09/16/2011 12:21 EDT | Updated 01/12/2012 01:35 EST

TIFF People's Choice an award-season bellwether

Movie buffs wanting to get a head start on their Oscar pool picks can get started with the Toronto International Film Festival's People's Choice Award.

As the festival has grown in prominence over the years, TIFF audience picks have increasingly gone on to garner acclaim during the subsequent movie awards season, with Slumdog Millionaire, The King's Speech and Precious among recent examples.

"Over the last decade, we've been a bellwether for not just best picture wins, but many of the other awards too -- acting awards in particular," TIFF director Piers Handling told CBC News.

"So many of the films that have Oscar potential, Golden Globe potential, awards potential, actually do platform in Toronto."

Chosen by the public

TIFF's Cadillac People's Choice Award is presented to the highest-rated film voted by the festival public. During the 11-day event, there are hundreds of films screenings and, at the end of each one, volunteers distribute cards on which movie-goers can note their favourite of the festival. The winning filmmaker receives $15,000.

Recent additions to the prize include the People's Choice Midnight Madness Award and the People's Choice Documentary Award.

Other honours presented at the end of the festival include:

- Best Canadian feature film.

- Best Canadian first feature film.

- Best Canadian short film.

- Two prizes chosen by members of the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI): for special presentations and for the discovery program.

Although Handling refrained from actually predicting any surefire Oscar-winners from the 2011 TIFF offerings, he singled out several standouts that he felt might garner significant attention.

For instance, films that caught his eye included Canadian director David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method, which he described as "perhaps the most accessible film David has made," Moneyball with Brad Pitt and The Ides of March, starring Ryan Gosling and George Clooney, who also directs and co-wrote the script.

"I don't think any of us could have predicted The King's Speech or Slumdog Millionaire and Crash,in previous years, or even The Hurt Locker. I think that buried in the 250 feature films we're showing this year, there may well be the best Oscar picture," Handling said.

In terms of acting, he did note a host of "tremendous performances by actors in so many of the films this year," including by Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs, Keira Knightley and Viggo Mortensen in A Dangerous Method and Woody Harrelson in Rampart.

The winners of all eight TIFF prizes will be announced at an awards luncheon on Sunday. A free screening of the People's Choice Award-winner will be held at the Ryerson Theatre at 6 p.m. Sunday evening, with tickets distributed on a first-come, first-served basis beginning approximately two hours beforehand.