Though Toronto has long been "Hollywood North," tax incentives and its sense of placelessness allowing it to pass as one or another substitute city, it's just as long struggled to define itself on screen. While we host one of the biggest film fests in the world and produce most of the country's film and TV, we don't like to toot our car - or bicycle - horns.
This may be a banner year for Toronto onscreen: forthcoming features like Denis Villeneuve's Enemy and Mike Dowse's The F Word take for granted the idea that Toronto is a totally reasonable place to set a film.
To mark this, we put together a list of films that use Toronto to say something about Toronto. Coming up with it has been almost as hard as defining the city itself. We chose and ranked them based on quality, use of local talent and familiar landmarks and, well, some mysterious Hogtown quality. Here's the best of Toronto playing itself.
1. LAST NIGHT (Don McKellar, 1998)
Once upon a time, someone posted this question to the NOW website: "What is the quintessential Toronto movie?"
We thought about it. A lot. And ultimately we decided that while there were a number of solid contenders, the quintessential Toronto movie has to be Last Night, McKellar's 1998 comedy-drama that takes place over the last six hours of human existence.
Initially conceived as part of a millennial series of one-hour films produced under the umbrella 2000 Seen By - Hal Hartley's The Book Of Life was another - Last Night is a modest, thoughtful end-of-the-world movie.
An unspecified apocalypse - something to do with the sun - is going to wipe out all life on Earth at precisely midnight local time, and the citizens of Toronto are dealing with it as best they can. Some people are rioting, others are partying, but mostly they're coping with a minimum of drama, because that's how we are.
Our hero, the understandably depressed Patrick Wheeler (McKellar), suffers through a final family dinner with his parents (Robin Gammell, Roberta Maxwell) and his sister Jennifer (Sarah Polley), complete with Christmas presents - even though it's not actually Christmas.
Meanwhile, Sandra (Sandra Oh) goes out to grab some wine for a final dinner and a small mob trashes her car while she's shopping, forcing her to find her own way home. (In a distinctly Torontonian touch, no one appears to enjoy vandalizing the vehicle; it's just something they've seen people do on television.)
Patrick and Sandra are just part of a wide ensemble cast. In addition to Jennifer, who sets out for her own celebration with her boyfriend (Trent McMullen), Last Night concerns itself with Duncan and Donna, a pair of middle managers at the gas company who've decided to work through to the end, assuring their customers that service will continue as long as possible. As played by David Cronenberg and Tracy Wright, they're wonderfully human characters whose subplot could have made for a lovely short film. Instead, they're a rich addition to the master narrative.
There are plenty of films that treat cities as characters, but McKellar doesn't do that. Last Night isn't about Toronto, but the people who live here. The city is just there, represented without camouflage or redressing; the movie could almost be a documentary, if it weren't for the sci-fi elements.
McKellar has created a love song to Torontonians as an idiosyncratic but ultimately compassionate people willing to comfort one another in the darkest of hours. The film's final message is one of connection and community: the world may be ending, but it doesn't have to end badly.
Incidentally, it's ludicrous that there's yet to be a decent DVD release of this film. If anyone's looking to start a Canadian version of the Criterion Collection, a properly mastered Blu-ray of Last Night should be your first release. Seriously, launch your Kickstarter, we're in.
Making The Scene: Don McKellar on Last Night
If Toronto had a cinematic ambassador, it would have to be Don McKellar.
McKellar appears in quite a few of the movies on our list, popping up in Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (which he also co-wrote), Monkey Warfare, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and Trigger. And of course he wrote and starred in Bruce McDonald's landmark TV series Twitch City, which would top any list of Toronto television series. (It'd be a short list, but still.)
But it's McKellar's first feature as a writer/director, Last Night, which best encapsulates the mood and character of our city. It just takes an apocalypse to bring it out.
"People make fun of Torontonians for being passive and too polite and things like that," McKellar says as we catch up 15 years after the film's release. "I sort of made fun of that, but a sense of civic responsibility and decency is something I wanted to emphasize, too."
Although it deals with the end of all human life, Last Night has very little rage to it: everyone's just sort of glum. Even the mob that destroys Sandra Oh's car at the beginning of the film doesn't really seem all that angry.
"Yeah, no," he laughs. "They're kind of aimless. I sometimes feel that in mass group situations here in Toronto - like the [G20]. People at the protests weren't exactly angry or focused; it was more of a novelty, and people were just sort of feeling their way through it. ‘What am I supposed to be doing here?'"
