Room has won the much-desired and sometimes Oscar predictive Grolsch People’s Choice Award at the 40th Annual Toronto International Film Festival. The film — directed by Lenny Abrahamson and starring Brie Larson, Joan Allen, William H. Macy and 8-year-old Jacob Tremblay in a remarkable performance — won high praise in its World Premiere at Telluride  and received a raucous reception at TIFF as well. A24 will release the film on October 16th. Larson, Allen and Tremblay are already being touted as strong Oscar contenders, and this award certainly won’t hurt the film’s forward momentum. This  touching and rather remarkable movie could become the real “discovery” of this awards season. I have a feeling this could be just the beginning for the story of a young mother and child held in captivity for years by an abusive father — but things get very unpredictable from there. First Runner Up was Pan Nalin’s Indian film Angry Indian Goddesses. Second Runner Up was Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight, Open Road’s November 6th release which is also tipped to be a heavyweight awards contender. Hardcore, the horror film that at a reported $10 million deal with distributor STX is said to be the fest’s biggest buy so far,  won the People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award while Netflix’s Winter On Fire: Ukraine’s Fight For Freedom  took the People’s Choice nod for Documentary Film.

Although this is an award strictly voted by TIFF filmgoers who stick their ticket stub in a ballot box after seeing a film they deem worthy of the honor, the People’s Choice — or audience award — has taken on weight in recent years as a real indicator, and perhaps good luck charm, in the nascent Pete Hammond badgeOscar race. Consider the list of past TIFF People’s Choice winners that actually went on to win the Best Picture Oscar: 12 Years A Slave (the most recent in 2013); The King’s Speech (2010); Slumdog Millionaire (2008); American Beauty (1999); and way back in 1981 TIFF predicted an Oscar upset with2015 Toronto International Film Festival longshot Chariots Of Fire. Then are those winners that went on to Best Picture nominations including last year’s  The Imitation Game; Silver Linings Playbook (2012); Precious (2009); Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000); Life Is Beautiful (1998); Shine (1996); Places In The Heart (1984); and The Big Chill (1983).  

Although Imitation Game took the prize last year, eventual Oscar Best Picture winner Birdman skipped TIFF so wasn’t a factor and neither was the other strong BP contender, Boyhood which was already in theaters. And for each of these Oscar players occasionally TIFF throws in a surprise as winner like Where Do We Go Now?, Bella, Eastern Promises, Zatoichi and The Hanging Garden. Nevertheless TIFF’s People’s Choice Award is closely watched by Oscar pundits for any early clues.

Other awards from this morning’s ceremony are:

Dropbox Award:  Black (previously announced)

Short Cuts Awards (for short films – Canadian): Overpass

Short Cuts Awards (International): Maman(s)

City Of Toronto Award Best First Canadian First Feature: Sleeping Giants

Canada Goose Best Canadian Feature: Closet Monster

Fipresci Jury Prize, Discovery Section: Eva Nova;  Special Presentations Section: Desierto

Network For Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC award: The Whispering Star

Toronto Platform Prize ($25,000 cash award): Hurt

Grolsch People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award: Hardcore

Grolsch People’s Choice Documentary Award: Winter On Fire: Ukraine’s Fight For Freedom