Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave won the Toronto International Film Festival’s (TIFF) Blackberry People’s Choice Award in a significant development that places the hard-hitting drama among an elite club.

While McQueen’s film starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender includes brutal sequences that may upset Academy voters, the imminent Fox Searchlight release (Oct 18) is already among the vanguard of what is shaping up to be a season of rare quality.

Gravity, Prisoners, Rush, Dallas Buyers Club and Philomena have all drawn strong to exceptional reviews and two of these films — Philomena and Prisoners — were runners-up in this year’s category.

Captain Phillips has also excited passions in advance of its Sept 27 world premiere screening as opening night film of the New York Film Festival, yet few will overlook the significance of the TIFF prize.

The festival’s recent audience award winners that have gone on to claim the best picture Oscar include The King’s Speech and Slumdog Millionaire. Last year’s winner, Silver Linings Playbook, prospered during awards season and famously earned a best lead actress gong for Jennifer Lawrence.

In other prizes, Jehane Noujaim’s Egyptian revolution film The Square prevailed in the Blackberry People’s Choice Documentary Award while Sion Sono’s Why Don’t You Play In Hell? picked up the Blackberry People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award.

The City Of Toronto & Canada Goose Award For Best Canadian Film went to Alan Zweig’s When Jews Were Funny. The FIPRESCI Prize was presented to Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida and Claudia Sainte-Luce’s Asphalt Watches by Shayne Ehman and Seth Sciver won the award for Best Canadian First Feature Film.

The Grolsch Film Works Discovery Award went to Gia Milani’s All The Wrong Reasons starring the late Cory Monteith.

The NETPAC (Network For The Promotion Of Asian Cinema) Award honouring the best Asian film from a first or second–time filmmaker went to Qissa by Anup Singh

YouTube Award For Best Canadian Short Film went to Noah by Walter Woodman and Patrick Cederberg.