The TIFF People’s Choice Award: One of the Great Oscar Predictors

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Past Recipients of the award led to golden glory.

Welcome, La La Land. You are now in the prestigious class of TIFF People’s Choice Award winners. As is the case with most film festivals, the 41st Toronto International Film Festival has come to a close with its annual award ceremony. A plethora of awards were given to short films and other titles such as the Natalie Portman-starrer Jackie and Midnight Madness favorite Free Fire, but the People’s Choice Award above all has traditionally been a precursor to Oscar success.

The Damien Chazelle musical, La La Land, has been receiving raves since it first premiered at the Venice Film Festival. The positive momentum continued through the Telluride Film Festival and finished the festival trifecta with TIFF. Early word is extremely positive on the feature and its appeal to audiences at-large shouldn’t come as a surprise.

With the win La La Land continues to gain positive notices and enchanting new audiences. Should it be nominated at this year’s Academy Awards it will join 14 of 38 People’s Award Winners that have accomplished the feat. Five of those went on to win the Best Picture award. This all means the patrons up in Toronto surely know how to pick them.

From 2010 to 2015, TIFF has had an uncanny ability to pick some of the hottest titles as their champion. Certainly there is an outlier in every bunch and even TIFF missed in 2011 when they appointed Where Do We Go Now? as their pick. Outside of that though, they have been solid gold. Some of the recent winners include: The King’s Speech (2010), Silver Linings Playbook (2012), 12 Years a Slave (2013), The Imitation Game (2014) , and Room (2015). Two of those went on to win the Oscar’s highest achievement, while the others picked up multiple awards and nominations.

Perhaps most interestingly of all is how often these picks are based on popularity and hype. The TIFF People’s Choice Award is decided by patrons parting with their tickets at the end of a showing or registering their ticket on an online website. At least in the past few years, it has been increasingly easy to decipher exactly what films were going to be eligible for the award; those that played in the biggest theaters and had the most screenings. Smaller films such as Anne Hathaway’s Colossal or the breakthrough performance of Florence Pugh in Lady Macbeth never really had a chance. Perhaps TIFF believes they have a system in place now that will prevent another Where Do We Go Now? oddity from happening.

Surprisingly the biggest competition for the award was The Weinstein Company’s Lion, starring Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, and Rooney Mara. Our reviewer disliked the film, but it was a highly sought after ticket. Among the previous winners listed above, three were films distributed by The Weinstein Company (King’s Speech, Silver Linings Playbook, and Imitation Game). If the TIFF People’s Choice Award equals an Oscar nomination and an Oscar nomination means a larger audience will see your prestige picture, The Weinstein Company surely would’ve loved Lion to gain that kind of attention. Especially considering their box office woes as of late.

Nevertheless, La La Land is now positioned to be a big player in the upcoming awards circuit. If Venice is any indication Emma Stone, should be a major player for Best Actress consideration and certainly the film itself should be instantly catapulted into the upper echelon of this year’s film offerings. If past TIFF People’s Choice selections are anything to go by, leads Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone will be dancing their way to plenty of award attention in the coming months.

News Writer/Columnist for Film School Rejects. It’s the Pictures Co-host. Bylines Playboy, ZAM, Paste Magazine and more.