McKellar wanted Last Night to capture the city in which he lives. But doing that accurately was a little tricky.
"Toronto is actually a tough city to represent visually, because it's so varied," he says. "It doesn't have an overriding distinctive look like Montreal does, and a lot of cities do. And of course that's been good for foreign films shooting here, wanting it to be Hanoi or whatever they want it to be. But it's hard sometimes to find the Toronto character."
McKellar decided to concentrate on what he calls "the modernist Toronto - as represented by the Macdonald Block where Cronenberg works, and those apartment towers from the 60s by Uno Prii. You know, the one that Callum [Keith Rennie]'s character lives in was actually the first apartment building in North America to have central air conditioning.
"I wanted this feeling of dashed aspirations of 20th century optimism that you can find in a certain kind of Toronto [architecture]," he explains. "And also, I didn't want to go with the lush, green Toronto, because I wanted to suggest that there's something wrong with the world, and it has to do with the sun. So I tried to avoid greenery - which is a very, very difficult thing to do in Toronto, if you think about it. I had one little tree on fire, things like that... There had to be some tangible evidence that people could see something was wrong."
McKellar's quest to avoid foliage didn't lead him to the ends of the earth, but it was close.
"I ended up shooting a lot around Weston and Weston Road," he says. "That's why a lot of the street scenes have a kind of grey, slightly empty feel to them. I needed controllable streets, too, of course, because I was trying to empty them of people and normal traffic, and that wasn't easy. And I used Victoria Street because it has those office towers and the streetcar [tracks]. I had to have a streetcar."
You'd think there's nothing more Toronto-specific than a streetcar, right? Well, you'd be wrong.
"The poster we had in Canada had the image of Sandra walking away from the streetcar," McKellar remembers, "which was a great image, I thought. But when the film was released in France, they said, ‘Ah, we don't know about the poster... It looks like Poland, and we want it to look like North America, to sell it as an American film.'
"I said, ‘Poland? That's a streetcar! That's Toronto!' They said, ‘No, no, it doesn't look like North America to us.' Can't win."
2. YOU ARE HERE (Daniel Cockburn, 2010)
Cockburn's structurally challenging, intellectually compelling exploration of identity and self-awareness is set in a Toronto that's about 10 degrees removed from the city we know.
We recognize the locations, but the things happening there are utterly alien: an office of scientists calls strangers and instructs them to find intersections of streets that shouldn't meet; downtowners flock as a crowd with a single name (Alan) and an unknown purpose; and an archivist (Tracy Wright, in one of her last roles) fears she's losing touch with the world even as she gathers more and more of its artifacts.
Playful and unapologetically weird, You Are Here wields its title as a challenge. Where is here, exactly? And who is it that you think you are?
Those are questions Torontonians ask themselves on a regular basis, and they lie at the core of our current municipal spasms. By engaging with that unspoken reality of Hogtown life, Cockburn has made a great Toronto movie. You Are Here challenges us to consider the city all over again, as if for the first time.
Making The Scene: Daniel Cockburn on You Are Here
Daniel Cockburn didn't set out to make a grand statement about Toronto in You Are Here. In fact, he was trying to make the city as anonymous as possible, scrambling the geography to the point of creating intersections of streets that don't actually meet.
"It was part of the concept of the movie that the audience isn't supposed to know when or where it's taking place," he says. "So had we been shooting in New York or Istanbul or Reykjavik, I still would have been working to make sure we were dealing with non-existent intersections."
But somehow, Cockburn made a movie about a specific sort of alienation that exists here, where a person can lose herself amidst the underground walkways and office towers of a modern metropolis.
"I think it worked out well that I was shooting this in Toronto," he says. "Had I been shooting in New York City, we would have been at every corner trying to run away from landmarks that would de-anonymize it, you know? I don't want to say that Toronto is devoid of globally recognizable cultural and architectural landmarks. But if you want to make a movie that's spatially anonymous, it'll work for you."
With its sense that its dislocated characters are drifting further and further away from themselves, is You Are Here a metaphor for Toronto's endless struggle to define itself on the world stage?
"I can't take credit for consciously asking that question in my movie," Cockburn says, "but the fact that [after] living here for most of my adult life I ended up using the city in a culturally and spatially anonymous way maybe means that I'm asking these questions subconsciously - or that the movie is asking these questions subconsciously."
3. GOIN' DOWN THE ROAD (Donald Shebib, 1970)
Like the Love Story-ish hockey romance Face Off, Shebib's documentary realist classic was paid the ultimate compliment a Canadian film of its era could receive: an SCTV parody. John Candy and Joe Flaherty's hootin' and hollerin' East Coast good ol' boys headed to Toronto in a beat-up Impala on the promise of "doctorin' and lawyerin' jobs."
