Chloé Zhao's Frances McDormand-starring drama cements itself into the Oscar race.
Credit: Searchlight Pictures

The Toronto International Film Festival has given a jolt of golden energy to a gloomy awards season.

Chloé Zhao's stunning drama Nomadland — starring Frances McDormand as a woman traveling the country in her van — has claimed the annual event's prestigious People's Choice Award, cementing it as a clear frontrunner for Best Picture at the upcoming Oscars, which were pushed back from Feb. 28 to April 25 due to the coronavirus pandemic's impact on theatrical release windows for potential contenders.

The critically lauded film received standout notices for Zhao's direction and McDormand's leading performance, which is also expected to make waves throughout Oscar season. The TIFF People's Choice Award has long established front-running titles in the Oscar race. Recently, across the last 10 years, nine TIFF People's Choice winners have gone on to win (three) or be nominated for (six) the Academy's Best Picture prize, while that number grows to 13 across the last 20 years.

Runners-up for the TIFF People's Choice Award include Regina King's feature directorial debut One Night in Miami and Tracey Deer's Beans, while Chloë Grace Moretz's horror flick Shadow in the Cloud took the Midnight Madness People's Choice prize.

Last year's winner, Taika Waititi's historical satire Jojo Rabbit, ultimately received six Oscar nods, winning one for Best Adapted Screenplay. Eventual Best Picture winner, Bong Joon-ho's thriller Parasite, screened at TIFF, though it finished the People's Choice race as a runner-up behind Jojo Rabbit and Noah Baumbach's Netflix drama Marriage Story.

Still, the 2020 awards season remains as unpredictable as ever due to theater closures and altered release dates in the wake of the spread of COVID-19. Major Oscar contenders have, nonetheless, emerged on the scene as typical Oscar launching pads like TIFF, the Venice International Film Festival, and the New York Film Festival held adapted editions, while other highly influential awards-positioning festivals like Telluride and Cannes canceled their 2020 installments altogether.

Contenders to watch that have emerged out of TIFF and Venice so far include Zhao's Nomadland (also Venice's Golden Lion winner), Kornél Mundruczó Pieces of a Woman (primarily for Vanessa Kirby and Ellen Burstyn's performances), King'st One Night in Miami, and the Kate Winslet/Saoirse Ronan same-sex period romance Ammonite.

Nomadland is set for theatrical release on Dec. 4 via Searchlight Pictures.

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