Toronto Film Festival People’s Choice Award: ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ wins on way to Oscars

Martin McDonagh‘s darkly comic film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday (Sept. 17). Oscar winner Frances McDormand (“Fargo“) plays a grieving mother who tries to shame the local police chief (Woody Harrelson) into investigating the murder of her daughter. McDonagh, a Tony-nominated playwright, won the Best Live Action Short Oscar in 2004 for “Six Shooter.”

The film had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on Sept. 4 where it played to rave reviews. “Three Billboards” is from Fox Searchlight Pictures, the studio that shepherded “12 Years a Slave” and “Birdman” to Best Picture Oscars in 2013 and 2014 respectively. It will be released on Nov. 10 just as awards season kicks into high gear.

While higher profile pictures played at bigger theaters, the festival ensures there is fairness in the  process by giving this award to the film that inspires the biggest percentage of its total audience to drop their stubs into the ballot boxes. Second place went to Craig Gillespie’s “I, Tonya” while Luca Guadagnino’s “Call Me by Your Name” was third.

Of the previous 39 TIFF champs, 15 reaped Best Picture bids at the Oscars and five of them won the top Academy Award: “Chariots of Fire” (1981), “American Beauty” (1999), “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008), “The King’s Speech” (2010) and “12 Years a Slave” (2013). Last year’s TIFF winner, “La La Land,” came painfully close to being the sixth double dipper. It did win six of its 14 Oscar bids, including both Best Director (Damien Chazelle) and Best Actress (Emma Stone).

The other nine TIFF also-rans at the Oscars were “The Big Chill” (1983), “Places in the Heart” (1984), “Shine” (1996), “Life is Beautiful” (1998), “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000), “Precious” (2009), “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012), “The Imitation Game” (2014) and “Room” (2015). That dark drama contended for four Oscars, winning Best Actress (Brie Larson).

In all, 28 of the TIFF top choices have contended in at least one category at the Oscars, winning 51 awards from 148 nominations. And over the years, the stars of 18 TIFF picks for best pic scored a collective 34 Oscar nominations for their performers. Before Stone and Larson, nine others won: Sally Field for “Places in the Heart” (Actress, 1984), Mercedes Ruehl for “The Fisher King” (Best Supporting Actress, 1991), Geoffrey Rush for “Shine” (Actor, 1996), Roberto Benigni for “Life is Beautiful” (Best Actor, 1998), Kevin Spacey for “American Beauty” (Best Actor, 1999), Mo’Nique for “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” (Best Supporting Actress, 2009), Colin Firth for “The King’s Speech” (Best Actor, 2010), Jennifer Lawrence for “Silver Linings Playbook” (Best Actress, 2012) and Lupita Nyong’o for “12 Years a Slave” (Best Supporting Actress, 2013).

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