Canadian Screen Awards: Picks and Predictions

 Canada's Oscar nominee Rebelle could dominate Sunday's Canadian Screen Awards
If Kim Nguyen didn’t get a chance to thank the Academy last Sunday, he can surely do so this weekend. Nguyen’s Rebelle (War Witch) might have been the dark horse in the Best Foreign Language Film category at this year’s Academy Awards, but it’s arguably the front-runner for Best Picture at the inaugural Canadian Screen Awards. The awards, which collapse the previous Genie and Gemini awards into one fête that also acknowledges digital work, are a new step forward for celebrating Canada’s A/V industry. There are films and artists worth celebrating and these awards will hopefully bring enough exposure and excitement to create audiences for Canadian films. The benefit of such coverage is evident in the number of shout outs Canada received during Sunday’s Oscars.

The new Canadian Screen Award
The coverage of the Academy Awards gives Rebelle an obvious advantage over the rest of the competition. Canada’s previous nominees, Incendies and Monsieur Lazhar, steamrolled the Genies after gaining momentum as Canada’s pride at the Oscars. The Oscar race plays a significant role in creating the myth that all the good Canadian films come out of Quebec. In previous years, film’s like Barney’s Version and The Whistleblower were equally worthy of the award. You’d have to go back to 2008’s winner Passchendaele to find an English-language winner. Perhaps the worst film ever to win the Genie, Passchendaele is the kind of joke that made the Genies seem like domestic affair that rewarded Canadian content over quality cinema.

Canada has had an odd year with the push-and-pull relationship between flag-waving and support for great films. Ben Affleck’s Argo put Canadian moviemaking in the spotlight, even if it was an American film about a fake Canadian movie. The disappointing vendetta against Argo that was pioneered by Maclean’s Magazine and other outlets suggests that some Canadians still think national heritage trumps quality filmmaking. (Although we have to remember that Maclean's is the same magazine that dismissed Midnight's Children for not being "visibly Canadian".) On the other hand, Toron’o audiences embraced the film at TIFF and voted favourably enough to make Argo the runner-up for the People’s Choice Award. A letter to the editor in yesterday’s Ottawa Citizen also notes the convoluted nature of some Canadians’ criticism of Argo since the Canadian industry itself praised and awarded a film that plays loose with facts for the sake of making a good story: Passchendaele.

This year’s Canadian Screen Awards, however, seem to find a good middle ground between nationalism and cinephilia. There are strong films in contention, not to mention a diverse field. Likewise, many of the nominees are actually Canadian, as opposed to previous ceremonies that have largely recognized foreign talent. Only one of the eight acting winners at the previous two ceremonies was Canadian: Monsieur Lazhar’s Sophie Nélisse.

Equally important is the number of nominees that one could see before the awards. Thanks to iTunes and such, the availability of Canadian films has never been better. (But it still has a ways to go.) Festivals also play a vital role in Canadian awards, even more so than with the Oscars, since a film can submit to the CSAs prior to its theatrical release if it plays at two accredited festivals. Hence, a film like Still Mine can compete this year even though most Canadians will only be able to see it in the months following the awards. This makes it difficult to predict the awards, but it's also easy to be up on the nominees if one happened to be at the right festival. For the first time ever, I saw all the Animated Short nominees before the nominations were even announced; however, I have seen only one Live Action nominee due to the choices I made at TIFF and due to the fact that Canada's Top Ten never came to Ottawa. Likewise, seeing five out of six Best Picture nominees is surprisingly good for me, even though I make an effort to watch as many of these contenders as possible.

The fact that one has to interpret these films/awards sight unseen often makes the awards unpredictable, but it usually comes down to the our Oscar submission competing against the top English-language nominee. Who could/should be the first film winners at the Canadian Screen Awards? Let’s see:

Best Motion Picture:

Midnight's Children should win Best Picture.
The nominees: L’affaire Dumont, Inch’Allah, Laurence Anyways, Midnight’s Children, Rebelle/War Witch, Still Mine.

The best Canadian film of the year wasn’t even allowed to be a contender. Sarah Polley’s beautiful Stories We Tell was ineligible for the top prizes because it is a documentary. Stories could have swept the awards since it was arguably the most well-reviewed Canadian film of last year. Documentary filmmakers work just as hard as dramatic filmmakers do, so they should be allowed to compete in categories such as direction, editing, and such. But I digress…

Rebelle has a solid lead over the other films since it won deserved praise from the Canadian festival circuit and from corners of the country where it saw distribution. (It’s now available on home video, so you should watch it before Sunday night.) Rebelle’s top rival is probably the film it battled to become Canada’s Oscar entry: Xavier Dolan’s Laurence Anyways. Even though Laurence bested Rebelle for the prize of Best Canadian film at TIFF, Rebelle went on to the Oscars. I presume that Rebelle moved on because it had an American distributor at the time and Laurence did not. Rebelle is also simply the better film and it’s far more accessible than Dolan’s three-hour art film is, so I guess it will triumph again for these two reasons.

