Canadian Screen Awards: Predictions and Picks

I need to start this article with a genuine nod of “Well done!” to the Academy for their effort this year. The Canadian Screen Awards show signs of significant improvement as they move through to their third year. This week’s first wave of kudos across television and digital media includes worthy winners such as Tales from the Organ Trade, Our Man in Tehran, and A History of the Highrise. The film front, moreover, is a strong celebration of Canadian movies. The award show is helping these films reach audiences so that Canadians may appreciate the strong work coming out from our own filmmakers. It’s one thing to spotlight Canadian content, but the effort is far more effective when audiences celebrate Canadian films that are great movies regardless of their origin, and this year’s Canadian Screen Awards lets us do exactly that.


Extra! Extra! Daniel Perlmutter and Ennis Esmer Talk 'Big News from Grand Rock'!

Ennis Esmer (centre) stars in Big News from Grand Rock
with Tammy Isbell, Peter Keleghan, Gordon Pinsent, and Kristin Booth.
“I’ve never lived in a small town, but I’ve always loved that you get such a sense of the community when you pick up a small town newspaper,” says director Daniel Perlmutter. “You feel like you are reading about the people around you, rather than bigger issues, which are also important, but there’s something about really reading about your neighbours and your friends that can bring a community together. That’s an experience that you don’t really have in the city.” Perlmutter’s upcoming film Big News from Grand Rock finds an unlikely underdog story in the offbeat tale of one lone editor’s creative quest to save his fledgling newspaper in the fictional Canadian town of Grand Rock, Ontario. Perlmutter and Grand Rock star Ennis Esmer, who plays the in-over-his-head editor Leonard, joined me in a chat over the phone to talk about their new film, which opens in Canadian theatres February 27. The hilarious duo makes some great observations about the creature comforts of community newspapers and, as a cottager reared on stories about homemade pickles and columnists waving down Canada Post on the highway to get said pickle stories delivered to the pages of The Pontiac Equity, I think the duo’s points resonate as much as the slice-of-life humour does in Leonard’s befuddled quest in Big News from Grand Rock.


Hot Docs Announces First Films for Hot Docs 15

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
Is it Hot Docs already? My TIFF Docs coverage only just hits the stands! It's good to have docs on the brain at any time, though, and Hot Docs has lots for us to get excited about this year with their first 17 films announced for the 2015 edition of the festival. (I hope to make it again this year!) Among the titles are the fully authorized Kurt Cobain doc Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the World Premiere of Robert Cohen's Being Canadian, prizewinners from Sundance and other international film festivals, along with retro screenings of Barry Avrich's The Last Mogul and Jennie Livingston's Paris is Burning. The full list of films for Hot Docs '15 will be released March 17. Hot Docs runs April 23- May 3.

The first films announced for the fest are: 

'Henri' Finds Itself in a Pickle

Henri Henri
(Canada, 100 min.)
Written and directed by Martin Talbot
Starring: Victor Andrés Trelles Turgeon, Sophie Desmarais, Marcel Sabourin
Allons-y on a trip to the strange and magical world of Henri Henri. Henri (Victor Andrés Trelles Turgeon) doesn’t know his own last name, so he simply offers an awkward smile and a nod whenever strangers introduce themselves and wait to hear his full name. “Henri…?” they ask as Henri holds an infectious grin and responds, “Henri, Henri,” affirming their understanding of his first name without understanding that they’re probing for his family name.

Julianne Moore Joins Canadian Screen Awards Presenters

Julianne Moore in Maps to the Stars.
Hold the presses! Oscar winner Julianne Moore is making one more stop on the awards train. The recent Academy Award winner for Still Alice is among the final presenters named for Sunday’s Canadian Screen Awards ceremony. Moore is nominated for Best Actress for her sensational performance in David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars, for which she won Best Actress at Cannes and received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress – Comedy/Musical. Moore is arguably the biggest draw that the Canadian Screen Awards have scored since revamping in 2013 and she’s at the centre of the strongest Best Actress line-up that Canada’s ever had. Tune in Sunday to see if her winning streak continues!


