TIFF 2012: Predicting the People's Choice Award

Last year's TIFF winner Where Do We Go Now?

The 2012 Toronto International Film Festival is just days away. Telluride is over and Venice is winding down its back half, so word is out on some of the TIFF features. Ben Affleck’s Argo and Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell seem to be among the most widely fêted films of those festivals, with good buzz also going to Central Park Five. The most hyped film going into TIFF is easily Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, which received good word on the Lido where it had its “world premiere”. I’m sad that I don’t have any of these films on my line-up, especially Polley’s film, but I made the choice to drop Stories from the busy first weekend because it is scheduled to play in Ottawa at The Bytowne in October. Personally, I’m already sick of hearing about The Master, so I’m going to wait for a bit of a buffer between the festival and the film’s inevitably delayed Ottawa release in order to enjoy it to the fullest. Every other blogger/critic seems to be drafting an epic poem in praise of PTA, anyways, so it might be worthwhile to see something else.

Even though The Master seems to be the favourite going in to the festival, I don’t think it will be the favourite coming out. Last year The Artist seemed poised to triumph, and once again, I think that the BlackBerry People’s Choice Award seems destined for something else. All bets are off on predicting the People’s Choice Award after Where Do We Go Now? made a surprise win last year; however, film festivals tend to attract a certain kind of audience, and an uplifting slice of world cinema such as Where Do We Go Now? isn’t such an extreme choice when one looks at it more closely. Like the previous winners The King’s Speech, Precious, and Slumdog Millionaire, Nadine Labaki’s film is a celebration of the human spirit in times of adversity. This factor doesn’t help explain Eastern Promises, but a trend of four in a row offers a decent starting point.

It’s important to remember that many moviegoers at Toronto see upwards of three films a day. I find that a busy slate favours the films with an obvious emotional pull: you might appreciate some of the more ambitious/dense films a few days later, but a film that tugs on heartstrings might benefit from the immediate choice that goes into casting a ballot when a viewer leaves the theatre. I’m not trying to cheapen films that are ripe with emotion, but as I found last year when seeing The Descendants on a busy day, it eclipsed the other films that day thanks to its poignancy and humanity.

With these factors in mind, let us look at five films that might be poised to triumph at TIFF:

1. Rebelle (War Witch)
Rebelle has already been puffed up a bit on this site, beginning with my post on potential candidates for Canada’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. I still think Rebelle will be our Oscar pick because it has been winning hearts and prizes at virtually every festival it plays. It racked up a win for Best Film at Australia’s Possible Worlds Canadian Film Festival since the last post, with jury leader Eddie Cockrell noting, “Equal parts haunting, bewitching and unforgettable, War Witch is a courageous and important film about determination and survival set against the backdrop of the horrors of war.” War Witch sounds like it has all the right ingredients to be the People’s Choice. (If not, it’s surely a contender for Best Canadian Film.) It’s been five years since a Canadian film won at TIFF, and I’d personally love to see a film win on our own turf. Rebelle, directed by Kim Nguyen, could possibly be the film to do it.

2. Amour
The festival could make history this year by seeing the top prize at TIFF match the top prize at Cannes. Michael Haneke is always a festival favourite regardless of where his films screen, so Amour might end up as the undisputed festival champ of the year. I personally find that Haneke’s cold stories about a couple named Georges and Anne always make for a film that is more to be admired than to be enjoyed. No matter how much I appreciate them, I always feel like I’m watching them from a considerable distance. (Perhaps that’s the point.) However, the response from Cannes, not to mention the film’s title, suggests that Amour is a case in which Haneke aims for both the heart and the head. 

3. English Vinglish
If there is one film that should be considered an event among the Gala screenings at TIFF, it’s English Vinglish. This globetrotting Bollywood film marks the return of Indian superstar Sridevi after a fifteen-year absence from the screen, so you can expect the red carpet at Roy Thomson Hall to be absolute madness next Friday. English Vinglish should please Bollywood fans with the actress’s comeback alone, and perhaps the transnational flavour of the story about language barriers and cross-cultural travel could earn some extra fives on the ballots from the crowd. Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding might not have landed Jane Fonda the comeback she deserved at TIFF last year, but maybe this first feature from writer/director Gauri Shinde will relaunch Sridevi’s career with a festival win. The chaos of flashbulbs at RTH will ensure great exposure regardless!

4. The Sessions
After scooping the Audience Award at Sundance, plus a jury prize for ensemble acting, The Sessions could be this year’s film to gain major Oscar traction (if it doesn’t have it already) following a strong reception at TIFF. The film, formerly titled The Surrogate, is the story of a paralyzed man (John Hawkes, a prospective Best Actor nominee) who hires a prostitute (Helen Hunt, back in the race for the first time since her win for 1997’s As Good as it Gets) to help him lose his virginity. Reviews for The Sessions say that the film is a heartwarming and mature story of sexuality and of living life to the fullest. A feel good movie – and a true story to boot – The Sessions is one film I’m hoping to make a late addition to my line-up. Maybe on Sunday’s free screening of the People’s Choice Award winner?

5. The Impossible
I don’t know how I feel about The Impossible. I was intrigued when there was only a Spanish-dubbed trailer floating around the net, but my desire to see the film waned once an English one surfaced. I can’t say why, since I’m a big fan of Naomi Watts, and early word on the film, especially regarding her performance, is strong. Even though I won’t be seeing the film at the festival (the screenings conflict with Midnight’s Children and Quartet), The Impossible is one film that I might suggest to friends/family who want to see a film at TIFF, but are not necessarily in the mood for a “festival film.” The Impossible looks like it has considerable crossover potential between the mainstream audiences and the art house crowd. J.A. Bayona, director of the Spanish horror hit The Orphanage, guides Watts and co-star Ewan McGregor in a story of a family trying to reunite in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The special effects of the big waves plus the new 3D sound might make The Impossible ride a wave of praise from TIFF to its theatrical release in December.

Now that we’ve started talking about the films at the festival, here are some predictions (for entertainment purposes only) for the other awards at the festival:

BlackBerry People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award:
-The ABCs of Death
 (alt: John Dies at the End)
BlackBerry People’s Choice Documentary Award:
- An Act of Killing
(alt: A Liar's Autobiography -- The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman)
City of Toronto & Canada Goose Award for Best Canadian Feature Film:
-Stories We Tell
(alt: Rebelle)
The SKYY Vodka Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film:
-Picture Day
(alt: Blackbird)
Award for Best Canadian Short:
-Shit Girls Say
(alt: Frost)
FIPRESCI Prize: Special Presentations:
-A Late Quartet
(alt: Lore)
-Out in the Dark
(alts: Fill the Void, The Brass Teapot)

So, where do we go now? To the festival of course!
Are there any films that you think could take the top prize?