'King's Speech' wins TIFF audience award


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TORONTO -- The odds on Colin Firth grabbing the best actor Oscar improved Sunday as Tom Hooper's "The King's Speech" picked up the top audience award, the Cadillac People's Choice Award, at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Toronto festival director Piers Handling branded "Speech," which the Weinstein Co. will release stateside Nov. 26, as one of his "personal favorites" in this year's lineup and praised the performances of Firth and co-stars Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush.

"It is a very, very moving story," he said of Hooper's portrait of the father of Queen Elizabeth II.

"Speech" will look to follow a host of festival titles including "Precious," "Slumdog Millionaire," "No Country for Old Men," "Crash," and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" that rode goodwill from Toronto's top audience award to Oscar success.

This year's class of Oscar contenders coming out of Toronto includes Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan," with Natalie Portman's portrait of a driven ballerina, and Danny Boyle's survival film "127 Hours," which stars James Franco, both from Fox Searchlight; John Cameron Mitchell's "Rabbit Hole," with its star turn from Nicole Kidman, which was acquired by Lionsgate; Sony Pictures Classics acquisition "Barney's Version," for its lead performance by Paul Giamatti; the Weinstein Co.'s "Blue Valentine," starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams; and possibly Ben Affleck's "The Town," which Warner Bros. opened during the weekend.

Among the other prizes unveiled at TIFF's wrap luncheon Sunday, Denis Villeneuve won for best Canadian feature for "Incendies," which was picked up by Sony Classics during the festival. Other winners includes Jim Mickle's vampire thriller "Stake Land," which took home the Midnight Madness audience award, and Sturla Gunnarsson's "Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie," which grabbed the documentary prize.

Shawn Ku's "Beautiful Boy," acquired by Anchor Bay Films, earned the FIPRESCI critics prize, just as his film about a couple reeling from the news that their college-age son has become a mass murderer gets set to bow at the San Sebastian festival. The FIPRESCI prize for special presentations went to Pierre Thoretton's "L'amour fou."

"The film industry seems to be coming back in terms of buying films presented at the festival," Toronto festival co-director Cameron Bailey said Sunday, calling the festival a "turnaround" for an indie film world seen by many as in crisis.

Bailey touted TIFF as a savior, with more than 20 of his programming team's titles having sold into the U.S. and other territories. Fest organizers, knowing Toronto's future depends on the length of its red carpets and size of its film deals, went for decidedly commercial titles this year, prizing commerce over art to keep the film buyers and sellers coming back.

Bailey insisted that Toronto did not seek out acquisition titles for distributors, only films that connected with local audiences.

"We don't program looking for sales titles," he insisted.

Many of the festival titles started out in Venice and Telluride but were road-tested in Toronto in front of real public audiences.
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