The Toronto International Film Festival gave its top prize Sunday to The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and distributed by The Weinstein Company. The announcement brings the huge festival to a close after hundreds of film screenings over 10 days. The Imitation Game, a biopic about gay computer pioneer and code-breaker Alan Turing, won the Grolsch People’s Choice Winner, AKA, the audience award for favorite feature-length film shown.
The acclaimed film, which had its World Premiere at Telluride over Labor Day weekend and its unveiling at TIFF on Tuesday, also stars Keira Knightley and was directed by Norwegian helmer Morten Tyldum.
Unlike other festivals that throw their weight behind juried prizes, TIFF prides itself on the fact that their most important honor is chosen by actual moviegoers (although they do hand out some juried awards in other categories).
At the beginning of each film, the audience is reminded that they can vote. Volunteers with easily identifiable ballot boxes are impossible to miss at each theatre’s exits.
Oddly, though this award is voted on by fans rather than industry insiders, it can be a real harbinger of things to come in Oscar season. In fact, last year’s eventual Best Picture winner, 12 Years A Slave, took the same prize.
That was especially significant because the very intense Slave wasn’t the kind of obvious crowd-pleasing film that has won the prize in the past. It had to beat, among others, Gravity for the honor.
First runner-up to Imitation Game was a bit of a surprise: the charming, but little-buzzed about, drama Learning To Drive starring Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson. It does not yet have a distribution deal, but obviously, it connected with TIFF audiences. Second runner-up was the crowd-pleasing St. Vincent,, starring Bill Murray. All told, it made for a very good day for The Weinstein Company, which releases St. Vincent Oct. 10.
Past Oscar-winning Best Pictures that also took Toronto’s top award include 1981’s Chariots Of Fire, 1999’s American Beauty, 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire and 2010’s The King’s Speech. Several other Best Pic nominees have also shared this honor, including Shine (1996), Life Is Beautiful (1998), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Precious (2009) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012).
In all, well over 100 nominations and 40 Oscars have come to films that have won Toronto’s top prize, coming as it does so early in the season. But in terms of Oscar prognostication, the TIFF top award has had fallow periods in the past, such as between 2001 and 2007, when its winners rarely went on to the Academy Awards in any significant way.
And proving it isn’t always the best Oscar benchmark, TIFF’s audiences really took a left turn in 2011 when they awarded their People’s Choice prize to Nadine Labaki’s Where Do We Go Now?, which was chosen by Lebanon as their official Academy Award Foreign Language Film entry, but didn’t make the cut even as a nominee. I don’t expect the same fate for The Imitation Game , a terrific film with certain Academy Award potential.
Here’s TIFF’s news release listing all the festival’s winners:
TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL ANNOUNCES 2014 AWARD WINNERS
TORONTO — The Toronto International Film Festival® today announced award winners from the 39th Festival which wraps up this evening.
The short film awards below were selected by a jury comprised of Franklin Leonard, founder of The Black List; Beth Sá Freire, deputy- director of the São Paulo International Short Film Festival; and visual artist Floria Sigismondi.
VIMEO AWARD FOR BEST CANADIAN SHORT FILM
The winner of the Vimeo Award for Best Canadian Short Film goes to Randall Okita for The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer. The jury remarked, “For its bold blend of live action and digital animation to produce a striking meditation on the nature of memory and its legacy, the jury awards the Vimeo Award for Best Canadian Short Film to Randall Okita’s The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer.” The award offers a $10,000 cash prize.
The jury gave an honourable mention, “For its entirely unexpected development of a science fiction high concept into something alternately heartbreaking and humorous, the jury gives an honourable mention to Rob Grant’s What Doesn’t Kill You.”
VIMEO AWARD FOR BEST INTERNATIONAL SHORT FILM
The winner of the Vimeo Award for Best International Short Film goes to Sotiris Dounoukos’s A Single Body (Un seul corps). The jury remarked, “For its extraordinary exploration of the value of friendship, hope, and aspiration in an unusually brutal and austere environment… and world — made especially heartbreaking by striking performances by Doudou Masta and Mexianu Medenou — the jury awards the Vimeo Award for Best International Short Film to Sotiris Dounoukos for A Single Body.” The award offers a $10,000 cash prize.
The jury gave an honourable mention, “For its charming absurdist comedy about loneliness, identity, and the art of finding yourself, the jury gives an honourable mention to Atsuko Hirayanagi for Oh Lucy!.”
The Canadian awards below were selected by a jury comprised of filmmaker Michael Dowse (The F Word); director, writer and producer Ingrid Veninger (The Animal Project); producer Jennifer Jonas (Gerontophilia); and film critic Jason Anderson.
