Sunday, September 20, 2009

Toronto Audience Award is PRECIOUS

PRECIOUS, the movie that won the top prize plus the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, was awarded the Cadillac Audience Award at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) yesterday.

Other than recognizing some films, such as Canadian ones, this is the only major award the festival bestows as it is a non-competitive festival. This award is not only sponsored by Cadillac, it is considered the Cadillac of audience awards. Last year's winner was SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. Other notable winners include, AMERICAN BEAUTY and CHARIOTS OF FIRE.

Based on the novel 'Push' by a former Harlem educator who writes under the name of Sapphire, the movie was originally titled PUSH and won at Sundance under that name. However, it arrived at Toronto with a new name, PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL PUSH BY SAPPHIRE.

PRECIOUS was accepted at Toronto IFF with not much else than the strength of the novel and the wins at Sundance going for it, except it had some heavy hitters behind it. Among them is Lionsgate, the production / distribution company based in Vancouver, Canada, plus executive producers Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry. Both Perry and Winfrey attended the Festival as chief cheerleaders.

PRECIOUS also has some other heavyweight names involved. It is directed by Lee Daniels, who produced MONSTERS BALL and directed SHADOWBOXER, with a screenplay adapted by Geoffrey Fletcher. It stars Mariah Carey and Mo'Nique in supporting roles, the latter winning the Sundance Special Jury Award for her portrayal of the abusive mother.

Both the comedienne Mo'Nique and singer Carey play against type. Carey is said to have worn no makeup in the movie. Mary J. Blige contributed a song to the soundtrack, and author Sapphire has a minor part.

The lead character is played by an unknown actress from Harlem, Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe, who plays Clareece "Precious" Jones, a 16-year-old Harlem girl, an overweight illiterate teen who is pregnant with her second child. Both pregnancies are the result of Precious having been raped by her father.

Precious is also repeatedly beaten by her mother. When she is invited to enroll in an alternative school she gains hope that her life can head in a new direction, but the road is not altogether the yellow brick road to Oz for which she has wished.

The movies LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE and JUNO were each named "the little movie that could go all the way" after their wins at Sundance, and they did. PUSH, now called PRECIOUS, has been similarly annointed. With this important win at Toronto, it now is at the front of all the movies chugging uphill in quest of an Academy Award®.

The 47th New York Film Festival opens this Friday night, 25th, and PRECIOUS: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire is this year's Centerpiece Film, one of the most prestigious spots in the Festival's lineup. The current questions are, "Will PRECIOUS gain more distance from the pack at the New York Film Festival?" and "With the new expanded 10-nominee format for Best Picture, will PRECIOUS make the list?"

I can't guess the NYFF prospect, but I can hazard a guess that the answer to the last question is, "Yes." The movie's tagline is: "Life is hard. Life is short. Life is painful. Life is rich. Life is....Precious." With a tagline like that, Oprah and the others, can it possibly miss?

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