The ushers are still cleaning up popcorn from under the seats of the theaters that showed nearly 400 films during the recent Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which celebrated its 40th anniversary in September. The stars have finished their relentless march down the red carpets of Venice, Colorado and Canada and are now readying for New York and finally Park City, Utah (January 21) before finally resting their tired feet in Los Angeles on the afternoon of February 28th, 2016. TIFF attracts more A-list stars every year. This year’s bacchanal of movies and parties now rivals all the other film festivals in importance. Most of the major films listed here are opening nationally this fall.
At the Festival
Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts promoting Demolition, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney beating the drum for their South American political drama Our Brand is Crisis, Nicole Kidman and Jason Bateman from The Family Fang, and Chris Evans, who wanted to party with the power players who green light movies. The William Morris Endeavor–IMG Lounge was set up in Momofuku, one of the see-and-be-seen restaurants in the Shangri-La Hotel where Michael Moore and his ho-hum documentary Where to Invade Next was fêted. The “Shang” was definitely the place to stay this year. Johnny Depp and his wife Amber Heard bunked in one of their spacious suites, and he was spotted dining in the hotel’s other fine boite Bosk. George Clooney also slept there and was spotted in the Lobby Lounge where they stocked his signature tequila, Casamigos, just for him—it’s the only way really.
The People’s Choice Awards
Among the top movies in the festival were: Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig’s epic space adventure The Martian, just opened October 2, Josh Brolin, Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro’s excellent action-packed Mexican cartel flick Sicario, which is in theaters now and Elle Fanning, John Goodman and Bryan Cranston’s Trumbo about the black listed screen writer Dalton Trumbo’s fight for political freedom which opens November 6th. Do see Johnny Depp and Joel Edgerton’s dark and edgy crime thriller Black Mass, which is generating Oscar buzz for Depp who went bald to play Boston mobster Whitey Bulger. The Grolsch People’s Choice Award went to Brie Larson’s Room, which opens October 16th, and Hardcore won the “Midnight Madness” category. “Best Documentary” went to Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s fight for Freedom much to Michael Moore’s fans chagrin. Who you didn’t see in Toronto was Robert Pattinson, whose movie Life, co-starring Ben Kingsley and Dane DeHaan, premiered without him because he didn’t want to run into his ex, Kristen Stewart, in town to promote Equals with her costar Nicolas Hoult. Toronto’s Soho House is right around the corner from the Shangri-La so movie buffs had close encounters on the streets as the stars popped back and forth. Spotted at the cool private club were Mad Max hero Tom Hardy, whose new movie is Legend, and Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette, who’ve become fast friends after filming their new contender Miss You Already.
Want more? Other top picks included The Danish Girl, the story of Einar Wegener who was one of the first recipients of gender reassignment surgery becoming Lili Elbe in Germany in the 1930’s. It stars Eddie Redmayne and will open on November 27th. Also screening was Elizabeth Moss, Topher Grace and Robert Redford in Truth, Elizabeth Olsen and Tom Hiddleston’s I Saw the Light, Idris Elba’s Beast of No Nation and Rachel Weisz and John C. Reilly in the inexplicably named The Lobster. I can wait if you can.
All this glam hoopla is just one reason this city of two and half million people is called “Hollywood North.” Toronto, founded by the British in 1787, is also the third largest film and television production center in North America. The English Queen technically rules Canada, and I don’t mean Helen Mirren, who was at the festival promoting her new flick Eye in the Sky, co-starring Aaron Paul and Alan Rickman. Watching the sunset over Lake Ontario is a spiritual experience and shoppers can head to Yonge Street, Toronto’s version of Madison Avenue, for retail therapy. The Eaton Centre, the city’s largest shopping mall, has almost 200 stores; I knew you’d want to know. At the beautiful new Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts you can see the National Ballet of Canada or the Canadian Opera Company, whose La Traviata opens on October 8th and runs until November 6th. Want sports? Baseball addicts can catch the Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre; they are neck and neck with the Yankees this season. For football see the Argonauts; for hockey, cheer on the Maple Leaves at the Air Canada Centre, and for basketball lovers a night would not be complete without a Raptors game. Prefer the theatre? Broadway bound shows often play here prior to Broadway; right now you can see a big selection including terrific productions of Kinky Boots, Motown and Rain: A Tribute to The Beatles.
