Kenneth Branagh's Belfast has won the TIFF People's Choice Award, a major precursor accolade that has gone to 9 eventual Best Picture winners or nominees in the last 10 years.

TIFF has turned up the Oscars heat for Kenneth Branagh's Belfast.

The Toronto International Film Festival's top competitive accolade — voted on by public attendees, versus a jury of industry professionals — is regarded as the kingmaker of the pre-Oscars circuit, with nine TIFF People's Choice Award winners going on to win (three) or be nominated (six) for the Academy's Best Picture prize over the last 10 years.

"Our first showing of Belfast at TIFF was one of the most memorable experiences of my entire career," Branagh said during his acceptance speech at Saturday's ceremony, calling the praise "overwhelming" and adding that he and the film's lead actor, Jamie Dornan, "talked about [the experience] long into a memorable night of laughter and tears."

Judi Dench, Jude Hill, and Ciarán Hinds in 'Belfast'
| Credit: focus features

Belfast follows an Irish family (fronted by Dornan and Outlander star Caitríona Balfe) attempting to leave the titular city amid the Protestant and Catholic conflict in the late 1960s.

"He sent me the script before we'd spoken. It's so full of heart, I got emotional reading it. As I said to him the first time we spoke, Ma just felt so familiar to me. You can't help but think about your own childhood, your own mother. It touched me," Balfe recently told EW of working on the film. "On one of our first days together, Ken had me, Judi [Dench], Ciarán [Hinds], and Jamie in a room together, and we talked about our upbringings. Ken asked lots of questions, we all shared. Even though this is Ken's story, he wanted us to connect with the things personal to us, and find similarities between ourselves and his parents."

In the fall of 2020, Chloé Zhao's historic run through awards season with her critically lauded Nomadland kick-started on the festival circuit, with the film winning the top awards in Venice (Golden Lion) and TIFF ahead of its eventual Best Picture victory at the Oscars seven months later.

This year, Jane Campion's The Power of the Dog and Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson's Scarborough finished TIFF as the People's Choice Award runners-up.

Though considerably less stacked than previous years, TIFF's 2021 edition launched major contenders into other Oscar races as well. Jessica Chastain's turn as the legendary televangelist made strides among Best Actress contenders upon the TIFF world premiere of The Eyes of Tammy Faye, while other films — like Kristen Stewart's Spencer — continued building buzz in Toronto after debuting at other festivals around the world.

Other films building significant profiles on the awards trail include Sean Baker's Simon Rex-starring Red Rocket, Peter Dinklage's Cyrano, Joaquin Phoenix's C'Mon C'Mon, and Maggie Gyllenhaal's directorial debut The Lost Daughter starring Olivia Colman and Dakota Johnson — all of which skipped TIFF after screening in Venice and/or Telluride.

Keep up with the state of the Oscar race in EW's Awardist Heat Index, and read all of our TIFF 2021 coverage here.

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