‘Jojo’ wins top prize at Toronto fest
LOS ANGELES, Sept 16, (RTRS): 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 teenager.
The film earned mixed reviews in Toronto, with some critics calling it Waititi’s masterpiece and others – many of whom compared it to the 1997 Roberto Benigni Holocaust comic-drama “Life is Beautiful” – criticizing its off-kilter balance of tones.
But “Jojo Rabbit” was heartily cheered by festival audiences, who vote for the People’s Choice award. And, going by history, the film is practically assured of a promising Oscar campaign.
Last month, Variety reported that some executives for the Walt Disney Co, which earlier this year acquired Fox Searchlight, were concerned about “Jojo Rabbit” being too edgy for the company. But in an interview in Toronto, Waititi disputed that, saying Disney chief executive Bob Iger and chief creative officer Alan Horn “gushed” over the film.
“It’s like saying, ‘Watch out for that “Life Is Beautiful” movie. It’s going to bring down the corporation,’” Waititi said. “I don’t think you have to worry about this movie because once you see it, it speaks for itself. It’s uplifting and it’s a very positive message.”
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.
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.
LOS ANGELES: Vaclav Marhoul’s “The Painted Bird”, which world premiered at the Venice Film Festival in the main competition and also played at the Toronto Film Festival in Special Presentations, has been selected as the Czech Republic’s entry for the 92nd Academy Awards in the international feature film category.
The pic follows the journey of an unnamed boy in Nazi-occupied Central Europe. The boy is entrusted by his persecuted parents to an elderly foster mother, but when the old woman dies, the boy is left to fend for himself, wandering through the countryside. As he struggles for survival, he suffers through extraordinary brutality meted out by the ignorant, superstitious peasants, and he witnesses the terrifying violence of the efficient, ruthless soldiers, both Russian and German.
The film generated controversy at Venice and Toronto for its violence. Variety’s reviewer wrote: “The extreme lashings of suffering and sadism shown here are scarcely ameliorated by the exacting beauty of their presentation.”
“The Painted Bird”, based on the eponymous novel by Jerzy Kosinski, stars Petr Kotlar, Harvey Keitel, Stellan Skarsgaard, Udo Kier and Julian Sands.
It was produced by Marhoul for Silver Screen. Co-producers include Directory Films, PubRes, Czech Television, Radio and Television Slovakia, Jaroslav and Milada Kucerovi, Innogy and Richard Kaucky.
Celluloid Dreams has world rights to the film, with Celluloid Dreams and CAA Media Finance co-representing the US rights.
The decision to select the film for the Oscars was made by the Czech Film and Television Academy.