As Brian D. Johnson, our resident film critic, wrote in his book Brave Films, Wild Nights: 25 Years of Festival Fever, Toronto audiences at TIFF have a “barometric accuracy that has become almost predictable” when it comes to heralding the year’s most celebrated films. In recent memory, think of the wildly successful The King’s Speech (2010) and Slumdog Millionaire (2009). But here’s a list of 10 films you may have forgotten that had a little wind added to their sales, thanks to TIFF.
1. American Beauty
Sam Mendes’s directorial debut debuted at the 1999 festival. It would later go on to be nominated for eight Academy Awards and win five Oscars.
2. My Own Private Idaho
Director Gus Van Sant’s second movie had a gala screening at the Festival of Festivals in 1991, where it received the Showtime International Critics Award. Van Sant also launched Drugstore Cowboy (1989) and To Die For (1995) at the festival. Funny that he didn’t choose to premiere Good Will Hunting (1997), which was largely shot in the city, here too.
3. Life is Beautiful
Director and star Roberto Benigni charmed the North American press with his film, not to mention TIFF audiences, who chose it for the festival’s audience award in 1998. It also went on to win three Oscars and became the top-grossing foreign language picture in North American history.
4. Boogie Nights
In 1997 it was the most anticipated and most talked about movie at the festival. Three years later, director Paul Thomas Anderson told Brian Johnson that he wished he’d premiered Magnolia, which won the Toronto film critics’ award, at TIFF too.
5. Chariots of Fire
The feature debut from then-unknown director, Hugh Hudson is perhaps more iconic for the Vangelis soundtrack than premiering at TIFF in 1981, just five years after the Festival of Festivals was founded. The film, which was largely ignored at Cannes, ended up winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards. “There was a theory in those days that Toronto was too soon to make a run for the Oscars,” producer David Puttnam told Brian Johnson. “Chariots very impressively defied that.”
6. The Big Chill
The studios that turned down The Big Chill, directed by Lawrence Kasdan–the same Kasdan who scripted Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back–might have had some regrets after it was was chosen for TIFF ’83’s opening gala. The success of that film “parallels that of the festival itself–a countercultural echo that strikes a chord in popular culture,” writes Johnson in Brave Films. “And it established Toronto as a place to launch smart movies that the studios don’t know what to do with.” The film won the festival’s People’s Choice award that year and was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Picture.
7. Roger and Me
Michael Moore’s documentary about his hometown of Flint’s demise after GM eliminated 30,000 jobs went on to become the top grossing documentary in history. “And it all started with a call to the Toronto festival,” says Johnson. It did show at the Telluride festival a few weeks before TIFF, but the latter screening cemented the film’s success.
8. The Princess Bride
It won the People’s Choice award in 1987. At the premiere, Don McKellar, who worked as a theatre manager before going on to direct movies, told Johnson that it “was one of the first times we had a big influx of Hollywood publicists. They gave me instructions about how Andre the Giant had to be handled. He required a chair exactly double the size of a normal theatre seat.”
9. Reservoir Dogs
1992. Johnson says, “talking to Tarantino at the festival was like meeting one of his films in the flesh. He chewed off his words like a starving man tearing his way through steak.” And he navigated the festival that year with his posse of actors: Michael Madsen, Steve Buschemi, Harvey Keitel and Tim Roth. He came back three years later, when he was a real player, to the festival with Four Rooms, but in ’92, “he behaved like a fan,” says Johnson, and devoted himself to Midnight Madness, the festival’s programme of genre films.
10. Leaving Las Vegas
Turned down by Cannes, Venice and New York film festivals, the Mike Figgis-directed film starring two non-bankable stars, Nicolas Cage and Elizabeth Shue, went on to tltltl. The gala premiere at TIFF in 1995 was “phenomenal,” Figgis told Johnson.