The Best Place to Watch a Film in Toronto
The best places to watch a film in Toronto prove that this city's rep cinema landscape is one of the best in North America and has been actively evolving for decades. Long littered with single-screen art houses — almost every neighbourhood has a nearby venue for non-commercial cinema — the last few years have seen a surge in interest and community thanks to the rise of a certain downtown film festival headquarters. Whether living in the East or the West, midtown or down near the water, Toronto cinephiles with insatiable appetites for classic, foreign, and challenging cinema are never likely to go hungry.
Since this list is limited to nine, here's a special shout out to places that are still part of what makes Toronto such a great movie town: Camera Bar, NFB Mediatheque, The Regent, Reg Hartt's Cineforum, Trash Palace, and Cinecycle.
Here, then, is the list of the best places to watch a movie in Toronto.
TIFF Bell LightboxThe first 18 months in the life of the TIFF Bell Lightbox has shown that it has everything we want and need from a movie theatre. And then some. Inarguably the premiere cinematheque in Canada, the Lightbox can also pretty much compete with any single movie venue in the world. Swallowing up James Quandt's Cinematheque Ontario programming might have been enough to make that claim, but that the museum-esque structure also includes room for exhibitions, new art house releases, schlocky cult fare, children's programming, avant-garde screenings, a bookstore that sells the best film books in print, and space for a couple dozen film festivals just about seals the deal.
The BloorCurrently in transition and renovation under its new owner, Hot Docs, Toronto can only watch and wait in anticipation as the beloved Annex single-screen enters a new phase of its life (to open in mid March 2012). Long a staple of cult, genre, and classic screenings, The Bloor is set to become Toronto's chief venue for documentary work, and will no doubt be the hub for North America's largest documentary film festival. Programmer Robin Smith promises that the charms and flavoring of the old programming won't be wiped out when they reopen; at the very least, the Bloor's popcorn will remain the same.
Toronto UndergroundPicking up the slack while the Bloor gets reno'ed, the Chinese cinema formerly known as Golden Classics opened its doors in the Spring of 2010 to a near-instant following of cult and genre seekers. Founded by Nigel Agnew and Alex Woodside (formerly of The Bloor) as well as filmmaker Charlie Lawton, The Underground tends to stay true to its name by eliding ostentatious signage and neglecting to update their screening schedule on the home page, often relying on word-of-mouth from their Facebook and twitter accounts to promote upcoming events. They're also the new home of Toronto After Dark, and host some of the most bad-ass double features in the city.
The Revue CinemaIn addition to being a second run venue for many of the better independent and foreign films, The Revue — the self-proclaimed "only not-for-profit cinema" in Toronto, located in the heart of Roncesvalles — also hosts some of the more interesting series of any of the rep houses in the city, including The Book Revue, Epicures Revue, and, of course, Silent Sundays (screened from film prints with live piano accompaniment!). New parents hoping to not fall behind on the season's art house hits can also bring their babies to Baby & You screenings, which go as far as providing changing tables, stroller parking, and lowered volume so as not to wake the little ones. A cinema this careful warrants business, and respect.
The Royal CinemaA staple on Toronto's independent cinema map since it opened as the Pylon in 1939, it remains a cherished Little Italy landmark, possessing one of the most beautiful art deco theatre interiors in Canada, and the only place to catch monthly screenings of Tommy Wiseau's The Room. Since it was nearly shuttered in 2007, only to be saved by Theatre D Digital (who had previously done the same for The Regent), it only holds evening screenings, and the occasional afternoon event on weekends. This is one of Toronto's premiere venues for local and up-and-coming filmmakers to show their films, and is also the host of a variety of popular film festivals, including the European Union Film Festival and Japanese Movie Week.
Mt. Pleasant TheatreFound just south of Eglinton, the Mt. Pleasant Theatre is a single-screen cinema for first and second run pictures. They typically only program one or two films per week, but it certainly brings one back to the good ole days: cash-only ticket sales, 70s wallpaper, and a pungent must in the air make you feel like you've stepped into a completely different era. Some call it charm, others schmaltz, and some just "old" — just don't call it pastiche. Whatever it is, it's genuine, and an experience in today's movie-going ventures that is only getting rarer and rarer.
The FoxOver in the Beach, they've got a little movie house that they like to call The Fox. The Fox wasn't always The Fox, though. When they first opened their doors 98 years ago in 1914, they didn't have any name. No talking in movies, no names for movie houses, I guess. They eventually succumbed and went with The Pastime for a while (if only they knew...), and then changed it to Prince Edward before settling on The Fox, which has held fast for 70 years now. Lately, The Fox is primarily a common second run space, unfortunately screening less and less classic rep cinema over the years (management has recently acquired The Revue, and finds the older stuff that they play over there sufficient, apparently). These guys do have the prettiest concession lobby in the city, though.
The Projection BoothThe newest theatre on the list, The Projection Booth opened in August of 2011 and is a collaboration between Studio Film Group Principals Jonathan Hlibka and Nadia Sandhu, and Grinder Coffee's Euan Mowat. Located in the former home of Gerrard Cinema, The Booth instantly became the king of the East side when it opened its doors, sitting pretty on the cusp of Little India. Their eclectic programming includes Bollywood (new and classic), Kung Fu, camp Sci-Fi, "Fright Nights" of horror, and a healthy mix of foreign, art house, and local independent films. They're still working on their 35mm capabilities, but it's hard to find a reason to not drop in on a regular basis anyway, just to experience their unique brand of inspired curating.
The KingswayJust as old as The Royal (they both opened in 1939), The Kingsway can be found deep into Toronto's West end at Bloor and Royal York where they have a sturdy and devoted following. It's been a bit of a roller coaster ride over the last few years for the theatre, though, what with it closing in 2006, only to reopen at the beginning of 2009 as an old-timey first run cinema. The lobby has a vibrant art deco aesthetic with pinks and yellows that match the nostalgic and campy memorabilia items like the leg lamp from A Christmas Story, nice touches amongst the standard multiplex 'look' that seems irredeemably stuck in the 90s. Although there is only one screen, they still manage to squeeze in four different films a week.