What will the people choose?
In its final stretch, on Sunday, the Toronto International Film Festival will announce the film chosen by the public for the People’s Choice Award of its 48th edition. After “Poor Things” took home the Golden Lion at Venice, we look to the Canadian awards season staple to boost a film in the hunt for best picture.
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The top prize has become one of the most vital predictors of awards season success. In past years, best picture winners such as Peter Farrelly’s “Green Book” (2018) and Chloe Zhao’s “Nomadland” (2020) made a winning stop at TIFF before getting Oscar glory. Other TIFF Audience Award recipients such as “The Fabelmans” (2022), “Belfast” (2021), “Jojo Rabbit” (2019), “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (2017) and “La La Land” (2016) are among the movies that went on to receive noms.
So, which movies are buzzing with support? The movie that wins at TIFF is often tied to two critical factors — the number of attendees and the timing of its first screening.
The fest started with the North American premiere of GKids’ “The Boy and the Heron,” the first animated feature from legend Hayao Miyazaki in a decade, which played to a sold-out screening. The positive reception could give a boost as it heads into a season where it will face the blockbuster hit “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” from Sony Pictures. The campaign team will also need the help since the 82-year-old filmmaker isn’t doing any promotion for the film.
After the first weekend, when most of the World Premieres occur, many attendees and journalists head home, leaving acquisition titles and films that bowed at other fests to fight it out for those still around.
George C. Wolfe’s historical biopic “Rustin” is a crowd-pleaser and is said to have played to rapturous applause on Tuesday. However, its star Colman Domingo, who received one of the TIFF Tribute Awards, had another hit at the fest, the independent “Sing Sing,” which tells the story of a theater group made up of formerly incarcerated actors. Domingo was allowed to promote due to receiving a SAG interim agreement, and his presence helped the movie garner a four-minute standing ovation. That could give the movie an edge over his civil rights movie from Netflix, or worse yet, create a vote split. Nonetheless, he remains one of the leading contenders in the best actor race.
With that said, I suspect Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers,” with Paul Giamatti and Da’Vine Joy Randolph, will be the one to be named the people’s choice. The Focus Features movie was popular based on social media reactions and in-person conversations with some festival-goers. It’s the type of dramedy that mass audiences respond to, which helped TIFF runner-up flicks like “St. Vincent” (2014) and “Philomena” (2013). This could get over the finish line.
We’re watching out for the two surprise hits out of TIFF — Ava DuVernay’s “Origin” and Cord Jefferson’s “American Fiction” — that each brought down the house at their initial screenings. Even though they explore varying subject matter within separate genres, the brilliant writing may create divides among general consumers. But movies labeled “difficult to watch” like “Roma” (2018) managed to at least get in the top three before receiving 10 Oscar noms. Even the slave epic “12 Years a Slave” (2013) managed to win the Toronto People’s Choice for Steve McQueen before winning best picture. In the style of an Alexander Payne movie like “Sideways” (2004), Jefferson’s comedy about Black exploitation could be in the running with its sharp satire and fantastic performances.
There’s always room for surprises. No one expected Nadine Labaki’s “Where Do We Go Now?” (2011) to take the award over the eventual international feature winner “A Separation” during that year, while David Cronenberg’s “Eastern Promises” (2007) dropped a few jaws went it won over the future original screenplay winner “Juno.”
Potential shockers could be GameStop stock drama “Dumb Money,” the prize, especially since its director Craig Gillespie nearly won the TIFF award for “I, Tonya” (2017). With a large ensemble and a timely story, the Sony film could accelerate its chances in adapted screenplay (and maybe more).
The Jamie Foxx and Tommy Lee Jones legal dramedy “The Burial” from Maggie Betts was also gobbled up at its Monday evening premiere. A quintessential crowdpleaser, it could make pundits believe in the Amazon MGM title.
Variety’s top 10 TIFF Audience Award projections are below. Also, read the latest Oscar predictions in all categories.
Top 10 TIFF Audience Winner Predictions
“The Holdovers” (Focus Features) — Alexander Payne
“The Boy and the Heron” (GKids) — Hayao Miyazaki
“Origin” (Neon) — Ava DuVernay
“American Fiction” (MGM) — Cord Jefferson
“Rustin” (Netflix) — George C. Wolfe
“Sing Sing” (No U.S. Distribution) — Greg Kwedar
“The Burial” (Amazon MGM) — Maggie Betts
“His Three Daughters” (No U.S. Distribution) — Azazel Jacobs
“One Life” (No U.S. Distribution) — James Hawes
“Wicked Little Letters” (No U.S. Distribution) — Thea Sharrock
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