Steven Spielberg's deeply personal new movie "The Fabelmans" secured its position as an early Oscars frontrunner Sunday by winning the top prize at the Toronto International Film festival.
"The Fabelmans," out in theaters in November, is a semi-autobiographical drama based on Spielberg's childhood, covering his parents' troubled marriage, anti-Semitic bullying and his early efforts directing zero-budget movies with his teenage friends.
It earned a raucous standing ovation from the audience at its world premiere last weekend at the Toronto festival, known as TIFF.
"As I said on stage the other night, above all I'm glad I brought this film to Toronto," Spielberg said in a statement Sunday.
"This is the most personal film I've made and the warm reception from everyone in Toronto made my first visit to TIFF so intimate and personal for me and my entire 'Fabelman' family."
Voted for by audiences, the People's Choice Award at North America's biggest film festival has become something of an early Oscars bellwether, predicting eventual Academy Award best-picture winners such as "Nomadland" in 2020.
Spielberg, considered one of Hollywood's greatest living directors, has won three Academy Awards: best picture and best director for "Schindler's List," and best director again for "Saving Private Ryan."
He has been nominated for 19 Oscars to date, and will be expected to add to that tally at next year's Academy Awards, on March 12 in Los Angeles.
The last 10 winners of the Toronto People's Choice Awards were all nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards, with three winning the Oscar, including 2019's surprise victor "Green Book."
"12 Years a Slave" (2013), "The King's Speech" (2010) and "Slumdog Millionaire" (2008) all began their journeys to Oscar glory with the Toronto prize.
At its premiere last weekend, Spielberg told a rapturous audience how he had long wanted to make such a deeply personal movie, but had eventually been motivated by the "fear" of the pandemic.
"I don't think anybody knew in March or April of 2020 what was going to be the state of the art, the state of life, even a year from then," said Spielberg.
"I just felt that if I was going to leave anything behind, what was the thing that I really need to resolve and unpack about my mom and my dad and my sisters?"
"It wasn't now or never, but it almost felt that way," said the 75-year-old director.
Toronto runners-up included "Women Talking" by Sarah Polley and "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery" by Rian Johnson.
The top documentary prize went to Hubert Davis's "Black Ice," a Canadian movie about historic racism in the world of professional ice hockey.
The Toronto festival, known for its large cinephile crowds and A-list stars, was hit badly by the pandemic, but this year saw the return of packed audiences and red carpets.