Toronto Film Festival People’s Choice Award: ‘Jojo Rabbit’ wins on way to Oscars

Taika Waititi’s serio-comic”Jojo Rabbit” won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday (Sept. 15). This New Zealand director is a triple threat. He adapted Christine Leunens‘ novel “Caging Skies” and co-stars as Adolf Hitler, the imaginary friend of Jojo “Rabbit” Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), a young boy whose mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in the attic. This crowd-pleaser will be released by Fox Searchlight on Oct. 18 just as awards season kicks into high gear.

While higher profile pictures played at bigger theaters multiple times, TIFF ensures there is fairness in the process by giving this award to the film that inspires the biggest percentage of its total audience to vote online. Second place went to Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” (which also showcases Johansson) while Bong Joon-ho’s Cannes champ “Parasite” was third.

This win for “Jojo Rabbit” certainly raises its Oscar hopes. Of the previous 41 TIFF champs, 17 reaped Best Picture bids at the Academy Awards and six of the Toronto top picks went on to win the top Oscar: “Chariots of Fire” (1981), “American Beauty” (1999), “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008), “The King’s Speech” (2010), “12 Years a Slave” (2013) and “Green Book” (2018).

Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula, chairmen of Fox Searchlight Pictures, celebrated the news. “We saw firsthand how Toronto International Film Festival audiences responded to ‘Jojo Rabbit.’ We’re incredibly proud of this film, Taika and the entire filmmaking team, and the message that love can rise above evil – we can’t wait to introduce ‘Jojo Rabbit’ to the rest of the world!”

Waititi was equally effusive, thanking the TIFF audiences for this “tremendous honor.” He observed that this “is a story of tolerance and understanding set in a time that lacked both, and I hope in making this film we can remind ourselves that it’s still possible to connect with each other even under the most chaotic of circumstances, no matter what age, religion, race or gender. It was an incredible experience making this film and I’m happy the world had the opportunity to see it for the first time at TIFF.”

The 2017 favorite at Toronto, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” fell short in the top race at the Oscars to “The Shape of Water.” However it did win Oscars for leading lady Frances McDormand and scene stealer Sam Rockwell. The 2016 TIFF winner, “La La Land,” came painfully close to being the sixth double dipper. It did prevail with 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).

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In all, 30 of the TIFF top choices have contended in at least one category at the Oscars, winning 56 awards from 160 nominations. And over the years, the stars of 20 TIFF picks for best pic scored a collective 39 Oscar nominations for their performers. The most recent of these was Mahershala Ali who won Best Supporting Actor for his scene-stealing portrayal of Don Shirley in “Green Book.”

Along with McDormand, Rockwell, 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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