The dreams of Shebib's Everyman heroes, Doug McGrath's Pete and Paul Bradley's Joey, are simpler. For them, Toronto represents promise - of better work, more money and cosmopolitan living. By the end of the film, that promise has been turned inside out. The city has revealed itself as cold and unforgiving, and the film's heroes have been undermined - knocking over a Loblaws together, Joey ditching his pregnant wife (Jayne Eastwood).
Goin' Down The Road is a classic Toronto film for the way it manages to put across how the city means so many things to the different people who wind up here. A study of the city, its people and the seismic shifts affecting it in the early 70s, it's our Grapes Of Wrath.
Let's just never speak of the sequel. Ever.
4. VIDEODROME (David Cronenberg, 1983)
Videodrome was the only Cronenberg film programmed by Cinematheque Ontario in its 2009 Toronto On Film series, and that makes sense: though the vast majority of Cronenberg's films were shot here, only Videodrome and Crash really use the city as a stage for their action.
But where Crash necessarily reduces Toronto to a series of asphalt highways and concrete overpasses, Videodrome engages with the city, capturing a snapshot of a Toronto on the precipice of social upheaval thanks to a scurrilous UHF station that's planning to introduce pornographic imagery to the airwaves.
It's called CIVIC-TV in the film, but the narrative's debt to the real-life furor over Moses Znaimer's Citytv is left entirely undisguised - Znaimer even has a cameo as a member of the CIVIC board.
And the plot plays as though Cronenberg built a worst-case scenario out of the controversy that erupted over the station's Baby Blue Movies in the late 1970s. Where in the real world Torontonians were mildly scandalized by the softest of soft-core images airing late at night, Videodrome envisions the movies as a carrier wave for a full-on assault on our eyeballs - a terrorist act that gives birth to the New Flesh. And possibly the internet, too, since those pirate video stations are basically YouTube channels.
5. EMPZ 4 LIFE (Allan King, 2006)
Just as powerful and timely as when it premiered at TIFF and played on TVO, King's riveting documentary takes an uncompromising look at the lives of several at-risk young men who are in danger of slipping through the cracks in the Empringham neighbourhood in east Scarborough.
Amidst drive-by shootings, countless instances of DWB (driving while black) and the notable absence of fathers, mentor (and ex-con) Brian Henry tirelessly shepherds the kids to math classes by local playwright/mathematician John Mighton, who discovers previously unrecognized talent and serious self-confidence issues.
There are no easy answers to these systemic problems. When aspiring rapper Chris Ellis complains about racial profiling, Henry bites back savagely and asks if he and his friends have done anything to change their image. But in the explosive conclusion, Henry - fed up with bureaucratic red tape - comes up against the same roadblocks as his young charges.
Look for consulting director Joseph Jomo Pierre, now a well-known playwright, whose statement to a cop who's pulled him over - "You gotta let people feel like they can live" - is just one of the painful truths given voice.
Postscript: Keyon Campbell, one of the kids in the film, was killed the year after the film came out.
6. THIRTY-TWO SHORT FILMS ABOUT GLENN GOULD (François Girard, 1993)
Pianist Gould is, of course, a Toronto icon. He would have been even without Girard's multiple Genie Award-winning film, which features fewer Toronto scenes than you might expect for someone who spent most of his later life holed up in his St. Clair West apartment.
But the film, its title a nod to Gould's legendary 1955 recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations, has a chilly elegance to it, capturing the native Toronto feeling of isolation amidst the cacophony of the city.
Colm Feore mimics Gould's distinct vocal rhythms expertly, but there are loads of other T.O. actors involved: Kate Hennig as a Hamburg chambermaid, Carlo Rota and Peter Millard as recording engineers, Allegra Fulton as a restaurant server, Gale Garnett as an obnoxious journalist. The biggest in-joke of all is having David Young play a writer. (Young, of course, wrote a play about Gould called simply Glenn, being remounted next season by Soulpepper.)
In one of the best sequences, about Gould's final live concert, given in L.A., Don McKellar plays a concert promoter, and the hall itself is none other than Massey Hall (pictured).
7. I'VE HEARD THE MERMAIDS SINGING (Patricia Rozema, 1987)
Rozema's debut film about organizationally challenged temp worker Polly (Sheila McCarthy), who has artistic aspirations as a photographer, caused a sensation in Cannes, where it won the Prix de Jeunesse and launched Rozema's career.
