Damien Chazelle's melancholy musical “La La Land” was the big winner at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday, picking up the gathering's coveted People's Choice Award.
Chazelle's homage to midcentury American and French musicals — with the help of Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and other very 21st century stars — received one of the strongest responses in recent TIFF memory when it premiered at the festival Monday night.
The Los Angeles-set movie follows a young couple, a would-be musician and actress played respectively by Gosling and Stone, as they fall in and out of love. The film intersperses song-and-dance numbers with chunks of seriocomic dialogue about the couple’s various struggles, all against a backdrop of glittering L.A. sights.
"I wanted this film to speak to the way even far-fetched dreams can guide us," Chazelle said via a statement after the prize was announced.
Voted on strictly by festgoers, the People's Choice has proved to be an uncanny indicator of movies that can compete broadly at the Academy Awards, with "American Beauty" and "Slumdog Millionaire" among the former winners.
Seven of the past eight People’s Choice victors went on to be nominated for Oscar’s best picture award. Three of them ("12 Years A Slave," "The King's Speech" and "Slumdog") went on to win the top prize. Last year, Lenny Abrahamson's feminist drama "Room," starring Brie Larson, won the People's Choice before going on to be nominated for four Oscars, including picture, director and actress, netting Larson the prize.
Garth Davis' "Lion,” a fact-based look at an Indian boy separated from his family, was the first runner-up on Sunday. Mira Nair's Ugandan chess pic, "Queen of Katwe," was the second runner-up.
TIFF is generally considered a key portent for the upscale film season that follows.
In addition to “La La,” “Lion” and “Katwe,” other movies that have distinguished themselves over the previous 10 days include Barry Jenkins' gay coming-of-age story "Moonlight," Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi drama “Arrival” and Kelly Fremon Craig's crowd-pleasing high school dramedy "The Edge of Seventeen."
Separate People's Choice prizes were also handed out in specialized sections. Ben Wheatley's gun-themed action-thriller, "Free Fire," won in the genre-aimed Midnight Madness section while Raoul Peck's James Baldwin-oriented "I am Not Your Negro" took the documentary prize.
A number of lower-profile awards were also handed out Sunday as TIFF winds down. Among them was a jury prize in the fest's Platform section, which went to Pablo Larrain's Jackie Kennedy snapshot, "Jackie." The film stars Natalie Portman as the grieving widow in the days after the JFK assassination. It was bought by Fox Searchlight at the festival, which is expected to build an awards campaign around it. The Platform jury was made up of Brian De Palma, Zhang Ziyi and Mahamat-Saleh Haroun:
The International Federation of Film Critics, meanwhile, gave its prize in the special presentations category to Feng Xiaogang’s "I Am Not Madame Bovary," a look at a woman confronting the criminal justice system in China.
And in the more unofficial realm of best name — both award and movie title — Mathieu Denis’ and Simon Lavoie's "Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves" won the Canada Goose Award for best Canadian feature.
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