The Toronto International Film Festival People's Choice Award's current streak of influencing the best picture race has dome to an end. The past three years have seen "Slumdog Millionaire," "Precious" and "The King's Speech" each secure the festival's highest honor. With the announcement that Lebanese drama "Where do we go now?" is this year's winner, Toronto's influence on awards season has been tempered a bit.
"Where do we go now?" received rave reviews when it debuted outside of competition at Cannes in May and is Lebanon's official entry into the foreign language film race. The picture centers on an isolated Lebanese village where the ladies have decided to do everything in their power to stop inter-religious fighting that irrupts once a television is installed in a neighbor's home (ah, the power of the media). The win is a huge boost for "Now?" on two points. First, the populist award mirrors the sort of audience that can actually participate in the Academy's foreign language race which gives it an excellent shot at a nomination. Second, reportedly still seeking U.S. distribution, the increased Oscar field odds should encourage an indie distributor to jump on board a domestic release. It would be a stunning (if not epic) turn of events if "Now?" somehow became a broader Oscar player. Filmmaker Nadine Labaki will no doubt be thrilled her underdog dramedy is now a serious player in the foreign language competition.
Certainly there are a number of best picture candidates that wouldn't have minded snagging the win such as Fox Searchlight's "The Descendants," Paramount Pictures' "Like Crazy" or The Weinstein Company's "The Artist," but they can breathe easy over the fact the competition didn't win either.
It's also a fitting end to a festival that was deemed by most as disappointing compared to recent editions. There were a slew of excellent films at the festival, but almost all of them had debuted somewhere else. The Midnight Madness selections aside, there were almost zero surprise discoveries or buzzworthy debuts among the world premieres. Combined with an obvious and disturbing increase in the number of technical issues and incredibly late screenings at many of the major public venues the TIFF staff may be glad the 2011 edition of the festival is now behind them.
For year round entertainment commentary and awards season news follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter @HitFixGregory.