The Toronto International Film Festival isn’t like other film festivals. Known sometimes as “the people’s festival,” it’s the largest of its kind in the world, because anyone can buy tickets to see films before they’re released or even distributed—not just critics or industry people. For 11 days, Toronto becomes a real hub of culture, a place that is cool for reasons that have nothing to do with Drake or the Raptors.
TIFF 2019 was the year of seeing examinations of privilege, class, and greed on the big screen. With many films from across programs highlighting the worldwide cultural obsession with wealth, capitalism, and scamming—some hit harder than others. The best thing about film festivals is that you truly never know what will be actually good or not, because even if it looks amazing, nobody has seen it so you have no idea. Just Mercy was one of those shocking misses—Michael B. Jordan just shouldn’t play good guys, and Brie Larson essentially just exclaimed things in a southern accent the whole time.
Hotly anticipated films like the Safdie brother’s followup to Good Time, Uncut Gems being a festival favorite was no surprise, but what was surprising was Kevin Garnett’s performance. Much of the movie hinges on his role, and it’s truly a delight to see him playing himself.
This TIFF, I realized even more that the ecosystem around such a massive film festival is almost as interesting as the films themselves. Overhearing conversations, watching men try to one up each other with their hot takes, and simply walking by all the tiny famous people is what made it all so special. Here are the biggest takeaways.
Most important celeb sighting
After the Joker premiere, I spotted Edward Norton, who was likely at the festival because he directed Motherless Brooklyn. He had one of those old lady phone cases, the leather ones that have a flap over the screen. I have nothing against these phone cases; it just was very humanizing to see. I also saw Jon Hamm, who I stared at until he smiled. I felt like those girls on Mad Men.
Most underrated movie
I can’t shut up about Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You, his followup to the equally heart wrenching I, Daniel Blake. Sorry We Missed You is the first time I’ve seen the gig economy and zero hour contracts on full display in film. This film will turn anyone into a socialist or at the very least make people think twice about doing same-day delivery.
An actual great movie everybody loved
Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite, which won the Palme D’or at Cannes is exactly as good as everyone says it is, if not better. It’s one of those movies that’s best going in knowing very little, but it follows a family of clever scammers weaseling their way into the life of an extremely wealthy family. It’s objectively a perfect movie, and anyone who says otherwise is a contrarian who needs to find joy in their life.
Most annoying guy in the press lounge
The TIFF press lounge is full of white guys, many of whom are kind of like the jazz guy from that one I Think You Should Leave sketch. One of them, a man I didn’t know, congratulated me on “getting paid” like writing professionally isn’t my career.
A movie I wasn’t sure was good but everyone seemed to love
Martin Eden won the festival’s Platform Prize for “artistic merit” and “strong directorial vision” where it won $20,000 (CAD). I went to see it instead of seeing Lucy in the Sky, after reading that Natalie Portman doesn’t wear a diaper in it. Martin Eden is loosely based on a novel by the same name and follows a sailor who is trying to make it as a writer, while also exploring class and socialism. The main thing to know about Martin Eden is that he’s extremely handsome, like people are willing to risk it all for him. It’s also a beautifully shot movie.
Three Summers (Três Verões) is a Brazilian film I saw on a whim because a friend recommended it and I had a gap in my schedule. I went in knowing nothing, and was totally sucked in by its lead, someone who is a huge deal in Brazil, Regina Casé. Taking place over (you guessed it) three summers, the film centers around the caretaker of a beach resort whose owner is arrested because of a financial scandal. Casé is the most charming person I’ve seen on screen in a very long time.
Most embarrassed I felt to be Canadian
Before some movies, an ad highlighting Canada’s contributions to film would play. Every. Single. Time. All the Canadian nerds in the audience would clap at the end. I wanted to die.
Sarah Hagi is a writer living in Toronto.