My TIFF 2013 People’s Choice pick? “Philomena”

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This Sunday, the Toronto International Film Festival will announce its Audience Award winner, and this is big. After every public screening, TIFF’s orange-t-shirt-clad volunteers remind attendees to vote for their favorite, and while many scoff at such a popularity contest, there is an undeniable relationship between the winner of the People’s Choice Award — I’m sorry, the BlackBerry People’s Choice Award — and mainstream success. (Well, mostly.)

Take a look at the last 10 winners:

  • 2012: “Silver Linings Playbook”
  • 2011: “Where Do We Go Now?”
  • 2010: “The King’s Speech”
  • 2009: “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
  • 2008: “Slumdog Millionaire”
  • 2007: “Eastern Promises”
  • 2006: “Bella”
  • 2005: “Tsotsi”
  • 2004: “Hotel Rwanda”
  • 2003: “Zatoichi”

Notice that four of the last five were enormous critical and commercial successes. I’m not sure how the pleasant but hardly memorable “Where Do We Go Now?” garnered ther 2011 prize.

Last year, I predicted “Argo,” which I had not seen, would win the prize; I cannot tell you how many folks I heard discussing it. The actual winner was “Silver Linings Playbook,” and the win put David O. Russell’s film in play for months of hype, and eventually, box office success and Oscar noms.

My pick for this year is Stephen Frears’s “Philomea,” starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan. The film, about a woman’s quest to find the child she was forced to give up by the Catholic Church 50 years before, is a crowd-pleaser, but it’s also a great movie, one full of surprises and an unexpected level of social commentary.

It’s not the only film in play — certainly, “Gravity,” “12 Years a Slave,” “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” or “Prisoners” could pull it off, not to mention a much lower-profile film. But I’d put my money on “Philomena,” and I’d call it a deserving winner, too.

Photo courtesy of TIFF