Taika Waititi’s ‘Jojo Rabbit’ Wins Top Prize at Toronto Film Festival Awards

Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” has won the coveted People’s Choice Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

The honor positions the film for a potential Oscar run and bolsters its awards chances. That’s good news for Fox Searchlight, which must have been disappointed by the lackluster critical reception for the movie, a dark comedy set in the waning days of the Nazi Empire. Reviewers faulted the picture for delivering satire without the necessary sting, generally agreeing that “Jojo Rabbit” had stumbled out of the gate.

That no longer appears to be the case. Toronto’s top prize has uncanny predictive powers when it comes to selecting future Oscar winners. Last year’s winner, “Green Book,” went on to capture the Academy Award for Best Picture. Previous victors include “La La Land,” “Room,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” and “The Imitation Game,” all of which went on to score with Oscar voters and other awards bodies. That track record has also helped position the festival as a key stop for awards season hopefuls.

The first runner-up for the People’s Choice award was Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” and the second runner-up was Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite,” both of which were more warmly received by critics. Netflix is backing “Marriage Story,” a bruising portrait of a disintegrating relationship that has been likened to “Kramer vs. Kramer.” Neon is releasing “Parasite,” a twisty thriller that provides a blistering commentary on income inequality.

Awards sages believe that “Marriage Story” could score a Best Picture Oscar nod along with nominations for Baumbach’s direction and screenplay, as well as for the performances of Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, and Laura Dern. “Parasite” seems destined to be a Best International Feature Film prize and could even elbow into the Best Picture and Best Director categories.

“Jojo Rabbit” stars Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, and Waititi, doing double duty as a buffoonish and imaginary Adolf Hitler. The film centers on a 10-year old boy whose love of the Nazi leader is challenged when he discovers that his mother is hiding a Jewish teenager.

““Thank you to the Toronto International Film Festival audiences for this tremendous honor,” Waititi said in a statement. “‘Jojo Rabbit’ is a story of tolerance and understanding set in a time that lacked both, and I hope in making this film we can remind ourselves that it’s still possible to connect with each other even under the most chaotic of circumstances—no matter what age, religion, race or gender.”

This year’s festival included several splashy premieres. “Hustlers,” “Joker,” and “Just Mercy” were among the big studio releases that raised their profiles by screening in Canada. “Joker” took the top prize at the Venice Film Festival, where it had its world premiere before heading to Toronto.

The People’s Choice Award in the Midnight Madness section, the festival’s genre platform, went to Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia’s “The Platform,” a thriller set in a dystopian future, and the documentary prize was handed out to “The Cave,” Feras Fayyad’s look at a doctor working in war-torn Syria.

Midnight Madness runner-up awards went to Andrew Patterson’s “The Vast of Night” and Jeff Barnaby’s “Blood Quantum.” In the documentary section the runners-up were Garin Hovannisian’s “I Am Not Alone” and Bryce Dallas Howard’s “Dads.” “The Vast of Night,” a sci-fi thriller that’s been likened to “The Twilight Zone,” scored a big sale to Amazon, while “Dads” sold to Apple.

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