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"Precious" wins top Toronto film festival prize

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   By Cameron French

TORONTO (Reuters) - "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire" won the top award at the Toronto International Film Festival Saturday, giving the Oprah Winfrey-produced film some early momentum heading into Oscar awards season.

The film, a gritty tale of the abuse and redemption of a teenage girl in Harlem, captured the festival's People's Choice award, which is voted on by filmgoers. Last year it went to best picture Oscar winner "Slumdog Millionaire."

Critics have roundly praised "Precious" since its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and audiences in Toronto warmly received the film, which is directed by Lee Daniels and will hit theaters in November.

"I made this film for every person out there who ever looked in the mirror and felt unsure about the person looking back," Daniels, who is traveling in Spain, said in a statement read out at an awards reception in Toronto.

In addition to "Slumdog Millionaire," past winners of the award that have gone on to win the best picture Oscar include "American Beauty" and "Chariots of Fire."

The festival, which wraps up later Saturday with a red-carpet screening of "The Young Victoria," a look at the British queen's early years, was notable this year for a lack of distribution deals signed as the independent film industry remains mired in a near two-year funk.

More than one-third of the more than 330 films screened entered the festival without distribution deals, and barely a handful were announced during the event's 10-day run.

Festival co-director Piers Handling said he expects more deals involving Toronto-screened films to soon be announced, but said the days of festival bidding wars were likely over.

"It's a combination of just an increasingly conservative marketplace in North America, the recession, as well as a glut of product," he told Reuters after the awards presentation.

"I think there will be fewer films being made."

Other winners included critics' awards for "The Man Beyond the Bridge," an Indian production featuring the little-used language of Konkani, and "Hadewijch," a French film that looks at the possibilities and consequences of a devoutly religious life.

The audience award for top documentary went to "The Topp Twins," which tells the story of a New Zealand lesbian country and western singing duo.

(Reporting by Cameron French; Editing by Xavier Briand)


 

Susan Boyle chases Swift in U.S. album chart nail-biter


Reuters, Dec 30, 2009 12:00 pm PST

Scottish singer Susan Boyle narrowly failed to claim honors for the year's best-selling album in the United States on Wednesday, but still has another sales week to wrest the title from country star Taylor Swift.

Boyle's debut album "I Dreamed a Dream" already the year's best seller in Britain, has sold 2.98 million copies after five consecutive weeks at No. 1, tracking firm Nielsen SoundScan said.

Swift's "Fearless," the No. 3 seller in 2008, has sold 3.16 million copies this year, giving the 20-year-old a margin of about 175,000 over Boyle. Nielsen SoundScan's sales week ends on Sunday, but it will include the first three days of 2010 in a 53rd week for 2009.

American Christmas shoppers snapped up 510,000 copies of Boyle's album during the week ended December 27, giving it a wide lead over the rest of the field. R&B star Mary J. Blige's "Stronger debuted at No. 2 with 330,000 copies. Swift's "Fearless" rose one place to No. 5 with 224,000 copies.

The success of both Boyle and Swift, as well as dance-pop singer Lady Gaga -- whom Boyle replaced atop the year's album-sales tally in Britain -- shows how heavily the music industry relies on fresh blood to drive sales.

Still, overall U.S. album sales are on track to end 2009 down about 13 percent, marking the eighth drop in nine years. The recorded music industry has failed to come to grips with piracy as well as competition from other forms of entertainment, such as videogames.

Boyle, 48, rocketed to fame in April when she appeared as a contestant on the British talent show "Britain's Got Talent." Shy and homely, she wowed the skeptical judges and audience with a stirring rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream," a tune from the musical "Les Miserables." Tens of millions of people watched the performance on Youtube, and Boyle became a worldwide star, her every move dissected by the media.

Surprisingly, she lost the final to a dance troupe the following month, and was soon admitted to a psychiatric clinic to deal with exhaustion.

The diverse track listing on her album includes the hymns "Amazing Grace" and "How Great Thou Art," a cover of the Rolling Stones ballad "Wild Horses," and a version of "Daydream Believer," a tune first popularized by the Monkees.

It was released by Sony Corp's Columbia Records label in partnership with British music impresario Simon Cowell's Syco Music. (Editing by Jill Serjeant)

 

 

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