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Toronto — At the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday, thousands of movie fans gathered outside Roy Thomson Hall — some standing on stools, others perched along stairways of nearby buildings, most clutching phones with cameras in hand — looking to catch a glimpse of the arrival of Lady Gaga.

Sure, they were also there to see Dave Chappelle, Sam Elliott and Bradley Cooper — her co-stars and the writer-director of “A Star is Born,” the remake of the Hollywood classic that opens in theaters next month — but Gaga was the belle of the ball. And Gaga knows how to make an entrance.

The pop superstar pulled up in a fleet of three black SUVs, emerging from the first vehicle in a full length black dress and a massive black veil. She looked as though she was showing up at either a goth wedding or a funeral, but it was in fact her arrival party, and the crowd roared at the first sight of Her Lady of Perpetual Gaga, chanting “Ga-Ga! Ga-Ga!” and even singing an impromptu chorus of “Bad Romance.”

Gaga — who was also a part of last year’s festival, where she premiered her Netflix documentary “Five Foot Two” — approached the throngs of fans, raising her arm and waving dramatically, and in an instant created a TIFF moment for the fans.

Not all are as sensational, but those TIFF moments are what make the festival, now in its 43rd year, a draw for thousands of moviegoers, press and industry types, who transform Toronto into Canadian Hollywood for 10 days every September.

While she may have been the brightest, Gaga was just one of dozens of stars in attendance at this year’s TIFF, which kicked off Sept. 6 and continues through Sunday.

Jonah Hill and the cast of his directorial debut “Mid90s” — several of whom were too young to drink — gathered at Toronto’s SoHo House Sunday night after the “Mid90s” premiere and partied into the night while mid-90s jams from the likes of Ghostface Killah and Mobb Deep blared on the house system.

Earlier on Sunday, Sissy Spacek was among those who turned up at Fox Searchlight’s celebration at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, toasting her role in “Old Man and the Gun” which was playing as part of the festival. The night prior, Rupert Everett — sporting a bandage he’d received after a riding accident left him with a cheek gash — and John C. Reilly were among those at the Sony Pictures Classics dinner at Morton’s the Steakhouse.

Another TIFF moment came on Friday when Timothee Chalamet (along with his co-star, Steve Carell), walked the red carpet for his new film “Beautiful Boy,” wearing a stylish black suit with white flower print accents. While Chalamet posed for pictures and chucked up peace signs with adoring fans, just a few minutes earlier and a few hundred feet away, Armie Hammer was posing for cameras at the premiere for his latest film, “Hotel Mumbai.” And fans, all the while, didn’t know just how close to a “Call Me By Your Name” reunion they really were.

 The cast of the upcoming drama “The Hate U Give,” including star Amandla Stenberg, was assembled at the film’s gala screening Friday night at Roy Thomson Hall. Following the film, Michigan filmmaker Michael Moore was seen in the theater’s balcony, shaking hands with the filmmakers, congratulating them on a job well done.

Others spotted at premieres, parties, in hotel lobbies and around the city during the fest’s first weekend included Natalie Portman, Viggo Mortensen, Robert Redford, Matthew McConaughey, Elle Fanning, Penelope Cruz and too many others to count.

(One star who wasn’t at the fest was Toronto rapper Drake, who had been scheduled to be a part of the opening night festivities but pulled out at the last hour with little explanation.)

TIFF marks the unofficial start of Hollywood’s lengthy awards season, as heads and ears turn toward talk of little gold statues and which films will be in the running for them when they’re handed out come February.

“A Star is Born” is likely to lead that conversation, as the film, which premiered last month at the Venice Film Festival, seemed to be the one entry everyone could agree on at this year’s TIFF.

Cooper’s romantic drama features stunning starring turns by himself and Gaga, who play a pair of singers in the film. Both are strong candidates for nominations, as is the movie itself, which became an immediate front-runner for the Best Picture statue and led the talk among the festival selections.

Sunday night’s public premiere of “A Star is Born” was one of the hottest tickets at the fest, which hosted hundreds of films from around the world, from awards season fare to independents looking for distribution to blockbusters-to-be to genre films. 

Other films and performances exciting moviegoers included “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” in which Melissa McCarthy is said to make an impressive dramatic turn which could land her in the Oscar conversation; “Destroyer,” in which Nicole Kidman takes a dark turn as a detective revisiting a dramatic incident from her past; and, surprisingly, “Halloween,” which won’t win any awards but is going to make a lot of horror fans happy when it hits theaters in October.

Among films that saw their awards hopes slightly deflated were “Beautiful Boy,” which stars Chalamet as a drug addict and  Carell as his concerned father (which many felt simply didn’t land in a dramatic sense), and “Widows,” the heist drama from “12 Years a Slave” director Steve McQueen. Reactions ranged from “brilliant” to “borderline absurd.”

It was hard to tell if “Vox Lux,”  starring Portman as a troubled pop singer, was brilliant or borderline absurd, but Portman puts on a monster performance in director Brady Corbett’s experimental drama.

Films of local interest screening at the festival include “Fahrenheit 9/11,”  Moore’s lively rumination on President Donald Trump, the Flint water crisis and the failures of the Democratic party, as well as “White Boy Rick,” the drama that takes on the life of Richard Wershe Jr., the 1980s Detroit drug dealer and FBI informant who is still in prison today.

City officials shut down King Street in downtown Toronto during the first weekend of the festival, and moviegoers flooded the streets for freebies, food and to talk about movies. They stood in long lines, discussed what they’ve seen, what’s good and what’s not, creating a communal vibe around the movies in town. Fans talked about what’s under the radar at the fest and more, all while keeping their eyes peeled for the stars, because you never know who may be around the next corner.

The stars are everywhere, just like those TIFF moments, and they’re waiting to be found and shared among the festivalgoers. And those stories will be passed along as next year’s festival creates a new batch of TIFF moments.

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

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