Years ago, back when branding was a word many of us still associated with cattle, the Toronto International Film Festival was known as "the festival of festivals," a reference to its identity as an event that gathered hits and misses from more prestigious festivals.
It had the flavor of a provincial affair then, a sprawling version of the current New York Film Festival, only with fewer black-clad patrons and more smiles. Somewhere along the line, though — say, 1999, the year that "American Beauty" was shown here and began its life as the "it" movie of the season, culminating in a best picture Oscar — the festival blew up big.
Today the aggressively branded Toronto festival (or T.I.F.F.) is second only to Cannes for industry noise. This is where companies like Fox Searchlight Pictures bring their Oscar contenders, like Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan," about a ballerina (a febrile Natalie Portman) pirouetting close to the void, and Danny Boyle's "127 Hours," quite possibly the funniest, most buoyant movie about a man (an appealing James Franco) sawing off, oh so slowly, one of his limbs.