Toronto: Audience Award Win Solidifies '12 Years a Slave' as Film to Beat in Oscar Race (Analysis)
TORONTO -- Sunday afternoon's announcement that Fox Searchlight's 12 Years a Slavehas been chosen by Toronto Film Festival moviegoers as the winner of this year's TIFF People's Choice Award is a major development in this year's Oscar race.
The Toronto moviegoers who decide the prize, the fest's highest honor, are generally very in tune with the Academy. Indeed, TIFF's audience award has been one of the better harbingers of Oscar success over the 35 years in which it has been presented, with almost every one of its honorees going on to garner some measure of Academy recognition. Collectively, they have accounted for 113 Oscar nominations, including 11 for best picture -- most recently Silver Linings Playbook last year -- and nine for best foreign language film. Forty of those nominations resulted in Oscar wins, including four for best picture (Chariots of Fire, American Beauty, Slumdog Millionaire andThe King's Speech). This has helped to cement TIFF’s reputation as one of the first important stops on the awards trail, along with the Telluride Film Festival that precedes it by a week.
Steve McQueen's stark drama about slavery in 19th century America has now been cheered by not only critics and pundits -- who have championed it loudly ever since its world premiere at Telluride, where I first caught it -- but also by the general public. That suggests that the Academy, whose taste which resembles the latter as often as it does the former, will probably be able to get on board with the film. There have been those who have argued that some Oscar voters -- potentially a significant number -- might shy away from even watching a film that is as disturbing and upsetting as this one is. But others have countered that most members will feel a duty to see and champion it as a well-made and important reminder about the darkest chapter in our nation's history, which continues to impact our society to this day. Sunday's announcement makes me even more inclined to side with that theory, setting up the film for such possible nominations as best picture and director as well as noms for its actors Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender andLupita Nyong'o.
The one potential downside to this news for 12 Years a Slave is that it only further hypes a film that already has been the subject of much hyperbole, creating expectations among the general public -- which will not even get to see it until Oct. 18 -- that may prove impossible to meet. Even before Sunday's news, one blogger declared, "Suspend the betting, close the books and notify the engraver: I've just seen what will surely be this year's Best Picture winner, and it's 12 Years a Slave." He earned several public smackdowns, including several from fans of the film who feared he was undercutting its chances.
Then again, Fox Searchlight has been down this road before: Slumdog Millionaire played at Telluride and came to Toronto and won the TIFF audience award, and then opened in mid-November and still wound up winning the best picture Oscar and a heap of others. In this sense, if not others, backers of 12 Years a Slave have to hope that history repeats itself.
Director Steve McQueen grabs the top prize and a wave out of TIFF to possible awards season success.
TORONTO -- 12 Years a Slave was named the top audience prize winner at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday.
The Steve McQueen-directed film now numbers among previous TIFF audience award winners like American Beauty, Slumdog Millionaire and Silver Linings Playbook that received a lift in Toronto on their way to Academy Awards glory.
"At a festival that has shown so many brilliant films, I cannot be more thrilled to receive this award," McQueen said in a statement following news of his award.
"I am deeply grateful to all the people who have worked on this film, and that their amazing work has been recognized," he added.
The film portrays the true story of Solomon Northup, a free Black man from upstate New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841 and finally freed in 1853.
Fox Searchlight will release 12 Years a Slave in theaters on Oct. 18. The film had its world premiere on Sept. 6 at the Princess of Wales Theater, following what was billed as a sneak preview presentation at the Telluride Film Festival.
The first runner-up in the People's Choice Award competition was Stephen Frear's Philomena, which will be released by The Weinstein Company, while the second runner-up was DenisVilleneuve's Prisoners, from Warner Bros, which stars Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal.
The People's Choice Midnight Madness award went to directorSion Sono's Why Don't You Play in Hell?
"This is what we always wanted… I can clearly picture that the film is jumping around and expressing the happiness," Sono said in a statement from Japan.
And the People's Choice documentary award went to JehaneNoujaim's film The Square, which looks at recent unrest in Cairo.
"This is a film about people who relentlessly fight for their rights, even when there is no hope or light at the end of the tunnel," Noujaim said on accepting the award, and giving a shout-out to Egyptian activists in Tahir Square in Cairo where they are campaigning for democracy and political reforms.
The first runner-up in the People's Choice Midnight Madness award competition was Mike Flanagan's Oculus, while the second runner-up was Alex de la Iglesia for Witching & Bitching.
In the People's Choice documentary competition, the first runner-up was Canadian director AlanisObomsawin's Hi-Ho Mistahey! and the second runner up was Leanne Pooley's Beyond the Edge.
Director Anup Singh's Qissa was honored with the NETPAC Award for World or International Asian Film Premiere.
"Today's my wedding anniversary and my wife had just tucked away a bottle of champagne into the fridge when I had the phone call from my producer," Singh said in a statement as he accepted the jury award for the best world/international premiere in the Contemporary World Cinema sidebar in Toronto.
The FIPRESCI jury prize for best special presentation sidebar film went to Pawel Pawlikowski'sIda from Poland. The FIPRESCI Discovery award was given to The Amazing Catfish, directed byClaudia Sainte-Luce.
Director Alan Zweig claimed the honor for best Canadian feature film for When Jews Were Funny.
"Honey: I think we'll get a new kitchen," Zweig told his wife from the awards luncheon podium as he accepted the $30,000 prize.
The best Canadian short film prize was awarded to Walter Woodman and Patrick Cederberg forNoah and best Canadian first feature went to Shayne Ehman and Seth Scriver for Asphalt Watches.
The Canadian films jury at TIFF in its citation recognized Asphalt Watches for an "animated road trip across western Canada that is like no other."
All the Wrong Reasons, which starred the late Glee actor Cory Monteith, was previously announced as the winner of the Discovery award.
The Toronto awards luncheon was held at the Intercontinental Hotel, with festival director Piers Handling and artistic director Cameron Bailey presenting the jury and audience awards.
The prize-giving Sunday capped off a 2013 edition of TIFF that included 4473 industry delegates in town for business, and 1200 media to cover red carpet premieres and press conferences by Hollywood stars and other international talent.
A vibrant film market in Toronto this week included U.S. market sales for A Touch of Sin, Bad Words, Bright Days Ahead, Burt's Buzz, Can a Song Save Your Life? and Fading Gigolo, among other titles.