Watch the SPARTA DIFD Films!

I enjoyed some judging duties this weekend with the SPARTA Film Challenge in support of DIFD, which aims to create awareness and support for youth mental health. This round of Ottawa’s 72 Hour Film Challenge tasked filmmakers with shooting a film in a mere three days using the ‘catch criteria’ of a line of dialogue (an iconic movie line) and a purple DIFD wrist band. I wasn’t able to make it to the Monday screening as planned (car trouble... everyone’s battery is dying these days!), but it’s fun to watch the films on the small screen even if you can’t see them on the big one.

Ottawa International Animation Festival is Now Accepting Submissions

Feast was an OIAF 2014 hit.
The Ottawa International Animation Festival is now accepting submissions! OIAF invites filmmakers to submit their films for the upcoming festival, which runs September 16-20. OIAF is the largest animation showcase in North America and far and away the biggest and best film event in the National Capital. Last year’s festival boasted impressive numbers with animation fans from home and abroad flocking to The ByTowne to enjoy the latest animated offerings from Canadian and international filmmakers. Notable OIAF 2014 selections include a trio of Oscar nominees for Best Animated Short—The Bigger Picture, Me and My Moulton, and the eventual winner Feast—plus a handful of Canadian Screen Award nominees including the animated documentary Seth’s Dominion, and a grand showcase of Disney work including series curated by Leonard Maltin and Jerry Beck and a retro screening of The Little Mermaid.


Birdman Wins! Highs and Lows of Oscars 2014-15

The Birdman team wins Best Picture.
Woohoo for Birdman! Last night’s win for Birdman makes it a back-to-back coup for the Academy Award going to the best film of the night. Birdman nabbed four wins overall, tying The Grand Budapest Hotel as the big winner of the show, including notable wins for Best Director and Best Cinematography. Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s win in the former category made back-to-back wins for Mexican directors following Alfonso Cuaron’s prize for Gravity year (and made it five years in a row that Best Director has not been rewarded to an American) while cinematography winner Emmanuel ‘Chivo’ Lubezki enjoyed the rare honour of winning back-to-back after claiming the prize for Gravity at last year’s ceremony. It’s too bad that Birdman’s Michael Keaton gave the performance of a lifetime and wasn’t among the winners, since his brave and wholly original performance made Birdman the daringly original and entertaining film it is (and it’s impossible to argue against winner Eddie Redmayne’s remarkable turn in The Theory of Everything), but at least he got some time on stage with the biggest win of the night. Birdman’s a great choice to define a strong year in maverick independent filmmaking.


Oscar Party Menu and Music

Enjoy some of Herr Mendl's Courtesans au chocolat on Oscar Night!
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures
The winners might be the big talk of Oscar night, but the best part (next to Meryl Streep) is the Oscar noms. Not the nominees, of course, but the delectable little nom-noms that you enjoy with friends while mocking the Mani-Cam on the red carpet, readying your picks of who will win and who should win, and munching when the sound guys do their speeches. The Oscar party I attend always does a potluck and this year I’m bringing Courtesans au chocolat for The Grand Budapest Hotel... straight from Mendl’s, of course! (Last year’s contributions were catfish for August: Osage County and cornbread for 12 Years a Slave). It’s always more fun to show support for one’s favourite film of the night, though, so I’ll also be bringing some goodies for Wild. Here’s an Oscar-themed menu to help you with your Oscar party:


'Mommy' Wins France's César!

