The Toronto International Film Festival helps the blurry Oscar picture snap into focus. Movies that we will be talking about for the next few months tend to debut during the September film festival, and movies that take home a coveted award at TIFF often do very, very well at the Academy Awards. Which is why, over the weekend, Damien Chazelle's contemporary musical La La Land took a huge step toward punching its Oscar ticket by taking home the annual Audience Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Technically dubbed the Grolsch People's Choice Award, this trophy is voted on by audiences attending screenings at the Toronto Film Festival, and has been handed out for the past 39 years. This year's winner, Damien Chazelle's La La Land, is a spectacular, crowd-pleasing musical about two star-crossed lovers -- Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) -- trying to stake their personal and professional claims in Los Angeles. The award given to La La Land, according to an official press release, offers a $15,000 cash prize and custom award, sponsored by Grolsch. The second runner up for this year's prize was Mira Nair's Queen of Katwe, while Garth Davis's Lion was named the first runner up (and got a LOT of buzz for its tearjerking nature).
Why is this good news for La La Land's Oscar hopes? Just scan the last few titles to win the People's Choice Awards. It synchs up beautifully with movies that were either nominated for Best Picture by the Academy Awards, or that actually took home the Oscar for Best Picture a few months after winning at TIFF. Look at this breakdown, from the past 10 years:
2006 -- Bella
2007 -- Eastern Promises
2008 -- Slumdog Millionaire (Best Picture Winner)
2009 -- Precious (Best Picture Nominee)
2010 -- The King's Speech (Winner)
2011 -- Where Do We Go Now?
2012 -- Silver Linings Playbook (Nominee)
2013 -- 12 Years a Slave (Winner)
2014 -- The Imitation Game (Nominee)
2015 -- Room (Nominee)
Does that mean that Damien Chazelle's La La Land is a lock for an Oscar nomination? Not at all, but I think it means it has pretty good odds. As I wrote in a previous column, the movie checks almost all of the boxes that the Academy looks for in a Best Picture nomination, none more important than the fact that it's a celebration of the art of movie-making, and of chasing one's dreams in the entertainment field. That fact, alone, helped the silent-film experiment The Artist roll over the competition back in 2011. Could it work for La La Land, as well?
La La Land opens wide in December, but between now and then, expect Lionsgate to use this Toronto win, and other regional festival accolades, to bolster the movie's Oscar dreams. It's certainly worthy of this year's top prize at the Academy Awards.