I would personally give the award to Deepa Mehta’s Midnight’s Children. The scope and style of the film is a well-executed feat. Mehta took a risk in bringing Salman Rushdie’s acclaimed novel to the screen and I think she nailed it. Mehta has never won the top prize at the Genies even though she was nominated for acclaimed films like Water, so Midnight’s Children could do well if enough voters embrace it. As one of only two English-language films among the six, Midnight’s Children could do well against the four Francophone films, which could siphon a few votes to L’affaire Dumont and Inch’Allah, the latter of which is my pick for the best film Quebec had to offer this year. The other English film, Still Mine, probably had a hard time reaching voters since it hasn’t made it to theatres yet, even though it made Canada’s Top Ten. CTT didn’t even come to Canada’s capital, if one wants a sense of how difficult it is for these films to find a home in Canadian theatres.

Will win: Rebelle/War Witch
I’d vote for: Midnight’s Children
Shoulda been there: Stories We Tell, Cosmopolis

Achievement in Direction:

Deepa Mehta on the shoot of Midnight's Children
The nominees: Xavier Dolan (Laurence Anyways), Michael Dowse (Goon), Bernard Émond (Tout ce que tu possèdes/All That You Possess), Deepa Mehta (Midnight’s Children), Kim Nguyen (Rebelle/War Witch).

Nguyen wins for many of the reasons listed above. It’s his first nomination, though, which could be an obstacle since the Canadian Academy doesn’t have the best track record for rewarding new talent. Just ask Xavier Dolan, who was shut out in 2009 even though I Killed My Mother was easily the most acclaimed Canadian debut in years. Dolan could take this prize since he has never won before and has gained in popularity since Mother. Laurence, despite its flaws, has also been seen as a step forward in the young filmmaker’s impressive filmography. Deepa Mehta could also be a sentimental favourite since she hasn’t won before and Midnight’s Children is easily the finest achievement of her career. It’s a strong field.

I’m also thrilled that the Academy acknowledged Bernard Émond for All That You Possess, a film that seemed to have been lost at TIFF and its subsequent release. Émond probably won’t win, nor will Michael Dowd, since their respective films didn’t earn Best Picture nods, but they cap off a category filled with impressive filmmakers.

★Will win: Kim Nguyen, Rebelle/War Witch
★I’d vote for: Deepa Mehta, Midnight’s Children
★Shoulda been there: Sarah Polley, Stories We Tell; David Cronenberg, Cosmopolis
*A trend is emerging!

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role:

Will Melvil Poupaud bring Laurence Anyways its only major win?
The nominees: James Cromwell (Still Mine), Patrick Drolet (All That You Possess), Marc-André Grondin (L’affaire Dumont), David Morse (Collaborator), Melvil Poupaud (Laurence Anyways).

The two best performances by actors in a Canadian film aren’t here. Christopher Plummer gives the performance of his career in Barrymore, but he got the cold shoulder. Plummer’s absence could be related to a lack of submission, so I’ll give him a hat tip and remind you that he was my pick for the best performance of 2012. Also robbed of a Best Actor nomination is—and I never would have guessed that I’d write this—Robert Pattinson. Pattinson was hosed for his impressively cold turn in David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis. I don’t understand why the Academy failed to embrace Cosmopolis even though they have repeatedly heaped on prizes and nominations for lesser Cronenberg films. Cosmopolis is Cronenberg’s best Canadian film in over a decade and it deserved some hardware. It’s a divisive film, to be sure, but I thought Pattinson’s performance would at least bring some star power to the award show.

The absence of Plummer and Pattinson is especially curious given the small nature of the films for which performers are nominated. I hadn’t even heard of Collaborator prior to the nominations announcement. Collaborator is a Canada/US co-pro directed by Martin Donovan, so I wish it had made it to some platform in Ottawa. Like Collaborator, few people have probably seen Still Mine, All That You Possess, or L’affaire Dumont, so Cromwell, Drolet, and Grondin don’t stand a very good chance of winning. I was able to see the latter two films, and I think that the actors give performances worthy of the award, so anything is possible. I think, however, that the win will go to Laurence Anyways star Melvil Poupaud since his film was the only one that could have been widely seen. (At least in the sense of how a Canadian film can be widely seen.) He gives a brave performance as the transgendered Laurence and he could bring Dolan’s film its only major win of the night.

