'It's the Oscars All Over Again!': Thoughts on Last Night's Canadian Screen Awards

The Gabrielle team: Kim McCraw, Gabrielle Marion-Rivard, Louise Archamabault,
Alexandre Landry, Luc Déry.
It’s like the Oscars all over again! Last night’s film portion of the second annual Canadian Screen Awards saw a Gravity and 12 Years a Slave-like split between Enemy and Gabrielle. The best film prevailed in the end, as it did at the Academy Awards, and Gabrielle took home the prize for Best Motion Picture. Gabrielle’s win nearly let the Canadian Screen Awards make good on a very questionable set of nominations to represent the year in film.

Gabrielle continued the streak of Canadian Oscar submissions triumphing at the Canadian Screen Awards (and the former Genies). Oscar picks won four years in a row with Gabrielle following the lead of Incendies, Monsieur Lazhar, and Rebelle. Gabrielle also brought another win for producers Kim McCraw and Luc Déry, who produced Incendies and Monsieur Lazhar. It looked like the streak would not continue as Gabrielle headed into the awards, though, since writer/director Louise Archambault was snubbed from both the direction and screenplay nominations, and Gabrielle was shut out in the early prizes handed out before the ceremony. The win for Gabrielle was foreshadowed in a surprise coup for lead actress Gabrielle Marion-Rivard, who plays the title character. (I thought Empire of Dirt’s Cara Gee was a lock for the award.) Marion-Rivard, who, like her character Gabrielle, has William’s Syndrome, was clearly surprised and elated by her win, as she offered one of the most excited and energetic speeches of the broadcast.

Marion-Rivard’s win, as much as it is deserved, seemed like it would be a conciliation prize for Gabrielle amidst a scattershot distribution of awards. Gabrielle won two prizes, but Marion-Rivard’s CSA offered a reminder that Archambault was slighted on the Best Director prize that she quite emphatically deserved for delivering the subtle and sensitive love story. Gabrielle was one of only three Best Picture nominees to have received a theatrical release heading into the awards, and last night’s ceremony struggled to shake the feeling that it was an awkward marketing ploy for upcoming films as several of the top awards went to films awaiting release.

Thankfully, though, the prize for Performance by a Lead Actor went to Gabriel Arcand for his excellent turn in Le démantèlement. Arcand was the first win of the broadcast. Very few of the films that actually received a release were acknowledged during the ceremony itself. The pre-show awards handed out a roster of technical awards to the home-cooked turkey The Mortal Instruments, plus some well-deserved crafts awards to Louis Cyr. Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky’s acclaimed Watermark won the Feature Documentary prize and thankfully received a clip highlight during the broadcast. Other pre-show winners included two short film wins for the National Film Board of Canada for Subconscious Password and Chi, plus the TIFF winning short Noah won for Live Action Short. Empire of Dirt and The F Word won the screenplay prizes for original and adapted, respectively. The latter film won in a category that was dominated by unreleased films.

It was very difficult to feel excited about an award ceremony without having the opportunity to see many of the top contenders. Part of the fun of watching the Oscars, as noted last week, was debating the films themselves with fellow film fans and Oscar completists who see all the nominated films. It was admittedly disappointing to see many of the voices that support Canadian film split between frustrated ambivalence or “Yay CanCon!” cheering for unseen films. The Screenies felt like we were awarding Canadian content for its own sake, rather than awarding films on merit, which isn’t the path to take to get these films the attention they deserve. Thankfully, though, the Best Motion Picture nominee Maïna, which I reported as failing to meet eligibility requirements, was shut out and will now enter its theatrical release with as little buzz as it did the Canadian Screen Awards. Nobody can say if Maïna should have won the award, though, because nobody saw it outside the voting body.

One also can’t help but wonder how Xavier Dolan must feel after being shut out (again) for Tom at the Farm. Tom was a hit on last year’s festival circuit, but it hasn’t screened theatrically in Canada and it might simply not have enjoyed enough reach to garner a win. Dolan could have easily gone all the way with Tom at the Farm, but, like Maïna, the film might have jumped the gun on its awards prospects. More fortunate was the night’s winner for Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, Gordon Pinsent, who appears in the May release The Grand Seduction. It still felt like an award gone to waste—especially since Pinsent wasn’t even there to claim it—because the film doesn’t open for two months and very few people saw the film, for it screened only a handful of times on the festival circuit. Enemy fared far better than its other unreleased competitors did. It opens in theatres this Friday and might have used the top prize to help boost its Canuck box office.

