The BlackBerry People's Choice winner at this year's Toronto International Film Festival awards was David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook, starring Bradley Cooper as a depressed high-school teacher who is released from a psychiatric hospital into his parents' care and becomes involved with a young widow (Jennifer Lawrence).
The film, which earned particular critical praise for Lawrence, beat out Ben Affleck's Iran hostage thriller, Argo, and Israeli director Eran Riklis's Zaytoun, a feel-good drama about the friendship between an Israeli pilot (Stephen Dorff) and a Palestinian refugee boy during the 1982 Lebanese war.
A mistimed congratulatory tweet sent to director Russell by TIFF director Cameron Bailey created a major spoiler at the start of Sunday's awards brunch at the Intercontinental Hotel. Later, when it came time to present the award, Bailey said, "I'd like to announce, or re-announce, the winner of the Blackberry People's Choice award."
Based on Matthew Quick's 2010 novel, the film drew standing ovations during its public screenings and is now being touted as an Oscar front-runner, along with another Weinstein Company film, Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, which had its North American premiere at the festival.
TIFF audience-award winners have earned 105 Oscar nominations since 1978 – including 10 best picture nominations – and are considered a strong indicator of Academy Award choices.
But the success of Silver Linings, a film from the director of The Fighter (2010) and promoted at Cannes, could not be described as a surprise. Overall, it was a relatively low-buzz, predictable year at TIFF, with some of the biggest films, The Master, Terrence Malick's To the Wonder and Sarah Polley's well-received family documentary, Stories We Tell, all debuting at Venice, before Toronto.
The reception from critics here confirmed The Master's status as a critical hit, while somewhat softening Venice critics' harsh response to Malick's camera-twirling fable of spiritual love.
The award for the best Canadian film feature went to Quebec director Xavier Dolan's long and lavish transgender romance, Laurence Anyways, which won over Kim Nguyen's well-regarded child soldier drama, Rebelle (War Witch), and Deepa Mehta's epic adaptation of Salman Rushdie's novel of post-partition India, Midnight's Children.
Dolan, in accepting the award and its $30,000 cheque, said he was genuinely surprised by the film's win. He thanked his producer Lyse Lafontaine for supporting a challenging movie that "is as scary for people to go see as it was for us to do."
The award for best Canadian first feature had two winners, Brandon Cronenberg's Antiviral, a sci-fi film about a black market in viruses that have been carried by celebrities, and Jason Buxton's Blackbird, about a Goth student wrongfully accused of plotting a school massacre. Deco Dawson's documentary on Quebec-born surrealist artist Jean Benoit, Keep a Modest Head, won the Canadian short film prize, with Trailer Park Boys director Mike Clattenburg's Crackin' Down Hard getting an honourable mention.