Sure, you can still expect the sidewalks in front of the city's most luxurious hotels and most exclusive nightspots -- along with the festival's innumerable red-carpet film premieres -- to be packed solid with autograph hounds, shutterbugs and other varieties of celebrity hunter, but when it comes to star-spotting during TIFF, the true connoisseur places the highest value on celeb sightings in the places you'd least expect.
It could be a Chinatown dumpling joint at 2AM. It could be at the back of a grubby pub that has no use for a velvet rope. One longtime Toronto resident I know still brags about seeing Brian Dennehy in line at his local variety store. Another was thrilled to host Bond baddie Mads Mikkelsen at a post-fest house party. I for one will not rest until I see George Clooney make a stop at my favourite burrito place in Kensington Market.
Of course, most stars prefer to stay with their own kind rather than associate with us schlubs (really, have you seen how we dress?). And they'll have plenty of chances to socialize, given the huge abundance of guests for this year's festival. Along with Clooney -- who's here with two movies, his latest directorial effort 'The Ides of March' and Alexander Payne's 'The Descendants' -- the roster of visiting A-listers includes Brad Pitt, Clive Owen, Rachel Weisz, Gerard Butler, Jennifer Garner, Ryan Gosling, Ewan McGregor, Jason Statham, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hugh Laurie, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen and Nicolas Cage. Legendary leading ladies such as Catherine Deneuve and Charlotte Rampling will also attend, while the quota for alluring ingénues is amply filled by Jennifer Lawrence, Carey Mulligan, Greta Gerwig, Analeigh Tipton and Lily Cole. (Both Leighton Meester and Blake Lively will also be in town but please don't ask them to do any impromptu renditions of scenes from 'Gossip Girl' unless you're sure they'll consent.)
As was widely predicted upon the earlier announcements of premieres for documentaries about their careers, U2 and Pearl Jam will supply star power from the music world. Neil Young will also return to Toronto for the premiere of 'Neil Young Life,' which was shot at Massey Hall last year by Jonathan Demme, who previously directed the Young docs 'Heart of Gold' and 'The Neil Young Trunk Show.'
That's a lot of celebs to try to fit into the many VIP sections that will invariably crop up in clubs and lounges city-wide. The requisite army of clipboard-wielding doorpeople and T-shirted bouncers will be extra-busy keeping out the riff-raff.
But what are fans with zero pull and no connections going to do if they can't party with the stars? Well, they can always see some movies. The true connoisseurs of the TIFF experience know that getting into the most buzzed-about movies is just as important as star-spotting.
Since the festival's renowned as the launch pad for some of the most prestigious new flicks in recent years -- such as 'The King's Speech,' 'Slumdog Millionaire' and 'Crash,' just to name three Best Picture Oscar winners -- fest vets love nothing more than guessing which of the new titles is bound for glory. Out of the festival's 268 features, here are four that are set to break out of the pack (plus one we're hoping will be a future cult classic):
'360': One of TIFF's best pedigreed selections, this drama teams Brazilian director Fernando Mereilles ('City of God,' 'The Constant Gardener'), writer Peter Morgan ('The Queen,' 'The Last King of Scotland') and an illustrious cast that includes Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins and Rachel Weisz. They're all caught up in a dizzying array of characters, locations and narrative threads in a series of stories taking place on a series of continents all at once. Sounds like quite the trip.
'Killer Joe': The recent legal thriller 'The Lincoln Lawyer' proved how good an actor Matthew McConaughey can be when he keeps his shirt on and stays away from rom-coms. That's why hopes are high for this seedy thriller, which is based on a play by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tracy Letts and directed by William Friedkin, the maker of some of the greatest American films of the '70s, including 'The Exorcist' and 'The French Connection.' Friedkin's recent track record may leave much to be desired but his berserk 2006 adaptation of Letts' play 'Bug' bodes well for his latest.
'Rampart': The prospect of seeing Woody Harrelson go for broke in the role of a crooked cop would be enticing even if this flick didn't also come with the imprimatur of co-writer James Ellroy, the modern master of L.A. crime stories, and director Oren Moverman, whose last teaming with Harrelson on 'The Messenger' earned the former 'Cheers' star a much-deserved Oscar nomination.
'Jeff, Who Lives at Home': Any comedy that stars Jason Segel and Ed Helms as brothers is on the right track. Being brothers themselves, directors Jay and Mark Duplass should know a thing about the subject of sibling rivalry. Their well-loved indie comedies (like last year's 'Cyrus') also create big expectations for their match-up with two of the Hollywood comedy world's current all-stars.
'The Raid': Ultra-violent action movies from Indonesia tend to get overlooked by Academy Awards voters, but hey, that's their loss. The opening selection for Midnight Madness, TIFF's annual late-night extravaganza of genre pleasures, this story of a SWAT team stuck in an apartment block full of bad guys is shaping up to be the year's hardest-hitting martial arts movie. And if it comes down to a choice between loitering on the edge of a VIP section in a crowded club or enjoying some kick-ass entertainment in a dark movie theater, the TIFF connoisseur knows the true meaning of fulfillment.