For the third year in a row, I have attended the opening weekend of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and for the second year, I have spent Saturday in a limbo-like state, waiting as my precision-timed schedule slips into chaos. Last year, two hours of sand slipped away while I waited for a late-morning Press & Industry screening of 127 Hours, only to be redeemed by a generous and graciously humble appearance from director Danny Boyle. I lost out on catching another screening, but that’s what happens to the best-laid plans.

This year, technical difficulties fortunately cost a mere hour of time, pushing the screening of The Descendents, which slammed right into Fernando Meirelles’s 360 in the same theater. I spent all day in the Scotiabank Theatre with a brief break before a late screening of Headhunters, a Norwegian adaptation of a bestselling piece of crime fiction from Jo Nesbo that seems to signal a new wave of smart European thrillers, on the heels of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and the two follow-ups in author Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (Headhunters and the Millennium series were produced by Lone Korslund of Nordisk Films).

But, in each case, the films were well worth the wait and the idea of waiting goes far beyond the festival; it becomes a metaphor for the city of Toronto, a fantastic city to be sure, a truly international destination that is on the verge of a deeper, richer metamorphosis. This year marks the official integration of the Bell Lightbox, the year-round home of the city’s film programming, into the heart of the festival. Adjacent to the Lightbox, work is underway on a condominium complex, teasing passersby by promoting a new home for cinema. Don’t wait to seize, the marketing whispers, if you lived here, you would already be at the festival.

Ultimately though, the festival experience is all about film and TIFF kicks off the prestige season like no other late-year event, which truly complicates, in not just a good, but the greatest way possible because with so many films in competition, everything boils down to how can you see all of the films you need to see? And what is a poor critic, like me, to do with only three days available? How can I see enough to be the best pair of eyes and ears for the legions of film fans in the region who are unable to attend TIFF?

I plan my viewing schedule like a festival programmer. I make sure I catch a bold provocateur early – Lars Von Trier, the bad boy of this year’s Cannes Festival, earned this distinction with his film Melancholia, which was my absolute favorite of the 15 films I saw because it artfully, and in a painfully personal way, illuminated how the world should end — and a few inspired loons working well within their wheelhouse (although not necessarily at the best). Pedro Almodovar’s campy reunion with Antonio Banderas, The Skin I Live In, feels more like De Palma lark than his more masterful takes on Hitchcock, and Todd Solondz goes too broad with his Dark Horse, although it features a much more emotionally heartfelt turn from its lead, Jordan Gelber, than expected from the typically pitch-black Solondz.

The goal though is to mix independent (African American lesbian coming of age — Pariah) and awards season bait [A Dangerous Method, David Cronenberg’s faceoff between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) with a troubled patient (Keira Knightley) caught in the middle], while also tracking local productions like Take Shelter, which features the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain and a sensational slow burn from Michael Shannon.

Intriguingly, there was no clear winner out of Toronto, in terms of Oscar projections, but film is a waiting game where only the most patient prevail, which means that the upcoming marathon belongs to the audience that gets to sit back and enjoy the show. (tt stern-enzi)