TORONTO - The signs could be pointing to award season accolades for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” after the dark comedy captured the People's Choice prize at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The Martin McDonagh film about revenge and redemption in small-town America beat out several other buzzworthy titles for the Grolsch People's Choice Award at a ceremony Sunday closing out the 11-day festival. The TIFF win comes on the heels of best screenplay honours for “Three Billboards” at the Venice Film Festival.
Oscar winner Frances McDormand is emerging as a contender for another best actress statuette for her powerful turn as a grieving mother seeking vengeance after the rape and murder of her daughter. Her fight for justice arrives in the form of three large-scale signs targeted toward police chief William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson.)
“It's a story that connects with people. It's really well-acted,” festival director Piers Handling said of “Three Billboards.” “It's just told with humour and grit and rawness and doesn't pull its punches.”
First runner-up was “I, Tonya,” a mockumentary-style dark comedy starring Margot Robbie as disgraced U.S. figure skater Tonya Harding. The Craig Gillespie film explores Harding's hardscrabble upbringing and ascension up the skating ranks, and looks at the infamous 1994 attack on American rival Nancy Kerrigan.
Second runner-up was Luca Guadagnino's “Call Me By Your Name,” a heartbreaking love story and coming-of-age tale set in the Italian countryside. The film centres on 17-year-old Elio (Timothee Chalamet) who finds himself infatuated with an older student (Armie Hammer) working for his father.
TIFF's annual people's choice prize, which includes a $15,000 cash award, is often regarded as a bellwether for success at the Academy Awards.
Last year's winner was “La La Land,” which scored a record-tying 14 Oscar nominations. The Los Angeles-set musical starring London, Ont., native Ryan Gosling went on to win six Oscars, including best actress for Emma Stone and the director prize for Damien Chazelle.
In a historic gaffe, “La La Land” was mistakenly announced as the best picture winner at this year's ceremony before the prize was awarded to “Moonlight.”
The $30,000 Canada Goose Award for best Canadian feature film went to Robin Aubert's zombie film “Les Affames.”
Aubert was unable to attend the awards, but paid homage to David Cronenberg in a written statement. He said he is “forever indebted” to the legendary filmmaker for proving “forward-thinking genre films can also be made in Canada.”
“Sir, it would be my privilege to sit down and have a beer with you someday.”
The $15,000 City of Toronto Award for best Canadian first feature film went to Wayne Wapeemukwa for “Luk' Luk'l.” The film is a hybrid documentary about five Vancouverites living on the fringes of society during the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Other winners included Warwick Thornton's “Sweet Country,” which captured the $25,000 Toronto Platform Prize, the festival's juried program that champions director's cinema from around the world.
“It's not an easy film to watch; but as far as being Indigenous and an Indigenous filmmaker, it's the truth,” said Thornton of “Sweet Country,” which set in 1929 in Australia's Northern Territory.
“It's the truth I needed to get out there not only about Australia, but to to the world, to say there's an alternative history, an oral history that we have passed down; and we're starting to use for celluloid to tell, and that's really important for us,” he said.
The people's choice Midnight Madness Award went to Joseph Kahn's “Bodied,” followed by first runner-up “The Disaster Artist” from James Franco, and second runner-up “Brawl in Cell Block 99” from director Craig Zahler.
The people's choice documentary prize went to Agnes Varda and JR's “Faces Places.” First runner-up was awarded to Tragically Hip documentary “Long Time Running” from Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier, with second runner-up prize going to Morgan Spurlock's “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!”
Iranian-born, Montreal-based filmmaker Sadaf Foroughi won the Discovery program prize for “Ava.” Her directorial debut centres on an Iranian teenage girl struggling between traditions and modernity, and also earned an honourable mention for best Canadian first feature film.
“I think it's very important to talk about women's issues all around the world because still we are facing gender discrimination,” Foroughi said. “I really wish to have equality soon.”