“American Fiction,” Cord Jefferson’s blistering satire of race and media, captured the Toronto International Film Festival’s people’s choice award, bolstering its Oscars chances.
TIFF’s people’s choice award is considered to be among the best predictors of eventual awards success, though the 2023 festival hosted a weaker lineup than most years due to the writers and actors strikes that saw some prominent contenders skip a Canadian premiere. In the past, winners of the prize such as “Green Book,” “12 Years a Slave” and “Nomadland” went on to be named best picture at the Academy Awards. Other recipients, including “Belfast,” “La La Land,” “Jojo Rabbit,” and 2022’s winner, “The Fabelmans,” were all best picture nominees.
More from Variety
The people’s choice category was created in 1978. Seven recipients won best picture at the Oscars, with five of those victories coming in the past two decades.
Alexander Payne’s boarding school dramedy “The Holdovers” was the first runner-up for the People’s Choice Award, while Hayao Miyazaki’s animated coming-of-age story “The Boy and the Heron” was the second runner-up.
“Dicks: The Musical,” a raunchy satire from “Borat” director Larry Charles, won the People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award. A24 will release the film later this month. The first runner-up in the Midnight Madness category was Nikhil Nagesh Bhat’s “Kill,” while “Hell of a Summer,” co-directed by Finn Wolfhard and Billy Bryk, was the second runner-up.
The audience prize for documentary went to Robert McCallum’s “Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-Believe,” a profile of children’s entertainer Ernie Coombs. Jen Markowitz’s “Summer Qamp” and Lucy Walker’s “Mountain Queen: The Summits of Lhakpa Sherpa” were the first and second runner-ups in the non-fiction category.
An international jury comprised of filmmakers Barry Jenkins, Anthony Shim and Nadine Labaki declared Tarsem Singh Dhandwar’s “Dear Jassi,” a real-life “Romeo and Juliet” tale, to be the best film in the Platform program. It was a unanimous choice and the award comes with a $20,000 prize. “The film has the perfect blend of craft, purpose, and faith in its audience, creating a world that is both richly cinematic and steadfastly realistic,” the jury said in a statement.
Sophie Dupuis’ “Solo,” a love story set in the drag scene, was named the best Canadian feature film.
“American Fiction” earned critical raves when it debuted at TIFF, with many reviewers singling out the performance of Jeffrey Wright as a college professor who achieves literary renown after penning an outrageously stereotypical book about Black life as a joke only to see it become a best-seller. Variety’s awards editor Clayton Davis predicted that the movie could resonate with Oscar voters and declared that the movie was “one of the finest directorial debuts seen since Sam Mendes’ ‘American Beauty.'”
Jefferson, who has been a writer on “Succession” and “Watchmen,” made his feature directorial debut with the movie and wrote the screenplay. It is based on Percival Everett’s 2001 novel, “Erasure.” MGM is releasing the film this year.
This year’s Toronto was a much more low-key affair with fewer red carpets and splashy premieres. Most stars, save for the few who appeared in smaller Indies that got promotional interim agreements from the Screen Actors Guild, steered clear of the festival because of the strike. TIFF did host a few prominent films, such as “Dumb Money,” a look at the GameStop stock saga, and “Woman of the Hour,” a crime drama that was directed by Anna Kendrick and sold to Netflix for $11 million.
Best of Variety