The year is not even two weeks old but it already has one electrifyingly brilliant film to its credit.
"The King's Speech," a story of Britain's King George VI, won the coveted Cadillac People's Choice Audience Award Sunday at the Toronto International Film Festival -- and an audience member won a new Cadillac. The film -- which stars Colin Firth as the King and Helena Bonham-Carter as Elizabeth, his wife and mother of Elizabeth II -- is considered a sure thing for Academy nominations.
The story takes place in 1936, "the year of the three kings," when Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) ascended to the throne after the death of George V (Michael Gambon). After Edward (later the Duke of Windsor) abdicated for "the woman I love," his younger brother the Duke of York (Colin Firth) became George VI. He was plagued by a stutter and was reluctant to speak in public; he benefitted from speech therapy from a determined Australian named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). In a roundup of British acting talent, the film also stars Timothy Spall, Jennifer Ehle, Derek Jacobi and Helena Bonham-Carter as Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, whose daughter became Elizabeth II. It was directed by Tom Hooper ("The Damned United").
The People's Choice is voted on by moviegoers who can submit a ballot after every screening. TIFF claims to have a system to massage the returns so that films playing in smaller theaters are not penalized and public affection is accurately reflected.
Denis Villeneuve's "Incendies," a film made in Montreal, won the City of Toronto Award as best Canadian feature. Earlier in September, it was an enormous success at Telluride, and also seemed destined for a nomination. It involves two Canadian immigrants from the Middle East whose dying mother sends them on a journey to land they've never seen, to find a brother they didn't know they had.
Runner-up for the People's Choice was Justin Chadwick's "First Grader," the story of an 84-year-old Kenyan who fights for the right to learn how to read and write.
The Documentary Award was won by Sturla Gunnarsson's "Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie," the life story of the famed 75-year-old Canadian author concerned with the natural sciences.
The festival has a Midnight Madness section devoted to just the sorts of films that makes you think of. The section winner was Jim Mickle's "Stake Land," about the kinds of characters you associate with stakes.
Deborah Chow won the award for best Canadian first feature for her "The High Cost of Living," starring Zach Braff and Isabelle Blais in a drama about a pregnant woman who loses her child in an accident. The prize for best Canadian short went to Vincent Biron for "Les Fleurs de l'Age," an 18-minute about four children who do a little coming of age.
Separate awards were given by FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics, which sponsors a jury at all major festivals. Its Discovery award to Shawn Ku for "Beautiful Boy," starring Michael Sheen and Maria Bello as the parents of a son who committed a mass murder and suicide on his college campus. Its Special Presentations Prize went to Pierre Thoretton for his "L'amour Fou," a 16-minute short set in the French art world and intercutting four stories about relationships.
The 35th anniversary Toronto festival, which closes today (Sept. 19), is one of the three of four most important in the world, and traditionally marks the opening of the North American autumn movie season and the introduction of major Oscar contenders.
Previous winners of the Audience Award include "Chariots of Fire," "Precious," "No Country for Old Men," "Michael Clayton," "Crash," and the Argentine film "The Secret in Their Eyes," which won this year's Oscar for Best Foreign Film.
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