TIFF: Brie Larson's 'Room' Captures Audience Award

Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival

Directors Alan Zweig and Sion Sono also took home big prizes in Toronto.

Lenny Abrahamson's Room has joined the search for the next Oscar frontrunner out of the Toronto Film Festival after picking up the top People's Choice award.

The Canada-Ireland co-production was named the top audience prize winner in Toronto on Sunday, which is often a barometer of future Academy Award nominations. The drama has Brie Larson playing Joy, a young woman kidnapped and held in a tiny, windowless room for seven years with her son Jack, played by 8-year-old Jacob Tremblay.

Larson's star turn in the harrowing drama adapted by Emma Donoghue from her own 2010 best-selling novel will put her firmly into the Oscar best actress race coming out of Toronto. Room, which debuted in Telluride before shifting to Toronto, opens Oct. 16 in a limited bow before expanding nationwide on Nov. 6 courtesy of A24.

Abrahamson's film joins previous TIFF audience award winners like 12 Years a Slave, Slumdog Millionaire and The King's Speech that rode a wave out of Toronto to Academy Awards glory after earning the People's Choice award. 

Piers Handling, CEO of the Toronto Film Festival, said Room is a subtle yet redemptive film, not an overt crowd-pleaser like Slumdog Millionaire or The King's Speech. "It's not a film where you stand up in your seats and cheer. This is a film that rewards careful, patient viewing," he told The Hollywood Reporter on Sunday after the awards ceremony at Bell Lightbox.

The first runner-up behind Room for the top People's Choice award was Pan Nalin's Angry Indian Goddesses, and the second runner-up was Tom McCarthy's Spotlight, the Michael Keaton starrer that bowed in Venice. 

The People's Choice award for best Midnight Madness sidebar title went to Ilya Naishuller's Hardcore, a U.S.-Russia co-production, while the top audience award for documentary was picked up by Evgeny Afineevsky's Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom.

The first-ever juried Platform award for best international film was picked up by Hurt, a documentary about Steve Fonyo, a Canadian marathon-running hero who disgraced himself with run-ins with the law, by Canadian director Alan Zweig. And the NETPAC award for the best Asian film receiving a world or international premiere in Toronto was given to The Whispering Star, a drama about a humanoid robot delivery woman from Japanese director Sion Sono.

Slovakian director Marko Skop's Eva Nova, about a fallen movie star, grabbed the FIPRESCI critics prize for the best title in the Discovery sidebar. The FIPRESCI jury's best Special Presentations program title went to Desierto, from director Jonas Cuaron, who was accompanied onstage to receive his trophy by the movie's star, Gael García Bernal.

The best Canadian feature film trophy went to Stephen Dunn's debut feature, Closet Monster, while the best Canadian first feature film award was picked up Andrew Cividino's Sleeping Giant, which had a North American premiere in Toronto after debuting in Cannes.

The best Canadian short-film awards went to Overpass, a family drama by director Patrice Laliberte, and Maimouna Doucoure's Maman(S).