Vive la France! Now here's a major coup for Canada! Xavier Dolan's Mommy just scored the prize for Best Foreign Film at the César Awards, which are France's equivalent of the Oscars. This win comes after Dolan's fourth nomination in the category and Canada's biggest win in France since 2003's The Barbarian Invasions took top honours of Best Film, Director (Denys Arcand), and Screenplay. Mommy trumped some strong competition at the awards: last year's Best Picture winner 12 Years a Slave, Cannes winner Winter Sleep, and hot Oscar contenders Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Ida, and Two Days, One Night. Dolan wasn't on hand to collect the prize, but he kept his speech short and sweet:

Oscar Predictions: Final Round - Will Win/Should Win

Birdman should win Best Picture, but will it?
Only a year ago I wrote called the Best Picture race “the closest and most exciting race I’ve seen in years.” Well, if the showdown between 12 Years a Slave and Gravity was intense, then awards junkies need a heavy dose of horse tranquilizers as they wait to see if Boyhood or Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) comes out on top. It’s the one year where I honestly wouldn’t be willing to place money on Best Picture, since this Sunday’s Oscar ceremony ends the most dynamic and unpredictable awards season ever. It’s bound to end on a high note, too, since Boyhood and Birdman are both groundbreaking and audacious feats for independent films. Anyone who complains about either film winning deserves another fifty years of Marvel movies.

Coach Costner and the Disney Sports Movie

(USA, 128 min.)
Dir. Niki Caro, Writ. Christopher Cleveland, Bettina Gilois, Grant Thompson
Starring: Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Morgan Saylor, Carlos Pratts, Ramiro Rodriguez, Eloy Casados
The Inspirational Disney Sports Movie is a becoming an annual affair that offers a wholesome, perfectly inoffensive sports movie. One approaches said Disney sports movie (ex: Miracle, Million Dollar Arm) expecting exactly these ingredients (plus a reliable male lead) and one gets nothing more and nothing less than one anticipates. McFarland, though, runs the extra mile.


'Manners Maketh Man'

Kingsman: The Secret Service
(UK, 129 min.)
Dir. Matthew Vaughn, Writ. Jane Goodman, Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Sophie Cookson
“The new ones are so serious,” says Harry Hart (Colin Firth) during a posh dinner of Big Macs and fries with Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). Harry, a spy under the codename Galahad in the Knights of the Round Table-themed aliases of the British secret service organization the Kingsmen, discusses spy movies with the megalomaniac Valentine in one of the many tongue-in-cheek moments of the spy spoof Kingsman: The Secret Service. If Harry and Valentine aren’t fans of the stern Skyfall-era James Bond films, then they’re in good company with anyone who misses the days when espionage and realism didn’t go hand in hand. Kingsman is a raucous throwback to the Roger Moore era of spy cinema (re: James Bond in Space), and this fun, auctioned-packed farce is a riot.


TIFF Human Rights Watch Film Fest Boasts 8 Docs

The Wanted 18.
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
The line-up for +TIFF ’s 12th annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival has just been released and it boasts eight documentaries that highlight extraordinary stories from around the world. Among the docs are Wim Wenders’ current Oscar nominee for Best Documentary Feature The Salt of the Earth and Joshua Oppenheimer’s festival sensation and follow-up to The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence. (Both films made the OFCS list of the best unreleased films of 2014.) Other notable entries and festival favourites include the surprise (and worthy) for the People’s Choice Award for Best Documentary at TIFF 2014, Beats of the Antonov and my favourite Canadian doc from last year’s festival circuit, The Wanted 18. (I covered the latter three films for POV during TIFF and you can find links to the reviews below, along with additional coverage in the upcoming spring issue.) You don’t want to miss this wild and wholly original docudrama that puts some endearing clay cows at the heart of the human rights movement. The festival line-up includes a hot of special guests to engage audiences with Q&As following the screenings, but, sadly, the cows are not among them.

Contest: Win Tickets to See 'The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' in Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary! (CONTEST CLOSED)

Pack your bags and enjoy your stay! The gang’s all returning for The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel! Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and all your favourites from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel are back and this time they’re bringing newcomers David Strathairn and Richard Gere. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel opens in theatres across Canada on March 6 from +Fox Searchlight, but if you live in Toronto, Vancouver, or Calgary and you want to attend a sneak peek, you are in luck! Answer the trivia below for your chance to win tickets!