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'Room' takes top audience award in Toronto, picking up Oscar momentum

'Room' takes top audience award in Toronto, picking up Oscar momentum
Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay in "Room." (George Kraychyk / A24)

Lenny Abrahamson's psychological drama "Room" won the Toronto International Film Festival's People's Choice Award on Sunday, snagging one of the fall season's earliest, if most populist, honors.

Though voted on by the public, the People's Choice is a key indicator of the award season to come. Six of the last seven winners have gone on to be nominated for Oscar's best picture, with half of the six—"Slumdog Millionaire," "The King's Speech" and "!2 Years A Slave"—winning the Academy Awards'  top prize. Unlike other festivals, Toronto does not hand out high–profile jury honors.

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Based on Emma Donoghue's novel, "Room" stars Brie Larson as a woman imprisoned in a shed and Jacob Tremblay as her young son with whom she endures the ordeal. A24 will release the movie in October.

"Room" is considered an early-season favorite in the awards sweepstakes, though the film must overcome the perception of difficult subject matter, which could deter some tastemakers from seeing it. The film does contain a number of moments of warmth and humor. At a party last week following the TIFF premiere, Abrahamson told The Times that part of the goal will be to make potential viewers realize "it's not what they think it is."

Tom McCarthy's "Spotlight," about the Boston Globe's investigation of the Catholic-church abuse scandals of the early 2000s, was named the second runner-up for the People's Choice, while Pan Nalin's Hindi drama "Angry Indian Goddesses" was first runner-up. "Spotlight" is considered another award-season favorite for its ability to tackle a complicated issue, and its screening last week at Toronto, with the real-life reporters present, was one of the most hotly received in recent festival memory.

As a democratic prize -- the winner is chosen by post-screening ballot box -- the People's Choice can also be a harbinger of box office. Last year's winner, the code-breaking drama "The Imitation Game," went on to garner $228 million around the world, including $91 million in the U.S., among the highest specialty-film grosses of the year.

Also on Sunday, Evgeny Afineevsky won the People's Choice Award in the doc category for "Winter on Fire," about the recent Ukrainian revolution, while Ilya Naishuller's "Hardcore," a stylized first-person action movie, took honors in the genre-themed Midnight Madness section.

The Toronto International Film Festival wraps up its 11-day run Sunday. There is little break, however: The New York Film Festival  and a new coterie of hopefuls kick off next weekend.

Twitter: @ZeitchikLAT

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