When I travel to Toronto I stay at the Shangri-La Hotel because this oasis of luxury with Asian accents is where you’ll find movie stars, moguls and VIPs all year every year since it opened in 2012. Sophisticated travelers looking for superior service and luxurious amenities, including private jet bookings, can find them on the room’s iPad at this five-star hotel. Last year, European and American guests spotted Jessica Chastain ordering vegan food at the Shang and Reese Witherspoon celebrating with the cast of Wild on the hotel’s Garden Terrace. Applause filled the room of the festive Lobby Lounge when Terrence Howard did an impromptu performance of “My Girl” in 2013 while promoting Winnie. It features live jazz every night. The Fazioli piano is wittily inscribed with lyrics from Canadian singer Joni Mitchell. The expansive and romantically illuminated lobby, with its cozy seating, would make a perfect setting for James Bond to seduce his next conquest as the cameras rolled. Small plates of delicious Dim Sum, Crunchy Chicken and Beef sliders are served around two chic, minimalist, fireplaces. Don’t miss Afternoon Tea here, which offers 68 choices from around the world.
The hotel also boasts a 42-seat screening room and a 9,000 sq. ft. health and fitness center offering everything from spin sessions to meditation classes. The sleek ambience and polished service makes the Shangri-La a favorite of the jet set and corporate executives who want a refined experience.
The Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts first outpost opened in Singapore in 1971; it is now Asia’s leading luxury hotel group. Today, there are more than 90 “Shang” hotels stretching from Asia Pacific to North America and the Middle East to Europe. The Toronto outpost is the newest addition and exemplifies the brand’s hospitality and unique standards of service. Once inside the Lobby Lounge you are greeted by four enormous Chinese calligraphy paintings depicting women from the Peking Opera by Wang Xu Yuan. The hallways leading to the 202 perfectly appointed guestrooms are dotted with Japanese prints and objects d’art.
My corner suite had dramatic views and the shades, lights and temperature were all linked to state of the art control panels. The living room had a cozy seating area with TV, desk and bar. The massive master bath was a marvel of white marble with green marble counters. While shaving I discovered a TV hidden in the mirror, and the tub, which was big enough for two, had floor to ceiling windows on two sides. As I was on the highest floor I didn’t worry about the neighbors and soaking at night with all of Toronto twinkling beneath me was one of the highlights of my stay. The top accommodation here is the 10k a night Shangri-La Suite: at 2,000 sq. ft. it is open and airy with a Moon Gate entrance to the master bedroom. The subtle oriental-themed décor not only sets the scene but also sets this hotel apart from others in Canada.
Foodies have been flocking to Toronto for years and it’s now a culinary destination with something for everyone. Buca, located down a picturesque alleyway in a converted power station off King St., attracts a young, hip crowd for everything from artisanal pizza to house aged beef. Also on King is Patria, which offers flavorful Spanish cuisine and is a favorite of the TIFF crowd. Edulis on Niagara St. is a tiny wonder that serves up memorable seafood with French and Spanish influences; they only offer two tasting menus but they change daily, yummy! Try Boralia on Ossington Ave. for top notch local fare but whatever you do don’t miss Bosk, the Shangri-La’s critically acclaimed signature restaurant.
Bosk Restaurant in the Shangri-La Toronto
Go all the way and ask for Chef Damon Campbell’s tasting menu and do have the wine pairings chosen by sommelier Mark Moffatt. Start with the Chef’s Snacks, which includes truffle custard and a caviar donut. Going à la carte? I suggest the Pacific Sablefish or the Lamb Loin Duo with tomato fondue.
Although the wine list has more than 700 international labels, it’s the lobby’s Champagne Wall that really got my attention; it contains the finest selection of champagnes in the country. The vast list includes the hotel’s house champagne Perrier Jouet and a rare Dom Perignon Jacquesson Cuvée 736. What makes it exciting is that you can indulge in flights of different champagnes or try them by the glass. Order the caviar, pâté and a selection of artisanal cheeses to go with the Dom and Cristal. This hotel experience truly is Shangri-La.