Toronto: 'Imitation Game' Audience Award Win Puts Weinsteins Back in Oscar Season Pole Position

With Sunday afternoon's announcement that The Weinstein Co.'s The Imitation Game has won the Toronto Film Festival's people's choice award, we now have, for the first time this season, a real frontrunner for the best picture Oscar.

The Toronto moviegoers who determine the winner of the prize, the fest's highest honor, either by depositing their ticket stub in a box after a screening or by voting online, are generally very in tune with the Academy. Indeed, TIFF's audience award has been one of the better harbingers of Oscar success over the 36 years in which it has been presented, with almost every one of its honorees going on to garner some measure of Academy recognition.

Collectively, TIFF audience award winners have accounted for 122 Oscar nominations, including 12 for best picture and nine for best foreign language film. Forty-three of those nominations resulted in Oscar wins, including five for best picture: Chariots of FireAmerican BeautySlumdog Millionaire, The King's Speech and 2013's 12 Years a Slave. This has helped to cement TIFF’s reputation as one of the first important stops on the awards trail, along with the Telluride Film Festival, which precedes it by a week and does not award prizes.

The Imitation Game, a period piece drama that recounts the true story of Alan Turing, a Brit who decoded Nazi communications during World War II, stars fan favorites Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley. It is the first English-language film ever directed by Norwegian filmmaker Morten Tyldum (Headhunters), and the third Weinstein Co. film to win the TIFF audience award in the last five years (following The King's Speech in 2010 and Silver Linings Playbook in 2012).

Other films that were thought to be top contenders for this year's TIFF audience award included Sony Pictures Classics' Foxcatcher, Open Road Films' Nightcrawler, Focus Features' The Theory of Everything and Fox Searchlight's Wild.

The endorsement of The Imitation Game — which had its world premiere on Aug. 30 in Telluride — by audiences in Toronto appears to undermine TIFF organizers' rationale for instituting a controversial new rule this year that forced films which screened in Telluride out of the first weekend of TIFF. As it turns out, TIFF moviegoers don't seem to care where a standout film is first screened, as long as it is screened at their fest.

The next major stop on the awards season circuit is the weeks-long New York Film Festival, which kicks off on Sept. 26, and at which several of the aforementioned contenders will be screening again.

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg