By Julie Gordon
TORONTO, Sept 16 (Reuters) - "Silver Linings Playbook," a dramatic comedy about a man who returns to his family home after eight months in a mental institution, won the top prize at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday.
The film, by "The Fighter" director David O. Russell and starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, took home the BlackBerry People's Choice award for best film at the 37th edition of the festival.
Based on the novel by Matthew Quick, "Silver Linings Playbook" examines one man's recovery from a personal and professional meltdown. The film held its world premiere at the festival last week.
"Just as 'The Fighter' to me was not about fighting, this movie to me is not about mental illness," Russell said last week. "To me, it's always about the people and the dynamic of the people."
Recent winners of the People's Choice award, which is selected by festival audiences, include Oscar-winners "The King's Speech" and "Slumdog Millionaire."
The runner-up for the prize was Ben Affleck's "Argo," a fact-based thriller about an outlandish plan to get six stranded Americans out of Tehran after the 1979 invasion of the American Embassy by having them masquerade as a Canadian film crew.
"Argo" also had its world premiere at the Toronto festival.
The People's Choice award for top documentary went to "Artifact," which follows actor Jared Leto and his band Thirty Seconds to Mars as they record their album "This Is War," while waging a legal battle against their label.
"This film is so personal and has been such a labor of love," Leto said in a statement read by festival organizers. "Thank you so much to every single person who voted."
The People's Choice award for top Midnight Madness film went to Bartholomew Cubbins' "Seven Psychopaths," a blood-spattered comedy starring Colin Farrell as a screenwriter struggling to complete the script for a serial-killer movie, and featuring audience favorites Christopher Walken and Woody Harrelson.
The best Canadian feature award went to Xavier Dolan's "Laurence Anyways," a drama about a heterosexual relationship that is sent into a tailspin when the man confesses that he believes he's transgendered.
BUILDING OSCAR BUZZ
Launched in 1976, the Toronto festival now ranks with Cannes and Sundance as one of the world's top movie gatherings. The festival often serves as a launching point for films and performances that go on to win Academy Awards, as well as international films seeking distribution deals.
Even before its People's Choice win, "Silver Linings Playbook" was leading best picture Oscar buzz at the festival, with Lawrence's performance as a sexually forward widow fighting depression also stirring talk of a best actress nomination.
"Argo" leaves Toronto as another strong contender for a best picture nomination and possibly a best director nomination for Affleck, who won an Academy Award in 1998 for co-writing "Good Will Hunting" with actor Matt Damon.
Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" continued to impress critics and audiences in Toronto, especially for performances by lead actors Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix.
Bill Murray also gained attention for his turn as Franklin D. Roosevelt in "Hyde Park on Hudson" while Noah Baumbach's art house film "Frances Ha" has won over critics and audiences alike.
Films not quite living up to their high expectations include eagerly anticipated literary adaptations - "Anna Karenina" and "Midnight's Children" - while "Cloud Atlas," co-directed by Tom Tykwer and "The Matrix Trilogy" sibling team, divided critics with its complex multiple storylines.
Sarah Polley's autobiographical documentary "Stories We Tell" was one of the early sales at a festival while "The Place Beyond the Pines," starring Ryan Gosling and directed by Derek Cianfrance, was the first major acquisition, scoring roughly $2.5 million, according to media reports.
Other sales included sex addiction comedy "Thanks for Sharing" starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Mark Ruffalo and singer Pink; "Imogene" with Kristen Wiig; and "Crying Game" filmmaker Neil Jordan's "Byzantium."
All told nearly 40 films had signed deals at the festival, as of Saturday, including 29 major sales to U.S. distributors
"It's been a particularly robust year for sales," said Justin Cutler, senior manager of sales and industry for the festival. "We're happy that the festival's official selection will reach film lovers across the world."
(Reporting by Julie Gordon; Editing by Bill Trott)