The Toronto International Film Festival wrapped with some surprise award wins Sunday, including Peter Farrelly’s “Green Book” taking the People’s Choice prize over some big titles that went into the 11-day movie marathon with major hype.
The comedy-drama, which stars Mahershala Ali as a classical pianist and Viggo Mortensen as his concert-tour chauffeur across the American South in the 1960s, beat out first runner-up “If Beale Street Could Talk” by Barry Jenkins, and second runner-up “Roma” by Alfonso Cuaron.
“Roma,” as well as the Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga musical romance “A Star Is Born” and the Neil Armstrong biopic “First Man” starring Ryan Gosling, arrived at TIFF with deafening buzz after stellar debuts at the Venice Film Festival.
“Green Book,” by contrast, made its world premiere at TIFF and gained momentum as critical raves and word of mouth spread from screenings that had audiences applauding multiple times throughout the film.
“’Green Book’ just surprised everybody and came out of the woodwork,” said festival director and CEO Piers Handling.
“I think it was smart because they came in and it wasn’t over-hyped, it just snuck in under the radar.”
The $15,000 People’s Choice prize is sponsored by Grolsch. The honour is often a predictor of Academy Award success.
Several previous People’s Choice winners have gone on to win the best-picture Oscar, including “12 Years a Slave,” “The King’s Speech” and “Slumdog Millionaire.”
Last year’s People’s Choice winner was “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
Handling said he thinks “Green Book” struck a chord because of its “smart” blend of top-notch acting and compelling story that speaks to contemporary issues.
“I think the film was just so well-told, it’s witty, it’s funny, but it’s also about what’s going on right now in our society,” Handling said.
This year, votes for the audience prize were cast exclusively online, instead of through physical tickets in a ballot box. Participants didn’t have to enter a ticket number.
“We made sure that all of the people that voted were actually registered TIFF attendees, they could only vote once for the same film,” Handling said.
“If there were discrepancies, we certainly looked into that. So we were very careful in terms of how the awards were actually calibrated.”
Other surprise winners on Sunday included Mumbai native Vasan Bala’s Bollywood-infused action film “The Man Who Feels No Pain” getting the Grolsch People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award. It beat out first runner-up David Gordon Green’s highly anticipated “Halloween” and second runner-up Sam Levinson’s “Assassination Nation.”
“I feel like a unicorn,” Bala said onstage in his thank-you speech, holding his award to his forehead to mimic the mythical creature.
The $30,000 Canada Goose Award for best Canadian feature film went to Saguenay, Que.-born Sebastien Pilote’s “The Fireflies Are Gone,” about a teenage girl who longs to escape from her small industrial Quebecois life.
“I’m surprised because there were so many good filmmakers in this section,” Pilote said.
“I saw the Xavier Dolan film, I love the film and that filmmaker, and Kim Nguyen with that incredible performance by his actor, and Maxime Giroux is maybe the filmmaker in Quebec that I respect the most.”
Other winners included Wi Ding Ho’s “Cities of Last Things,” which won the $25,000 juried Toronto Platform Prize.
The $15,000 City of Toronto Award for best Canadian first feature film went to Katherine Jerkovic’s “Roads in February.”
Aalam-Warqe Davidian’s “Fig Tree” won the lucrative Audentia Award for best female director. That prize is worth 30,000 Euros, or about C$45,000.
And the prize of the International Federation of Film Critics for the Discovery program went to “Float Like a Butterfly” by Ireland’s Carmel Winters.
She had another big milestone at the fest: she got married at Toronto City Hall to the film’s production designer and her longtime partner, Toma McCullim, with several festival employees as witnesses.
“I looked out and I was going, ‘I have not met these people before, but they are loving us and I am loving them,”’ she said.
“I felt when I came to Toronto I met new family at TIFF and they witnessed us getting married.”