Belfast Wins The TIFF People's Choice Award, Making It Immediate Best Picture Frontrunner

Kenneth Branagh's semi-autobiographical film "Belfast" won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which bodes well for its Oscar chances. There are plenty of other prestigious awards to be won during festival season, but TIFF's People's Choice Award has the best track record for predicting future Academy Award Best Picture nominees and winners. In the past nine years, every single People's Choice Award winner was also nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. That's quite the streak!

The History of TIFF Predicting Best Picture Nominees

Since its founding in 1976, TIFF has predicted a surprising number of Best Picture nominees and winners. While the past nine People's Choice Award winners have all been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, not all of them have won. In the history of the festival, five of its People's Choice Award winners have gone on to win the prestigious Best Picture at the Academy Awards. The first was "Chariots of Fire" in 1981. That seemed like it might be a fluke, because it took nearly 20 years for  "American Beauty" to pull the same trick in 1999. 2008's "Slumdog Millionaire," 2010's "The King's Speech," and 2013's "Twelve Years a Slave" also took home both awards. 

A Best Picture nomination is pretty much a sure thing for "Belfast," unless the voters at the Academy really want to break their streak. Whether or not it will take home the night's most coveted prize is another story, however. 

Belfast's Best Picture Chances

So, what is "Belfast" and does it have a snowball's chance in heck of winning the coveted Best Picture at this year's Academy Awards?

"Belfast" is the story of a young boy growing up in Belfast, Ireland, during the height of the Troubles in the 1960s. Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland, which was split from the rest of the island nation and became its own country (and a part of the United Kingdom) in 1921. The split was intended to solve civil strife between Catholics and Protestants, but instead it caused even more outbreaks of violence. Bombings, shootings, and other acts of domestic terrorism rocked the country for more than thirty years, but Branagh's version looks at the time through a slightly more loving lens.

/Film's own Chris Evangelista reviewed "Belfast" after seeing it at TIFF, calling it a "a handsomely-made film with a game cast" that's still "missing something." Branagh's deeply personal story might not be enough to fully connect with some viewers, which could definitely hurt its Best Picture chances. Then again, the Academy loves a period piece, black and white cinematography, and Judi Dench, so I'll venture "Belfast" could still take home the big one.