TIFF 2016: ‘La La Land’ wins People’s Choice, ‘Lion’ first runner up

"La La Land" by Damien Chazelle wins the People's Choice Award during the Toronto International Film Festival's closing awards ceremony Sunday. Michelle Siu / The Canadian Press

TORONTO – The dreamy musical “La La Land” seems poised to waltz all the way to the Oscars, after winning the People’s Choice prize at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday.

London, Ont., native Ryan Gosling reunites with his “Crazy, Stupid, Love” co-star Emma Stone in the romantic ode to old Hollywood. Oscar-nominated “Whiplash” filmmaker Damien Chazelle wrote and directed the film, which was widely touted as a major contender for the prestigious $15,000 prize, sponsored by Grolsch.

“I think this is probably a movie about the joy of why we go to the movies,” said Mark Slone, executive vice-president of eOne Films Canada, the film’s Canadian distributor.

READ MORE: TIFF 2016: ‘La La Land,’ ‘Arrival’ stars shine on red carpet

“This is that kind of experience that changes when you see it with a whole audience as opposed to sitting in your living room. You come out of this movie maybe not better educated about all the bad things happening in this world but you come out with a little bit of joy in your heart and an experience you had with 500 other people in the dark room.”

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The People’s Choice honour is often a predictor of Academy Award success.

Last year’s winner was “Room,” which got four Oscar nominations, including best picture. Star Brie Larson won the golden statuette, for best actress.

WATCH: Gosling and Stone hit the red carpet on day 5 of TIFF (Sept. 12)

Several previous People’s Choice winners have also gone on to win the best-picture Oscar, from “12 Years a Slave” to “The King’s Speech” and “Slumdog Millionaire.”

This year’s People’s Choice first runner up was Garth Davis’s “Lion,” starring Dev Patel, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman in the true story of an Indian adoptee who used Google Earth to reunite with his long lost family.

The second runner up was Mira Nair’s “Queen of Katwe,” starring David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o and Madina Nalwanga in the true story of a teenage Ugandan chess champion.

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“‘La La Land’ was such an audience-friendly film,” said festival director Piers Handling. “When we saw it, we loved it for all kinds of reasons: it’s a musical, it’s made with such love and care and attention, you’ve got Canada’s own Ryan Gosling in it, Emma Stone, they’re fabulous as a couple.

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“It’s also moving, touching, it’s a love story…. so it galvanizes people. The credit sequence alone puts you in a great mood, so I’ll be very interested to see how far it goes into awards season.

“But I’m sure it’s going to go very, very far.”

WATCH: TIFF debuts some potentially award-winning films on day 3 (Sept. 10)

Other winners at the awards ceremony, which marked the end of the 11-day festival, included Pablo Larrain’s “Jackie,” starring Natalie Portman as former U.S. first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. It won the $25,000 Toronto Platform Prize, the festival’s juried program that champions director’s cinema from around the world.

The $30,000 Canada Goose Award for best Canadian feature film went to Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie for “Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves.” It’s inspired by Quebec’s 2012 student protest movement against a proposed increase in tuition fees.

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“Not many people saw it and we were screening at the end of the festival, so there were not many journalists left,” said Lavoie.

“So we hope that with this award, they cannot ignore us.”

Johnny Ma’s “Old Stone” won the $15,000 City of Toronto Award for best Canadian first feature film.

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READ MORE: TIFF 2016: Canadian movie makers pushing creative boundaries

Barry Jenkins’s critical darling “Moonlight,” about a boy struggling with his sexuality in an impoverished Miami neighbourhood, failed to get an award.

Other titles that got rave reviews at the fest included Quebec director Denis Villeneuve’s heady aliens-have-landed tale “Arrival” and Tom Ford’s revenge thriller “Nocturnal Animals.”

“This was a really good year,” said Handling. “I thought the lineup was very strong, the public was so, so receptive … the lineup was very diverse, which I also loved – diverse in every kind of way, both racially diverse but also 83 countries and big films … right down to the experimental, small, low-budget, foreign language (films).”

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