CANADA GOOSE AWARD FOR BEST CANADIAN FEATURE FILM
The Canada Goose Award for Best Canadian Feature Film goes to Maxime Giroux’s Felix and Meira (Félix et Meira). The jury remarked, “For its immense sophistication and craftsmanship in telling a brave story bridging two disparate worlds, its generosity of spirit, masterful use of music, and exquisite performances that fuel the film’s power as both an intimate love story and a profound statement on the value of passion, family and community, the Canada Goose Award for Best Canadian Feature Film goes to Maxime Giroux’s Felix and Meira.” This award is made possible thanks to Canada Goose and comes with a cash prize of $30,000.
CITY OF TORONTO AWARD FOR BEST CANADIAN FIRST FEATURE FILM
The City of Toronto Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film goes to Jeffrey St. Jules for Bang Bang Baby. The jury remarked, “For its ingenious mixing of genres, sophisticated blend of tones and ability to create its own strange, tragicomic and original world without sacrificing any richness in regards to story, character and emotion, the jury recognizes as Best Canadian First Feature Film Bang Bang Baby by Jeffrey St. Jules.” The award carries a cash prize of $15,000.
THE PRIZES OF THE INTERNATIONAL CRITICS (FIPRESCI PRIZES)
The Festival welcomed an international FIPRESCI jury for the 23rd year. The jury members consist of jury president Dana Linssen (Netherlands), Marco Lombardi (Italy), Ola Salwa (Poland), Télesphore Mba Bizo (Cameroun), Jorge Gutman (Canada) and Thom Ernst (Canada).
Prize of the International Critics (FIPRESCI) for Special Presentations is awarded to Oren Moverman’s Time Out of Mind. The jury remarked, “For Oren Moverman’s sensitive and human depiction of homelessness, and Richard Gere’s remarkable performance, the FIPRESCI jury is pleased to grant the Special Presentations prize to Time Out of Mind.”
Prize of the International Critics (FIPRESCI) for the Discovery programme is awarded to Abd Al Malik for May Allah Bless France! (Qu’Allah bénisse la France!) The jury remarked, “The FIPRESCI jury is pleased to grant the Discovery prize for a story of a youth displaced in their own country, struggling to find the balance between chaos and serenity, on the strength of art, music and human spirit. While the startling cinematography is purely black and white, the director Abd Al Malik managed to show the different shades of grey in his daring debut May Allah Bless France!. Félicitations.”
As selected by a jury from the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema, the NETPAC Award for World or International Asian Film Premiere goes to Shonali Bose for Margarita, with a Straw. Jury members include Lekha Shankar (India), Hannah Fisher (China) and Anderson Le (Hawaii). The jury remarked, “Margarita, with a Straw is both universal and groundbreaking. Director Shonali Bose and actress Kalki Koechlin have jointly created a character and a world that embody a love letter to life, with all its highs and lows, in spite of overwhelming physical limitations.”
GROSLCH PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARDS
This year marked the 37th year that Toronto audiences were able to cast a ballot for their favourite Festival film, with the Grolsch People’s Choice Award. This year’s award goes to Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Alan Turing, the genius British mathematician, logician, cryptologist and computer scientist who led the charge to crack the German Enigma Code that helped the Allies win WWII. Turing went on to assist with the development of computers at the University of Manchester after the war, but was prosecuted by the UK government in 1952 for homosexual acts which the country deemed illegal. The award offers a $15,000 cash prize and custom award, sponsored by Grolsch. The first runner up is Isabel Coixet’s Learning to Drive. The second runner up is Theodore Melfi’s St. Vincent.
The Festival presents a free screening of the award-winning film The Imitation Game tonight. The screening takes place at 6 p.m. at the Ryerson Theatre. Tickets will be available on a first-come, first-served basis beginning at 4 p.m. at Ryerson Theatre.
The Grolsch People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award goes to Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement for What We Do in the Shadows. The film follows three flatmates who are just trying to get by and overcome life’s obstacles — like being immortal vampires who must feast on human blood. First runner up is Kevin Smith for Tusk and the second runner up is Jalmari Helander for Big Game.
The Grolsch People’s Choice Documentary Award goes to Hajooj Kuka for Beats of the Antonov. Beats of the Antonov follows refugees from the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains in Sudan as they survive displacement and the trauma of civil war. Music, a cornerstone of their traditions and identity, becomes itself a vehicle for survival. First runner up is David Thorpe’s Do I Sound Gay? and the second runner up is Ethan Hawke’s Seymour: An Introduction.
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