Proudly flaunting Toronto's prime signifiers of the time, like the CN and TD Bank towers, Rozema also creates a character in Polly that's almost a stand-in for the city itself - quiet, insecure, funny. (See sidebar, below).
Mermaids features an array of Toronto actors, including Ann-Marie MacDonald - before she broke out as a playwright and novelist - and Richard Monette, but this movie belongs to McCarthy, whose performance still stands out as one of her best.
It's also one of the few indie movies of its era that made back the money invested in it by Telefilm and the Ontario Film Development Corporation - many times over. Pretty decent for a small, lesbian-tinged debut feature.
Making The Scene: Patricia Rozema on I've Heard The Mermaids Singing
When Patricia Rozema conceived of her comedy about a lonely temp worker, she knew she wanted it to be a Toronto film.
"I very deliberately put the CN Tower in several shots. I used other landmarks, too, because I wanted to record the place," she says on the phone during a break from writing in her studio.
"I learned from making shorts that you film stuff and then it goes away - people take down buildings all the time. So as a filmmaker, you're not just a storyteller, you're recording a place."
The most memorable sequence in Mermaids features Sheila McCarthy as Polly climbing the Royal Bank Plaza using suction cups.
"The only place we could get a POV shot from that high up was for Doug (cinematographer Douglas Koch) and me to go to the edge of the roof of City Hall and hang over. We went in and asked if we can get a quick shot and were surprised they said yes - no permissions on paper, no insurance. We couldn't do that now."
Rozema says that the fact that Polly bikes all over town wearing a toque is emblematic of Toronto.
But it's Polly herself who best represents T.O.
"She's quiet, very funny, insecure and visionary, which is how I saw our city at the time."
Susan G. Cole
8. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (Edgar Wright, 2010)
With scenes in the Annex set against the old mural of Lee's Palace, the original marquee of the Bloor Cinema and the first location of Sonic Boom, Wright's ebullient adaptation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novel cycle already feels like a time capsule of "not long ago, in the mysterious city of Toronto, Canada."
But Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World also captures the energy of the city in a way no other film has, as a playground for the young and ambitious, with Michael Cera's Scott courting Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Ramona Flowers - and battling those seven evil exes - in a colourful, vibrant world of clubs, concerts and late-night Pizza Pizza power-ups populated almost exclusively by people in their 20s. (There are a handful of older characters in the film, most notably Toronto cinema signifier Don McKellar, who pops up shooting a Hollywood action movie at Casa Loma.)
Scored with tracks by Metric and Broken Social Scene - Brendan Canning and Kevin Drew even wrote the songs performed in the movie by snot-rockers Crash and the Boys - Scott Pilgrim is as much a fantasy of Toronto as Sarah Polley's Take This Waltz, but one that functions very differently.
(Dammit, now we want to see Take This Waltz with an anime battle between Luke Kirby and Seth Rogen and a chiptune version of Closing Time over the end credits.)
9. CRASH (David Cronenberg, 1996)
Released to considerable controversy, streaming constantly on late-night Canadian cable channels pouring dim blue light into GTA suburban basements, talked about on playgrounds in hushed tones as "that car fucking movie," Crash is like a visual earworm, a movie whose images burrow into your subconscious and stick there, resistant to any attempts to shake them loose.
Part of what makes Cronenberg's unlikely adaptation of J.G. Ballard's novel such a definitive Toronto movie is how un-Toronto it feels. So many films set here (Exotica, Winter Kept Us Warm, Last Night) nobly attempt to thaw the psychic chill that keeps us at arm's length from one another. Not Crash.
Cronenberg crosses the wires of violence and eroticism. What's ostensibly a film about car crash fetishists becomes a story of modern alienation, a place well past saving, all hard-ons pointing toward death like grisly divining rods. Here, sexuality is as porous as human flesh, standards of acceptability and desire as brittle as a bent-up fender.
Crash blasts through the cold glass and concrete of Toronto's topography, crumpling it into a mangled heap of blood, cum, tears and twisted metal.
10. TRIGGER (Bruce McDonald, 2010)
You can watch Trigger without knowing any of its history, and it plays like a solid character study about aging rockers edging toward reconciliation as they catch up before an awards ceremony. It's maybe a little theatrical in its structure, but it's a fun, bouncy ramble through a certain subset of the Toronto music scene that we rarely see dramatized, driven by two great performances by Tracy Wright and Molly Parker (pictured here at the Mod Club).
