The King’s Speech crowned fan favourite

The King’s Speech was crowned the fan favourite at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday, winning a key prize oft-regarded as a precursor to Oscar glory for its critically acclaimed portrait of a stammering monarch preparing for war.

TORONTO — The King’s Speech was crowned the fan favourite at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday, winning a key prize oft-regarded as a precursor to Oscar glory for its critically acclaimed portrait of a stammering monarch preparing for war.

The British/Australian film stars Colin Firth as a stuttering King George VI, Geoffrey Rush as his Australian speech therapist and Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen Mother.

Film Festival director Piers Handling predicted Oscar nominations for the three leads and a possible best picture slot for Tom Hooper’s film, noting it garnered steady attention throughout the 11-day movie marathon.

“So many people were talking about that film during the festival,” said Handling, noting that previous audience-pleasers including Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire and Slumdog Millionaire went on to multiple Academy Award nominations.

“It’s a little early because we haven’t seen all the films yet and not all the Oscar contenders came our way this year but I would imagine the King’s Speech has a very strong chance of getting in.”

Denis Villeneuve’s wrenching family drama, Incendies, was named best Canadian film, nabbing a $30,000 prize for a complex story that cuts back and forth in time and examines the brutality of the Lebanese civil war of the 1970s.

The triumph comes after the Quebec filmmaker scored a rare U.S. distribution deal with Sony Pictures for the French-language film, based on the 2003 play by Lebanese-born Montreal playwright Wajdi Mouawad.

“I’m very excited right now and tomorrow morning I won’t believe it,” said Villeneuve, who dominated the Genie Awards this year with his moving black-and-white account of the Montreal massacre in Polytechnique.

Villeneuve said he hoped the coup would help Incendies find a broad audience when it lands in English Canada in October.

“English Canada is a tough market and this award will maybe help Incendies to reach a wider audience, that will be fantastic.”

Debut director Deborah Chow claimed the best first Canadian feature title with her bilingual drama The High Cost of Living, starring former Scrubs star Zach Braff and Quebec’s Isabelle Blais as a drug dealer and a pregnant Montrealer who form an unlikely bond.

Chow called it an “unexpected privilege,” joking the $15,000 prize saves her from going to work at Starbucks to pay off her debts.

Other winners included:

l Sturla Gunnarsson’s Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie, a portrait of 75-year-old environmentalist, which claimed the fave documentary award;

l Vincent Biron’s Les Fleurs de l’age, for best Canadian short film; it comes with a $10,000 cash prize;

l Jim Mickle’s vampire road trip movie, Stake Land (USA), for the Cadillac People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award.

“These are not frivolous films at all, these are serious pieces of thinking, from ’King’s Speech’ through to the Suzuki documentary, through to ’Incendies,’ ” Handling said of the winners.

“And some of the other films that premiered here, I think will definitely be up for, in one way or another, Oscar nominations — from ’Barney’s Version,’ through to ’Conviction’, through to ’Conspirator,’ through to ’Hereafter,’ through to ’Stone’ through to ’Rabbit Hole.’ ”

The awards were handed out at a brunch on the final day of the 11-day festival, which featured a parade of Hollywood heavyweights including filmmakers Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood and Mike Leigh.