Enemy still walked away with five awards including Achievement in Direction for Denis Villeneuve and the prize for Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for Sarah Gadon, who was not present at the ceremony. A win for a film as experimental and avant-garde as Enemy would never have happened at the Oscars, though, so good on the Academy for acknowledging such ambitious work. The Enemy win marks Denis Villeneuve’s fourth Best Director prize from the Canadian Academy after Maelström, Polytechnique, and Incendies. (He also has two screenplay prizes for Incendies and Maelström, and a Best Short win for Next Floor.) This seventh trophy from the Canadian Academy saw Villeneuve surpass Academy favourite Atom Egoyan, who has six Genies including two for direction for The Sweet Hereafter and Exotica.

David Cronenberg still holds the record with five Genies for Achievement in Direction, and he added a Lifetime Achievement Award to his tally last night. Cronenberg’s acceptance speech easily marked the highlight of an otherwise mild broadcast. Viggo Mortensen, Cronenberg’s collaborator on A Dangerous Method, Eastern Promises, and A History of Violence, presented the award. (His History of Violence co-star Mario Bello was also at the ceremony.) Cronenberg made a surprisingly funny speech by offering Dilbert jokes and noting that the crowd probably expected him to do something strange and unusual. “You aren’t expecting a normal speech,” Cronenberg mused before offering a joke about an elderly man who visited the doctor because he has trouble peeing. Cronenberg reminded the audience that he hasn’t stopped peeing yet, and the standing ovation for Canada’s Blood Baron seemed quite thankful for his ability to tinkle.

Cronenberg’s centrepiece brought the Canadian Screen Awards to life, as the swift doling out of awards gave little time for host Martin Short to do much shtick. Short marked his second stint as Screenie host by opening with a quintessentially Canadian monologue that relied on jokes about the weather, broadcaster fees, and Rob Ford’s (alleged) crack problem. He them offered a song and dance number to all the lovely losing ladies, which seemed like a polite Canadian spin on Seth MacFarlane’s “We saw your boobs” bit from the Oscars of 2012.

The number, however, highlighted the notable roster of stars in attendance at the ceremony. Star wattage was on greater display at the Screenies than it was last year. The appearance of Mortensen and Bello complemented the calibre of Canadian talent at the ceremony that included Mad Men’s Jessica Paré, who joked a spoiler for the upcoming final season by revealing that characters will be smoking cigarettes and drinking liquor, and Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany, who won Best Actress for her role on the hit series. The night also gave the feeling that some Canadian actors are becoming stars for their work in Canadian films, as nominees Jay Baruchel and Evelyne Brochu provided some of the show’s highlights for Canadian talent.

The Canadian Screen Awards had a decent, if shaky, effort in their sophomore year. Last night’s ceremony nevertheless brought a decent level of excitement from many fans and it marks the effort a step in the right direction. Next year’s Screenies could do even better if the awards build excitement by actually getting people to see and discuss the films themselves, which seems like the whole point of an award show.

Full list of film winners:

Best Motion Picture
Gabrielle - Kim McCraw, Luc Déry

Achievement in Direction:
★Denis Villeneuve, Enemy

Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role:
★Gabrielle Marion-Rivard, Gabrielle

Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role:
★Gabriel Arcand, Le démantèlement

Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role:
Sarah Gadon, Enemy

Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role:
★Gordon Pinsent, The Grand Seduction

Original Screenplay:
Empire of Dirt - Shannen Masters

Adapted Screenplay:
The F-Word - Elan Mastai

Ted Rogers Award for Best Documentary:
Watermark- Jennifer Baichwal, Edward Burtynsky, Nicholas de Pencier, Daniel Iron

Achievement in Cinematography:
Enemy - Nicholas Bolduc

Achievement in Film Editing:
Enemy - Matthew Hannam

Achievement in Costumes:
Louis Cyr - Carmen Alie 

Achievement in Art Direction:
Louis Cyr- Michel Proulx

Achievement in Music - Original Score:
Enemy - Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans

Achievement in Music, Original Song:
Achievement in Make-up:
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones- Jo-ann MacNeil, Karola Dirnberger, Paul Jones

Achievement in Overall Sound:
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones- Andrew Tay, David Drage, David Giammarco, Greg

Achievement in Sound  Editing:
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones - Alex Bullick, Christian Schaaning, J.R. Fountain, Jill Purdy,

Achievement Visual Effects:
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones- Andy Robinson, Dennis Berardi, Edward J. Taylor IV, James 

Best Live Action Short:
Noah - Patrick Cederberg, Walter Woodman

Best Animated Short Film:
Subconscious Password- Chris Landreth, Marcy Page, Mark Smith

Best Documentary Short:
Chi - Anne Wheeler, Yves J. Ma, Tracy Friesen

Lifetime Achievement Award: 
★ David Cronenberg

Cineplex Golden Reel Award:
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, Don Carmody

Claude Jutra Award: 
 ★Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais

Best Dressed:

Jessica Paré (Megan Draper back in her home and native land.)


Evelyne Brochu (Tom at the Farm)

Devery Jacobs (Rhymes for Young Ghouls)

What did you think of the Canadian Screen Awards?