The trophy is considered a bellwether of sorts for the awards-season race even if it is selected by festival moviegoers who vote online following a screening. The festival assures they double check the legitimacy of each vote, and that it came from a ticket holder so as to prevent gaming the system. In theory, no stuffing of the ballot box is allowed according to TIFF.
At its world premiere screening last Sunday evening, director Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit was rapturously received by the opening-night audience, perhaps the most enthusiastic reception of the festival I thought at the time. However, critics were decidedly mixed when reviews hit and the film currently stands at 75% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. The offbeat film from Fox Searchlight is about a boy in Nazi Germany who discovers his family is harboring a Jewish girl. A satirical comedy already controversial for edgy comical content revolving around a very serious subject, finds the boy also having conversations with an imaginary idiot friend Adolf Hitler (played by Waititi).
“Thank you to the Toronto International Film Festival audiences for this tremendous honor,” Waititi said in a statement today. “Jojo Rabbit is a story of tolerance and understanding set in a time that lacked both, and I hope in making this film we can remind ourselves that it’s still possible to connect with each other even under the most chaotic of circumstances—no matter what age, religion, race or gender. It was an incredible experience making this film and I’m happy the world had the opportunity to see it for the first time at TIFF.”
Fox Searchlight will begin platforming Jojo Rabbit on October 18. It has not been considered by pundits to be in the front tier of possible Best Picture Oscar contenders but this TIFF award should considerably boost its profile in that regard.
“We saw firsthand how Toronto International Film Festival audiences responded to Jojo Rabbit,” Fox Searchlight bosses Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula said today. “We’re incredibly proud of this film, Taika and the entire filmmaking team, and the message that love can rise above evil – we can’t wait to introduce Jojo Rabbit to the rest of the world.”
The runner-up films, Noah Baumbach’s critically acclaimed Marriage Story, and Bong Joon-ho’s South Korean Cannes Palme d’Or winner Parasite, both played well in Toronto after great success at earlier festivals and should see their momentum continuing with their showing at TIFF. Incidentally, Scarlett Johansson stars in both Jojo Rabbit and Marriage Story.
In 2018, the surprise TIFF People’s Choice winner was Green Book, which came in late on the festival’s sixth day and was a bit of an underdog since more high-profile films were tipped for the prize. Green Book of course went on to win several awards including the Golden Globe and PGA top honors, all leading up to its Best Picture Oscar win, something TIFF’s early award has often been predictive of, as well as for films that go on to nominations for Best Picture.
In addition to Green Book, past People’s Choice winners include eventual Best Picture champs 12 Years a Slave, The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire and American Beauty. As far back as 1981, the award signaled a soon-to-be major Oscar upset with Chariots of Fire.
Winners that went on to make the list of Best Picture Oscar nominees include 2017’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, La La Land, Room, The Imitation Game, Silver Linings Playbook, Precious, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Life Is Beautiful, Shine, Places in the Heart and The Big Chill. But the top audience prize doesn’t always go to Oscar hopefuls, as evidenced by such titles as Where Do We Go Now?, Bella, Eastern Promises, Zatoichi and The Hanging Garden.
The People’s Choice Award for Documentary this year went to The Cave, followed by runners-up I Am Not Alone and Dads from director Bryce Dallas Howard. The Midnight Madness People’s Choice winner was The Platform.
Other awards announced today were The Twentieth Century as Best First Canadian Film, Antigone as Best Canadian Film, 1982 as the NETPAC winner, Delphine as Best Canadian Short and All Cats Are Grey in the Dark as Best Short.