But if you know the story behind the movie, it becomes a much richer experience.
Director McDonald and screenwriter Daniel MacIvor had been developing the film for a while. It began as a reunion project for Hard Core Logo stars Hugh Dillon and Callum Keith Rennie, then morphed into a story of two women, one of whom would be played by Wright. When Wright was diagnosed with aggressive pancreatic cancer, the production timeline was stepped up so she could shoot the movie while she was still healthy. (She died in the spring of 2010, a few months before the film's TIFF premiere.)
"Everyone's made movies where you pull favours," MacIvor told NOW when he and McDonald brought the film to TIFF. "This was not that feeling. They weren't paying a debt; everyone really wanted to be part of this thing."
You can feel that generosity of spirit throughout the movie. It's not just a fantastic showcase for Wright's electric talent, it's an outpouring of love from the city's film community. Watch Trigger again, and you can see that love in every frame.
11. MONKEY WARFARE (Reginald Harkema, 2006)
Harkema's study of a Parkdale couple (real-life partners Don McKellar and Tracy Wright) with a radical past whose lives intersect with an aspiring revolutionary (Nadia Litz) leans a little too heavily on Godard's La Chinoise, but its a look at a certain local lifestyle - aging radicals living hand-to-mouth on the fringes of the city - feels distressingly authentic.
12. TAXI! (Barry Greenwald, 1982)
This memorable NFB doc captures early 80s Toronto at street level, through the eyes of cabbies shuttling passengers across town, weathering their stories and their abuse. Taxi is as much a portrait of a profession as of the people who flock to it - insomniacs, eccentrics, recent immigrants looking to make a buck.
13. TAKE THIS WALTZ (Sarah Polley, 2011)
Her theme may be universal, but there's no question that Polley's soulful tale of intimacy lost and found is rooted in Toronto - even if there's never a condo in sight. Margot (Michelle Williams) bikes to the Royal cinema, drifts through Kensington Market, takes the ferry (pictured), has a meltdown on the Centre Island Scrambler and pauses by the lake. Plus, Damien Atkins plays a demanding aquafit instructor!
Making The Scene: Sarah Polley on Take This Waltz
Sarah Polley's first film, Away From Her, takes place in quiet rooms and hallways. Her second feature, the romantic drama Take This Waltz, is as much a love letter to Toronto as it is a character study, following Michelle Williams and Luke Kirby as they flirt their way from the Lakeview Restaurant (at Dundas and Ossington) to Kew Beach.
"I wanted to make the most romantic sort of version of Toronto I could possibly think of," Polley says, "which meant playing with reality a little bit, right? Toronto's not a perfect city, and it's not always a beautiful city. There's huge problems with it - and a lot of that is omitted from the film, for better or for worse. I wanted to fantasize about what the most idyllic Toronto would be, and represent how Toronto actually feels to me."
So if the city's geography is compromised in the name of art, well, that's as good a reason as any.
Polley admits her romanticized T.O. "may be a bit of an illusion. It would be great to be able to run from Trinity Bellwoods Park to the waterfront. That's just not real, but Michelle Williams gets to do it! I just wanted to put everything that I loved in this city in one film, and make those things accessible and close, and kind of dreamlike."
And when you can reshape a city to your will, it's no big deal to have the movie's characters catch a revival of Claude Jutra's Quebec classic Mon Oncle Antoine at the Royal. Turns out that's a dream shared by more than one local filmmaker.
"When we were shooting that scene, Atom Egoyan didn't see the film crew and came up and tried to buy a ticket," says Polley. "He was so excited Mon Oncle was at the Royal - he'd called Arsinée to have a date."
14. TOWER (Kazik Radwanski, 2012)
It's hard to get a real sense of the city in Tower, the young Toronto filmmaker's debut feature, almost entirely shot in wobbly, claustrophobic close-up. But its quiet character study of Derek (Derek Brogart), a man determined to make excuses for his delayed entry into adulthood, reflects something of a city that seems perpetually, and nervously, on the cusp of greatness.
15. THE SILENT PARTNER (Daryl Duke, 1978)
A high watermark of Canadian cinema's oft-maligned tax shelter era, this taut thriller casts Elliott Gould as a Cabbagetown-dwelling banker squaring off against a psychotic thief played by Christopher Plummer. Its idea that modern Toronto's skyscrapers are built over putrid corpses proves an unforgettable, T.S. Eliot-ish touch. (Also: Gould goes on a date to Captain John's. Delicious!)
