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12 YEARS A SLAVE: Toronto Winner Now Oscar Front Runner?

12 Years a Slave movie Chiwetel Ejiofor'12 Years a Slave': 2013 Toronto Film Festival People's Choice Award winner (photo: Chiwetel Ejiofor in '12 Years a Slave')

12 Years a Slave, already touted as a top contender for the 2014 Best Picture Academy Award, was the not unexpected People's Choice Award winner at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival. Steve McQueen's biopic tells the story of Solomon Northup, a freeborn 19th-century black man from Upstate New York who is kidnapped and sold as a slave in the American South. Twelve years later, he succeeds in regaining his freedom. Fox Searchlight will be releasing 12 Years a Slave, surely to be plugged as a people- and Oscar-friendly Triumph of the Human Spirit tale, on October 18 in North America.

The prestigious 12 Years a Slave cast features Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup, in addition to Michael Fassbender (Steve McQueen's lead in both Hunger and Shame), Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulson, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Garret Dillahunt, Quvenzhané Wallis, Lupita Nyong'o, Ruth Negga, Alfre Woodard, Scoot McNairy, Taran Killam, Kelsey Scott, and Dwight Henry. John Ridley wrote the 12 Years a Slave screenplay, based on Northup's book of memoirs of the same name.

Toronto Film Festival's previous People's Choice Award winners

The 2012 Toronto Film Festival's People's Choice Award winner was David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook. Distributed by the Oscar-savvy Weinstein Company, Russell's comedy-drama earned a surprising eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay (Russell), Best Actor (Bradley Cooper), Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Best Supporting Actor (Robert De Niro), and Best Supporting Actress (Jacki Weaver). Coincidentally, 12 Years a Slave screenwriter John Ridley was credited for the "story" for Russell's 1999 Iraq War movie Three Kings, starring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg.

Toronto's other recent People's Choice Award winners include Nadine Labaki's musical Where Do We Go from Here?, Lebanon's submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award that failed to get a nomination; Tom Hooper's Best Picture Oscar winner The King's Speech, starring Best Actor winner Colin Firth; Lee Daniels' Best Picture nominee Precious, starring Best Actress nominee Gabourey Sidibe and Best Supporting Actress winner Mo'Nique; and Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, a Fox Searchlight release that went on to win the 2009 Best Picture Oscar.

Runners up in the 2013 Toronto Film Festival's People's Choice Awards were Stephen Frears' Philomena, starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, and Denis Villeneuve's Prisoners, starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, and Melissa Leo.

More 2013 Toronto Film Festival winners

The Best Canadian Feature Film was Alan Zweig's documentary When Jews Were Funny, while the Best Canadian First Feature Film was Shayne Ehman and Seth Scriver's animated road movie Asphalt Watches.

The Best Canadian Short Film went to Walter Woodman and Patrick Cederberg's Noah, described as "a commentary on the ephemeral, disposable, A.D.D. culture that many of us are consumed by and living in.” Needless to say, this particular Noah is not to be confused with Darren Aronofsky's upcoming biblical epic starring Russell Crowe and Anthony Hopkins.

The International Critics' FIPRESCI Prize was given to Pawel Pawlikowski's Ida, about a young Catholic novice (Agata Trzebuchowska) who discovers that she's actually Jewish. The other FIPRESCI Prize winner, for the Toronto Film Festival's Discovery program, was awarded to Claudia Sainte-Luce's Mexican comedy-drama The Amazing Catfish.

The People's Choice Midnight Madness Award went to Sion Sono's Why Don't You Play in Hell?, about two men who hate each other, but whose lives are connected by the daughter of one of them. The two runners-up were Mike Flanagan's Oculus and Álex de la Iglesia's Witching and Bitching.

The winner of the People's Choice Documentary Award was Jehane Noujaim's The Square, about Egypt's still unresolved path towards (what passes for) democracy. The runners-up were Alanis Obomsawin's Hi-Ho Mistahey! and Leanne Pooley's Beyond the Edge.

And finally, the NETPAC Award for Best Asian Film was given to Anup Singh's Qissa, the Discovery Award went to Gia Milani's All the Wrong Reasons, and Christoph Rainer's Requiem for a Robot won the Emerging Filmmakers Competition.

Chiwetel Ejiofor 12 Years a Slave photo: Fox Searchlight.

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