★Will win: Melvil Poupaud, Laurence Anyways
★I’d vote for: Poupaud
★Shoulda been there: Plummer, Pattinson.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role:

 Clément should win by a landslide for Laurence Anyways, but will she?
The nominees: Evelyne Brochu (Inch’Allah), Geneviève Bujold (Still Mine), Marilyn Castonguay (L’affaire Dumont), Suzanne Clément (Laurence Anyways), Rachel Mwanza (Rebelle/War Witch)

I will be annoyed if Suzanne Clément doesn’t take this award. In spite of all my reservations for Laurence Anyways, I recommended the film consistently due to Clément’s performance, which joined Plummer on my list for the year's best. She’s a powerhouse as Fred, the girlfriend of Laurence who undergoes a gruelling personal odyssey when her lover declares that he wants to change his sex. Everything about Dolan’s critique of society’s take on normalcy is conveyed through Clément’s performance. The “brunch scene” alone merits a win.

Clément’s top competition comes from Rebelle’s Rachel Mwanza. Mwanza is quite good in her quiet performance as the child soldier Komona and, after revisiting the film prior to the Oscars, I will admit that I didn’t give her performance enough credit when I first saw the film. Mwanza’s performance could benefit from love for the film and from additional sentiment brought by her rags-to-riches story. As good as Mwanza is, though, her work simply isn’t in the league of Clément’s performance. I honestly don’t know how anyone could watch these two performances and not give the prize to Clément; however, in the only showdown between the actors, the Vancouver Film Critics’ Awards, Mwanza came out on top.

★Will win: Rachel Mwanza, Rebelle/War Witch
★I’d vote for: Suzanne Clément, Laurence Anyways
★Shoulda been there: Melissa Leo, Francine

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role:

Goon has to win something, eh?
The nominees: Jay Baruchel (Goon), Kim Coates (Goon), Stephan James (Home Again), Serge Kanyinda (Rebelle/War Witch), Elias Koteas (Winnie)

The category doesn’t seem as strong as the others do. These are all good performances, but hardly award-worthy ones. Where is—again—Cosmopolis scene-stealer Paul Giamatti? Any member of the ensemble from Midnight’s Children could have been here, too. My guess is that local favourite Jay Baruchel will win for his funny performance as a hockey-hoser in Goon. Goon was one of the few Canadian films last year that enjoyed anything close to mainstream success, so it can expect to win something. Serge Kanyinda is also quite memorable in Rebelle, though, and he could add another win to the film’s total haul.

★Will win: Jay Baruchel, Goon
★I’d vote for: Serge Kanyinda, Rebelle
★Shoulda been there: Paul Giamatti, Cosmopolis

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role:

Midnight's Children can expect at least one win thanks to Seema Biswas
The nominees: Seema Biswas (Midnight’s Children), Fefe Dobson (Home Again), Alice Morel Michaud (Les Pee Wee 3D), Gabrielle Miller (Moving Day), Sabrina Ouazani (Inch’Allah).

No Sarah Gadon? What gives? Canada’s blonde bombshell is our newest star-in-the-making and she could have been nominated for her performances in one or both of this year’s Cronenberg films: David’s Cosmopolis and Brandon’s Antiviral. The nomination committees could have chosen one of these equally deserving performances, but they picked neither.

Equally worthy of praise were several foreign actresses who brought star-power and top-level skills to Canadian films. Nathalie Baye (Laurence Anyways), Samantha Morton (Cosmopolis), and Marisa Tomei (Inescapable) were among the highlights of their respective films. The stars were passed over for Canadians in unseen films, such as pop star Fefe Dobson, whose Home Again has drawn some rave reviews after playing in only a handful of festivals. Likewise, Corner Gas’s Gabrielle Miller earned a nomination simply for showing up to the shoot for the commercial-comedy blunder Moving Day. Sabrina Ouazani marks one of the few notable obscurities, as her performance as Rand in Inch’Allah is a welcome addition to this category.

I can’t really complain, though, since my top choice made the cut. Seema Biswas could win her second trophy for a Deepa Mehta film after winning a Best Actress Genie for Water. Biswas is the heart of Midnight’s Children and she deserves to win.

★Will win: Seema Biswas, Midnight’s Children
★I’d vote for: Biswas
★Shoulda been there: Sarah Gadon and Samantha Morton, Cosmopolis; Nathalie Baye, Laurence Anyways.

