, the other, Run DMC. I don’t buy the Tim Burton-esque Steve Buscemi shirt, a decision I later regret.
26. Everyone in this city smokes weed—or at least everyone I pass on my way to and from the movie theater each day does. Every morning I feel like I am walking through a giant bong.
27. I stop by a store called Odds and Ends, stacked to the ceiling with odd knickknacks—musical instruments, clocks, lights, stereo equipment, a film projector, old art, steel signs. The store is tiny—no wider than one person. Anyone who weighs more than 180 pounds will have a tough time navigating through it. The proprietor sits outside on a bench smiling at the customers.
28. I stop at Bahn Mi Boys again. I get a fried pork bao. Clipse is playing on the stereo.
29. I head to the airport, exchange my money, get on a plane and go back to New York City. I meet an up-and-coming director on the flight along with a casting director for a network. They are both pleasant but I struggle to keep my eyes open during our conversation. I need sleep.
30. I get back home and transcribe my last interview and get into bed.
31. Good night.
Here is all of the work I did while I was in Toronto:
Here are all the films I saw, ranked from best to worst
The Theory of Everything
The Imitation Game
While We’re Young
Maps to the Stars
Clouds of Sils Maria
Escobar: Paradise Lost
Before We Go