The awards ceremony that wraps up the Toronto International Film Festival can feel like a weird grab-bag event. Toronto doesn't hand out the Best Actor / Actress / Director-type awards that dominate so many film awards ceremonies. Most of its individual awards are narrowly focused on local cinema or other specific areas of interest, set by the corporations or associations that sponsor them. Some of them come from small groups with big acronyms and specific agendas, like the FIPRESCI awards (from the Fédération Internationale de la Presse Cinématographique) and the NETPAC prize (Network for the Promotion of Asian Pacific Cinema). But the award that most matters is the People's Choice, widely seen as an early Oscars predictor. This year's award, to no one's surprise, went to the festival's standout people-pleaser: Damien Chazelle's La La Land. This tribute to old-school Hollywood musicals, starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, played the festival to stellar critical reviews and a huge emotional reaction at screenings.
'La La Land' is the kind of movie cinephiles love
Even in a crowded field of contenders, the win seemed inevitable. La La Land is the kind of movie cinephiles love to love: it's impeccably made and passionately performed, and it's full of ain't-movies-great references to the romance of cinema and to nostalgia for specific movies and cinematic eras. The Verge crew at Toronto fell for it, too: it made our list of the best films at TIFF. And while it's too early to start making Oscar predictions, a TIFF People's Choice win carries a lot of weight: previous winners include The King's Speech, 12 Years a Slave, Argo, Dallas Buyers Club, and Slumdog Millionaire.
The festival's other notable award, the Platform Prize, is only in its second year. The Platform, aimed at "championing aesthetic magnificence" and recognizing "directors' cinema," was juried this year by American director Brian De Palma, Chadian director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon star Zhang Ziyi. They awarded the prize to Pablo Larraín's Jackie, another festival breakout — and one of the few independent movies to get a distribution deal out of TIFF, in what's become a slow year for film-festival dealmaking. Jackie, like La La Land, got an early boost from rapturous reviews highlighting Larraín's imaginative directing and Natalie Portman's performance as first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, in the aftermath of President Kennedy's assassination. The praise for Portman has been so universal, pundits are already predicting she'll face off against La La Land's Emma Stone for Best Actress at the next Academy Awards. It's interesting that both of Toronto's biggest breakouts are color-intensive, creatively staged nostalgia pieces centered on strong performances. These are the kinds of stylish, beautifully assembled projects that should shoulder out the competition at any awards ceremony. Including the upcoming Oscars.
Here the rest of TIFF's awards list for 2016:
Short Cuts Award for Best Canadian Short Film: Alexandre Dostie's Mutants
Short Cuts Award for Best Short Film: Raymund Ribay Gutierrez's Imago
City of Toronto Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film: Johnny Ma's Old Stone
Canada Goose Award for Best Canadian Feature Film: Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie's Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves
FIPRESCI Discovery Prize: Mbithi Masya's Kati Kati
FIPRESCI Special Presentations Prize: Feng Xiaogang's I Am Not Madame Bovary
NETPAC Award for World or International Asian Film Premiere: Maysaloun Hamoud's In Between
Grolsch People's Choice Midnight Madness Award: Ben Wheatley's Free Fire
Grolsch People's Choice Documentary Award: Raoul Peck's I Am Not Your Negro
Dropbox Discovery Programme Filmmakers Award: Yanillys Perez's Jeffrey
For the deeply curious, the entire 67-minute Toronto awards ceremony is on YouTube: