Toronto film critics give best picture thumbs up to The Florida Project

By Jim Slotek

For the second year in a row, the Toronto Film Critics Association gave its Best Picture award to a kid’s point-of-view of the underside of Florida.

At a “live vote” of its members, the TFCA gave the top nod to The Florida Project, Sean Baker’s poignant film about kids’ lives in a welfare motel on the wrong side of Disneyland. (Last year, the TFCA’s pick, Moonlight, went on to win the Best Picture Oscar).

The Florida Project also earned a Best Supporting Actor award for Willem Dafoe, the only “name” actor in a movie largely featuring young, non-professional actors.

 Willem Dafoe and Brooklynn Prince in The Florida Project

Willem Dafoe and Brooklynn Prince in The Florida Project

Runners up for the TFCA Best Picture were Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (the winner of the People’s Choice award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival), and Phantom Thread, which is billed as Daniel Day-Lewis’s last movie.

In Phantom Thread, Day-Lewis plays a 1950s dressmaker, a portrayal that also won him a TFCA Best Actor award over runners-up Gary Oldman (who plays Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour) and Timothée Chalamet (Call My By Your Name).

Various city’s critics awards are among the first “best of” events prior to the Academy Awards. On Sunday, the San Francisco Film Critics picked The Florida Project as best picture and the Boston Society of Film Critics picked Phantom Thread. Last week, the Los Angeles Film Critics picked the same-sex romance Call Me By Your Name and the Boston Online Critics Awards named the race-themed horror film Get Out as best picture.

Get Out, from rookie director Jordan Peele, was named Best First Feature by the Toronto critics.

 Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig

Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig

The Toronto critics also singled out Greta Gerwig for best director for her partly-autobiographical coming-of-age story Lady Bird, starring Saoirse Ronan. Ronan, in turn, was edged-out for Best Actress by Three Billboards’ Frances McDormand. Also a best actress runner-up: Sally Hawkins, star of Guillermo del Toro’s romantic monster-story The Shape Of Water.

Lady Bird’s Laurie Metcalf, who plays Ronan’s mom, won best supporting actress over Allison Janney of the Tonya Harding biopic I, Tonya and The Phantom Thread’s Lesley Manville

Other winners included best animated film The Breadwinner, the adaptation of the Deborah Ellis novel about a young Afghani girl who dresses as a boy to help support her family. It beat out Pixar’s Coco and an adaptation of Ann Marie Fleming’s novel Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming.

Best documentary went to Faces Places, Agnès Varda’s journey-through-France “buddy doc” which debuted at TIFF. Runners-up were Jane (about chimp researcher Jane Goodall) and Kedi, the Turkish doc about the lives of stray cats. The foreign film nod went to The Square, Ruben Östlund’s satirical drama which won the Palme D’Or at Cannes. It beat out Faces Places, and Loveless, a Russian film about a separated couple who have to work together after their son goes missing.

The TFCA Awards are voted on by a roster of print, online and broadcast film critics that include Original-Cin’s Liam Lacey, Karen Gordon and Jim Slotek. They will be presented at a gala Jan. 9 at the Carlu.

The January gala also includes a coveted $100,000 prize, the Rogers Best Canadian Film Award.

The three finalists for that prize are: Hello Destroyer, Kevin Funk’s film about a hockey enforcer (Jared Abrahamson) whose hit on an opposing player critically injures his opponent; Werewolf, by Ashley McKenzie, about a drug-addicted Cape Breton couple (Andrew GillisBhreagh MacNeil) bouncing back and forth between methadone treatments and rock bottom, and Wexford Plaza, Joyce Wong’s film about a female security guard (Reid Asselstine) and her problematic relationship with a deadbeat (Darrel Gamotin).