I’m of the mindset that you should approach TIFF, the world’s largest film festival, with two goals in mind. One, depending upon how many tickets you have (which matters a lot! TIFF is far too expensive), you should try and see at least one film from every program. Two, you should augment the bulk of your personal programming towards discovery. Find the films that you think you won’t ever get another chance to see again, and see them…now! While there’s still a chance at least.
Which made this exercise, where the boss specifically asked me to discuss films that I knew were streaming somewhere and played TIFF in the past, extremely difficult. I can tell you that many of my favourites from last year are still awaiting their streaming debuts. Plus, as a someone who is only a two-time attendee of the festival, there’s not a ton of selection I saw specifically at the festival.
So, I’ve cheated a little bit. I combed through catalogues of the last twenty years of TIFF (2000-2019), and pulled one film from each year that meets the following criteria. One, it has to be streaming somewhere. Two, I have to have seen the film. Three, it has to be excellent. In reverse chronological order. Here is one excellent film from each TIFF from this century thus far.
2019: The absolute best film I saw at TIFF 2019 is still away awaiting release. Whenever Kazik Radwanski’s Anne at 13,000 Ft gets a release, that’s the first thing you should stream. The same goes for Mattie Do’s The Long Walk, Tamar Shavgulidze’s Comets, Rose Glass’ Saint Maud, and Michael Angelo Covino’s The Climb. But for things you can catch right now, you should absolutely jump on Céline Sciamma’s incredible Portrait of a Lady on Fire, presently streaming on Crave.
2018: The impeccably titled I Don’t Care if We Go Down in History as Barbarians has a penchant for occasionally popping up on MUBI, but it presently isn’t there. A damn shame, but might I suggest the heartbreaking Shoplifters, conveniently found on Netflix.
2017: Sean Baker’s The Florida Project, remains one of the most incredible films of the last decade, and can be rented for cheap on iTunes and through YouTube.
2016: TIFF 2016 was an incredible year with films such as Moonlight and The Handmaiden contributing to a stacked festival line-up. But there’s something to be said for the brilliance of Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women, a masterclass in framing, composition and tone, and can be streamed via Netflix and The Criterion Channel.
2015: Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Assassin won the legendary Taiwanese director a long-awaited major award at the Cannes film festival. You can find the film through Amazon Prime and many of major digital download profiles.
2014: Probably the best film out of this line-up is Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja, which is presently not streaming anywhere. Instead, you might be tempted to track down Clouds of Sils Maria, a.k.a. “the Kirsten Stewart is an incredible actress revenge tour” directed by Olivier Assayas and streaming on Criterion Channel.
2013: There are a number of great films from this program. Under the Skin, Only Lovers Left Alive, Michael Dowse’s The F Word, but I want to go off the beaten path a bit with this one and recommend the gonzo art piece Why Don’t You Play In Hell? Which is available to rent through Apple TV.
2012: If we’re not watching Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell through the NFB’s website, then really what are we doing here?
2011: The Turin Horse doesn’t seem to be streaming anywhere normal, which is a damn shame. A Separation, the second runner-up for the people’s choice award, is on a number of platforms though, and is available to rent.
2010: To double up on my Kelly Reichardt with Meek’s Cutoff is tempting, but the beguiling Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives can be found on Criterion Channel and is just as excellent.
2009: My tastes will almost certainly get more basic the further we go into the past. Case in point, I Killed My Mother is by Xavier Dolan, which screams basic. The film is legit though, and available for rental through Apple TV
2008: Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs broke Midnight Madness, many collective brains, and the French New Extremity movement, and if you want it to break yours too, you can track it down on Shudder.
2007: One of the great historical years of cinema deserves two picks. Sciamma gets a second selection with Water Lillies alongside Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days. Both of which are playing on Criterion Channel.
2006: I was tempted to cheat and go with Lou Ye’s Summer Place, which I’m fairly certain can be found with some YouTube searching, but Borat 2 did just get announced and Borat is available to rent on Apple TV.
2005: I believe that I’ve seen two films from this festival. Elizabethtown, which yikes, and Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, which is streaming on Amazon Prime.
2004: I finally get the chance to use a Jia Zhangke film, with his excellent The World currently having a home via Criterion Channel. Beats having to use the much maligned Crash.
2003: Earlier this year, I saw Jane Campions’ In the Cut on Criterion Channel. Currently it’s not there, but you can rent the film on Apple TV, and I’m certain it will come back. Honourable mention to Wang Bing’s Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks which you can (and should) track down on YouTube for free!
2002: The last, great, non-Inherent Vice Paul Thomas Anderson film Punch-Drunk Love played TIFF 2002, and it’s available for digital rental just about everywhere.
2001: The incredibly violent Ichi the Killer totally broke Midnight Madness at TIFF 2001. Supposedly, they provided complimentary barf bags as a promotional gag gift with the screening. That sort of urban lore and the fact that the film is presently on Shudder will have to make up for the fact that Trouble Every Day isn’t streaming anywhere.
2000: Finally, we conclude with the best film of the century thus far. Edward Yang’s Yi Yi is both free on YouTube, and is available on Criterion Channel. It is also a stone-cold masterpiece; something to recreate the festival magic at home.