Runners-up are Craig Gillespie's 'I, Tonya' and Luca Guadagnino's 'Call Me By Your Name'
Credit: Fox Searchlight

A sign of potential Oscar glory has flashed for director Martin McDonagh, as Toronto International Film Festival audiences launched his latest feature, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, into the awards race.

The film, which stars Frances McDormand as a grieving mother who erects a trio of billboards criticizing her small town’s police chief for failing to make any arrests in her daughter’s rape and murder case, has won the prestigious TIFF People’s Choice Award, a key stepping stone on the prospective path to a Best Picture nomination for a film hoping to break into the Oscar conversation.

Unlike Cannes and Venice, TIFF is a largely non-competitive festival, with most of the competition playing out among the buyer’s marketplace, where this year Neon’s $5 million purchase of Margot Robbie’s impending Oscar contender I, Tonya — which surprisingly came as runner-up to Three Billboards — stood out as the hottest transaction of the year. Netflix similarly took on the Jason Sudeikis-Elizabeth Olsen drama Kodachrome, and the Orchard acquired Louis C.K.’s secret directorial effort I Love You, Daddy, which made its world premiere at the festival.

Over the past decade, however, the TIFF People’s Choice Award — determined by the vote of public attendees — has put Oscar frontrunners in prime position as the three-pronged arm of the fall festival circuit (Telluride, Venice, and Toronto) draws to a close.

Since 2007, eight of the last 10 People’s Choice winners have gone on to win or be nominated for the Academy’s Best Picture prize. The only exceptions are 2007’s Eastern Promises and 2010’s Where Do We Go Now?, though the Ellen Page comedy Juno, the 2007 People’s Choice runner-up, ultimately won Best Original Screenplay and got a Best Picture nom at the top of the following year.

Prior to its TIFF victory, Three Billboards competed for Venice’s Golden Lion Award, which ultimately went to Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, a film that many had pegged to win Toronto’s top prize but didn’t even appear in the runner-up slots. After I, Tonya, which will reportedly be released this fall so its new distributors can mount a campaign for Robbie and supporting actress Allison Janney, Luca Guadagnino’s same-sex love story Call Me By Your Name took third place in Toronto, maintaining the rapturous support it first garnered at Sundance in January.

For now, Three Billboards will have to translate its TIFF support into precursor affection as the critics groups and guilds prepare for their annual awards ceremonies in the coming months. McDormand, a prior Oscar winner for her work in Joel and Ethan Coen’s classic Fargo, seems likely to remain a strong competitor among the crowded Best Actress set, while costar Sam Rockwell has drawn some of the best reviews of his career for his work in Three Billboards, a signal that he too could score a nomination — and perhaps a win — if Best Supporting Actor remains as barren as it has been thus far. McDonagh has good standing with Oscar voters as it is, seeing as the British filmmaker won his first Oscar for his short film Six Shooter back in 2006 and received a further nomination in 2009 for penning the script to the Colin Farrel dark comedy In Bruges.

In addition to The Shape of Water, likely Oscar contenders that didn’t reap TIFF awards but still have solid footing in the race ahead include Joe Wright’s Winston Churchill biopic Darkest Hour, which features a performance by current Best Actor frontrunner Gary Oldman; Greta Gerwig’s semi-autobiographical drama Lady Bird; Angelina Jolie’s emotionally charged adaptation of Loung Ung’s memoir of wartime Cambodia First They Killed My Father; and the crowd-pleasing sports dramedy Battle of the Sexes, starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell as tennis pros Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.

Fox Searchlight will release Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri in theaters on Nov. 10. Read on for a full list of 2017 TIFF winners below.

People’s Choice Award

  • Midnight Madness: Bodied, Joseph Kahn (Runner-up: The Disaster Artist, James Franco)
  • Documentary: Faces Places, Agnès Varda, JR (Runner-up: Long Time Running, Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier)
  • People’s Choice: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Martin McDonagh (Runner-up: I, Tonya, Craig Gillespie. Second runner-up: Call Me By Your Name, Luca Guadagnino)

Discovery Programme Filmmakers Award:

Best Canadian Short Film: Pre-Drink, Marc-Antoine Lemire

Best Short Film: Min börda, Niki Lindroth von Bahr

Best Canadian First Feature: Luk’Luk’I, Wayne Wapeemukwa

Best Canadian Feature Film: Les Affamés, Robin Aubert

Fipresci Prizes of the International Federation of Film Critics

  • Discovery: AVA, Sadaf Foroughi
  • Special Presentations: El Autor, Manuel Martín Cuenca

Network for the Promotion of Asian and Pacific Cinema Award: The Great Buddha+, Huang Hsin-Yao

Toronto Platform Prize: Sweet Country, Warwick Thornton

Call Me by Your Name
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