Jojo Rabbit was one of the most hyped entries at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, but looking at the initial reviews that greeted its premiere, you might have figured it was dead on arrival. A high-energy, extremely goofy satire of Nazi Germany from the acclaimed director Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok), the film drew a meager score on the review aggregator Metacritic and negative reactions from each of the major trade publications. In the hotbox environment of fall festivals, that kind of disapproval can spell disaster for a potential Oscar contender. But after such a bland movie summer, polarization seems to be the way to stand out.
Yesterday, Jojo Rabbit won the coveted TIFF People’s Choice Award, an audience prize that has for decades served as a launchpad for major awards campaigns. The movie’s trajectory may recall 2018, when Green Book debuted to middling reviews and won Toronto’s biggest honor on the way to an Oscar for Best Picture. Some of the most controversial films of the season are generating some of the most passionate reactions, between Jojo Rabbit and the fall’s other surprising prizewinner, Todd Phillips’s unconventional comic-book movie about a maniacal killer clown.
Joker, a stripped-down take on the origins of the Batman villain, won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, a trophy that’s gone to revered works such as Rashomon, The Battle of Algiers, Brokeback Mountain, and, just last year, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma. This movie isn’t worthy of those lofty comparisons, but it is slickly made—a compelling and crisply presented homage to Martin Scorsese thrillers of yesteryear, driven by Joaquin Phoenix’s larger-than-life performance in the title role. But although Phillips always gave his comedies (including Old School and The Hangover) a harsh, cynical edge, Joker is one-note, a fire hose of misery that works relentlessly to convince the audience of just how serious it is.