16. THE KIDS IN THE HALL: BRAIN CANDY (Kelly Makin, 1996)
The compromised first (and so far only) feature film by the Kids in the Hall very deliberately plays Toronto as a glassy, dreary any-metropolis where chronic depression is bound to take root. It's not necessarily Toronto, but not not-Toronto either.
17. WINTER KEPT US WARM (David Secter, 1965)
The first English-Canadian feature screened at Cannes, this tiny-budgeted black-and-white movie is also one of the country's earliest gay films. Hard to believe audiences at the time didn't see the queer subtext in the friendship between a shy student (Henry Tarvainen) and the big man on campus (John Labow) - there's even a shower scene with back scrubbing! U of T hasn't changed much, and look for the scene outside the O'Keefe Centre. Appearances by future novelist Joy Fielding (née Tepperman) and theatre veteran Janet Amos, then students, make this a hidden gem.
18. RUDE (Clement Virgo, 1995)
Three very different Torontonians (played by Richard Chevolleau, Rachael Crawford and Maurice Dean Wint) grapple with sexuality, morality and the lure of the streets in Virgo's debut feature, set in and around Regent Park - a part of our city still woefully underrepresented on the screen, despite the fact that there are apparently lions ambling through its alleyways.
19. THE ADVENTURES OF BOB AND DOUG MCKENZIE: STRANGE BREW (Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, 1983)
For the first and only Bob and Doug movie, Moranis and Thomas turned their beloved SCTV characters into Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in a Canadian riff on Hamlet. (Elsinore Brewery, guys. Think about it.) Three decades on, their movie plays like a time capsule of Hoser Toronto - a world of basements and beer stores, of stubbies and toques... and far too much denim. Ford Nation still lives there.
20. OWNING MAHOWNY (Richard Kwietniowski, 2003)
Based on the true story of a Toronto bank clerk who skimmed $10 million from CIBC to fund his gambling habit, Owning Mahowny has Philip Seymour Hoffman's desperate addict slugging through the snowy streets of the financial district, throwing rocks at Rexdale Bowlerama and confabbing with his bookie (Maury Chaykin) at Varsity Arena. It's a nice (read totally depressing) look at the hopelessness coursing through many in Toronto's financial sector.
21. SABAH (Ruba Nadda, 2005)
In an early scene in Sabah, a group of Muslim women return home, then fling off the hijabs and modest attire that conceal vibrant coloured dresses and start to dance. That's one of the many ways Nadda's story about a Muslim woman (Arsinée Khanjian) who falls in love with a non-Muslim man (Shawn Doyle) evokes the complexity of immigrant life. It also gives Khanjian a chance to lighten up in ways we seldom see. Oh, and by the way, that's NOW Magazine Doyle's reading when he meets Khanjian in a coffee shop.
22. I LOVE A MAN IN UNIFORM (David Wellington, 1993)
A bank teller (Tom McCamus) is cast as a cop in a cheap TV show and winds up taking the gig way too seriously in Wellington's slippery psychological thriller, which uses Toronto's institutional blandness as a visual signifier, letting the city grow richer and darker as its hero's state of mind deteriorates.
23. OUTRAGEOUS! (Richard Benner, 1977)
A drag queen (Craig Russell) reconnects with a high school friend (Hollis McLaren) when she escapes from a psychiatric facility and moves into his apartment. Benner offers an unblinking view of the city's underside and the experience of two outsiders who can't figure out where they fit in. Russell gives the film its soul in what was a star-making turn - he performs as Barbra Streisand, Carol Channing and Peggy Lee, among others. Outrageous! played Toronto's Festival of Festivals and the Berlin Film Festival, where Russell took the Silver Bear as best actor.
24. HEAVEN ON EARTH (Deepa Mehta, 2008)
Mehta's story of Chand (Bollywood star Preity Zinta), who moves to Canada from India for an arranged marriage to a brutal man, is set in Brampton. The details, however, reflect the reality of immigrant life all over the GTA: the extended family crammed into a small home, the need to rent out the house during the day. And the soul-crushing winter ride from the airport to Chand's new residence is emblematic of the uncertainty new residents face when they arrive.
25. CHLOE (Atom Egoyan, 2009)
The story of a wife (Julianne Moore) who hires a high-end sex worker to spy on her husband (Liam Neeson), Chloe is definitely not Egoyan's best movie, but it uses its Toronto locations to brilliant effect. Café Diplomatico positively vibrates while the couple have a key confrontation. And Koerner Hall's ribbons-of-wood-and-glass atrium looks spectacular during concert sequences.