No film in Hollywood is enjoying more Oscar buzz at this exact moment than Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit, which just this last weekend scooped up the Toronto International Film Festival’s People’s Choice Award—historically a bellwether for Academy Award gold Waititi’s film, which attempts to blend his particular genius for off-kilter comedy with World War II atrocities, opened Austin’s rowdy, genre-friendly Fantastic Fest on Thursday night, giving a glimpse into how Jojo Rabbit may hit with wider audiences and what the road to February’s ceremony looks like for the unpredictable Waititi The combined, concentrated buzz out of back-to-back TIFF and Fantastic Fest screenings has, in the past, helped launch certain films to another Hollywood prize: box office gold In 2018, Halloween rode that wave all the way to a $200 million global gross. If Fox Searchlight is eager to see a broader embrace of Jojo Rabbit—a story about a Hitler Youth named Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) with an imaginary friend in the shape of the Führer (Waititi)—they can take heart in last night’s riotous applause and the seemingly endless line of festivalgoers eager to snap up a costly, exclusive commemorative poster https://twitter.com/DougBenson/status/1175059564686958593 Just as with TIFF, the critics in attendance at Fantastic Fest were a bit more divided The consensus in the hallways of the Alamo Drafthouse was generally positive, but Fantastic Fest regulars who have been following Waititi’s career since the beginning were quick to declare this not his strongest effort to mix satire with serious subject matter, compared to 2010’s Boy or 2016’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople The post-screening chatter didn’t seem as heated or divisive as the endless Twitter debates around Green Book or Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri in previous Oscar races, but many Fantastic Fest critics were hesitant to declare this an outright triumph But there’s no underestimating how much Waititi’s personal star power—sharply on the rise thanks to his wildly popular work with Marvel—could help in the long, long campaign generally required for an Oscar win As an actor and a director, Waititi comes with the built-in recognition courtesy of his onscreen work and low-key style-icon status The road to the Oscars requires filmmakers and other hopefuls to answer the same questions over and over and over again, and Waititi’s star power ought to carry him through many of them But at Fantastic Fest, a famously loose and raucous event, Waititi seemed already itchy to get out of the confines of a Q&A, kicking off his shoes and, at one point, wandering off the stage altogether How might he handle the much more staid events hosted by the Screen Actors Guild, et cetera? And will his irreverent approach to, well, everything, be dubbed refreshing by Academy voters, or something else?Most Popular HollywoodJojo Rabbit Lands TIFF 2019 People’s Choice Award—Are the Oscars Next?By Kevin Fitzpatrick and Katey Rich HollywoodJojo Rabbit: Taika Waititi’s Anti-Hitler Satire Looks Like This Fall’s Wildest MovieBy Yohana Desta HollywoodIt’s Possible to Make a Good Comedy About Hitler—But Jojo Rabbit Isn’t ItBy K Austin CollinsAdvertisement The most common critique dogging Jojo Rabbit out of TIFF is that it is too soft and jolly on a subject as serious and relevant as Nazism On a recent episode of Vanity Fair’s Little Gold Men podcast, Richard Lawson called Jojo Rabbit a “panacea” that, like the redemption of a racist in Three Billboards or the racial fairy tale of Green Book, might serve to comfort, rather than challenge, audiences But Waititi, fresh off the TIFF circuit, came prepared to defend his film on this point “This isn’t my first Q&A rodeo,” he joked. Waititi—who quickly mentioned his Jewish family’s own escape from Russia as a motivation for making the film—was ready to push back against the critique that comedy and Hitler don’t mix, even before anyone in the audience brought it up “We’re told to ‘never forget,’” he said, citing the Holocaust Remembrance Day pledge, “but it seems kind of weirdly that we are forgetting that stuff ” Waititi said that he considered it his job as a filmmaker to retell the story of Nazism and the Holocaust in a new way, and one that would be especially appealing to the young audiences perhaps most in danger of forgetting Enter the young protagonists of Jojo, a group of children rendered as vivid by Waititi as the groups of abandoned kids, immature vampires, and squabbling superhero brothers who have populated other phases of his career Waititi brushed off the naturalistic, emotional performances he drew out of young stars Roman Griffin Davis and Thomasin McKenzie as “80% casting,” but Waititi’s career as a whole tells a different story This is the director’s third film centered on young people, and without fail he manages to deliver captivating, fully drawn characters reacting realistically to the frustration and fear of being abandoned by the adults who are supposed to show them the way to navigate a confusing world It’s that aspect, even more than the gravity of the historically awards-friendly WW II setting, that elevates Jojo above some of Waititi’s zippier comedies and makes Fox Searchlight’s Oscar ambitions for the film seem credible Will it be enough to land Waititi an Academy Award? Perhaps. But awards campaigning is a marathon, not a sprint Fantastic Fest and a TIFF victory are the fun parts. Now the real work begins.