The rest of the awards:

Original Screenplay

Blackbird – Jason Buxton
Laurence Anyways – Xavier Dolan
Rebelle/War Witch – Kim Nguyen
Still Mine – Michael McGowan
Tout ce que tu possèdes/All That YouPossess – Bernard Émond
Will win: Rebelle
I'd vote: Rebelle

Adapted Screenplay

Cosmopolis – David Cronenberg
Goon – Jay Baruchel, Evan Goldberg
The Lesser Blessed – Anita Doron
Mars et Avril – Martin Villeneuve
Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
Will win: Midnight's Children
I'd vote: Midnight's Children

Achievement in Art Direction/Production Design

L’affaire Dumont – André Guimond
Antiviral – Arvinder Grewal
Laurence Anyways – Anne Pritchard
Midnight’s Children – Dilip Mehta
Rebelle/War Witch – Emmanuel Frechette, Josée Arsenault
Will win: Antiviral
I'd vote: Midnight's Children

Achievement in Cinematography

Sponsor: Christie Digital
Goon – Bobby Shore
Inch’Allah – Philippe Lavalette
Midnight’s Children – Giles Nuttgens
Rebelle/War Witch  – Nicolas Bolduc
Still Mine – Brendan Steacy
Will win: Rebelle
I'd vote: Midnight's Children 

Achievement in Costume Design

Laurence Anyways – Xavier Dolan, François Barbeau
Mad Ship – Patricia Henderson
Rebelle/War Witch – Éric Poirier
Resident Evil: Retribution – Wendy Partridge
Silent Hill: Revelation 3D – Wendy Partridge
Will win: Laurence Anyways
I'd vote: Laurence Anyways
-->How on earth did Midnight's Children miss this prize? 

Achievement in Editing:

L’affaire Dumont – Valéie Héroux
Blackbird – Kimberlee McTaggart
Inch’Allah – Sophie Leblond
Rebelle/War Witch  – Richard Comeau
Still Mine – Roderick Deogrades
Will win: Rebelle
I'd vote: Inch'Allah

Achievement in Make-up

Silent Hill: Revelation 3D
Will win: Antiviral
I'd vote: Antiviral

Achievement in Music – Original Score

Antiviral E.C. Woodley
Cosmopolis – Howard Shore
Mars et Avril – Benoit Charest
Still Mine – Don Rooke, Hugh Marsh, Michelle Willis
Will win: Cosmopolis
I'd vote: Cosmopolis!

Achievement in Music – Original Song

(Sponsor: Slaight Music)
Cosmopolis, “Long to Live” – Emily Haines, James Shaw, Howard Shore
Rufus, “Wanting” – Erland & The Carnival
Rufus, “Out of Sight” – Erland & The Carnival
Will win: Cosmopolis
I'd vote: Cosmopolis

Achievement in Overall Sound

Sponsor: Deluxe Toronto Ltd.
The Disappeared
Mars et Avril
Will win: Rebelle
I'd vote: Antiviral

Achievement in Sound Editing

The Disappeared
Resident Evil: Retribution
Will win: Resident Evil: Retribution
I'd vote: Rebelle

Achievement in Visual Effects

Mars et Avril
Resident Evil: Retribution
Silent Hill: Revelation 3D
Will win: Resident Evil: Retribution
I'd vote: Midnight's Children
-->No Antiviral? Really? 

Ted Rogers Best Feature Length Documentary Award

Sponsor: Rogers Group of Funds
Alphée des étoiles - Hugo Latulippe, Eric De Gheldere, Colette Loumède
Indie Game: The Movie - Lisanne Pajot, James Swirsky
Over My Dead Body - Brigitte Poupart, Virginie Dubois, Stéphanie Morissette
Stories We Tell - Sarah Polley, Anita Lee
The World Before Her - Nisha Pahuja, Ed Barreveld, Cornelia Principe 2013
Will win: Stories We Tell
I'd vote: Stories We Tell

Best Short Documentary

Sponsor: Hot Docs
The Boxing Girls of Kabul - Ariel Nasr, Annette Clarke (Watch)
The Fuse: Or How I Burned Simon Bolivar - Igor Drljaca
Keep a Modest Head - Deco Dawson, Catherine Chagnon
Let the Daylight into the Swamp - Jeffrey St. Jules, Anita Lee
Three Walls - Zaheed Mawani, Andrea Bussman
Will win: Keep a Modest Head
I'd vote: Let the Daylight into the Swamp

Best Live Action Short

Chef de Meute - Chloé Robichaud, Fanny-Laure Malo, Sarah Pellerin
First Snow - Michaël Lalancette
Frost - Jeremy Ball, Lauren Grant, Robert Munroe
The Near Future - Sophie Goyette
Throat Song - Miranda de Pencier, Stacey Aglok MacDonal
Will win: Frost
I'd vote: Frost!

Best Animated Short

Bydlo - Patrick Bouchard, Julie Roy (watch)
Demoni - Theodore Ushev
Edmond was a Donkey - Franck Dion, Richard Van Den Boom, Julie Roy
Paula - Dominic Étienne Simard, Julie Roy (watch)
Will win: Edmond was a Donkey
I'd vote: Bydlo

The first of the awards for television and digital media have already been handed out, but the winners of the film awards will be named on Sunday, March 3rd.  The awards broadcast, hosted by Martin Short, airs on CBC at 8pm on March 3rd.

Which Canadian films are you rooting for? 

Do you think Rebelle will win?