Third Time's a Charm for the Canadian Screen Awards

Xavier Dolan poses with two of his four Canadian Screen Awards for Mommy.
Third time’s a charm for the Canadian Screen Awards! Canada’s celebration of shows and cinema hits a good stride in its third year as a combined effort of the Genies (film) and the Geminis (TV) with the added touch of digital to have a little something for everyone. This year’s show, for one, puts the awards back on track thanks to a heavy upswing in buzz and excitement attributed to one key fact: People actually saw the films this year. (Full list of film winners here.) Whether they love or loathe Mommy and Maps to the Stars, this year’s show got people talking about Canadian films they actually had a chance to see, and it feels very appropriate to see the spotlight on the Canadian film community come together in a night that the Academy chose to celebrate Mommy, the best Canadian film of the year by far, and fête two films that have given Canada its most exciting and high-profile year in a while. The Screenie show ends on a much bigger note as an 'eh'-grade “event” in no small part to presence of Mommy and Maps to the Stars owning the night.

The Mommy team: producer Nancy Grant, Anne Dorval, Xavier Dolan,
Suzanne Clément and Antoine Olivier Pilon.

This year is really all about Mommy, though, as Xavier Dolan’s tremendous film continued its roll by picking up nine Canadian Screen Awards including Best Film and Best Director. (It heads home for Quebec’s Jutra Awards later this month.) Mommy continues the streak of Canada’s Oscar submissions dominating the awards, for it marks the fifth consecutive win by a Canuck contender for Best Foreign Language Film. The win brings Dolan his due after missing out with the Canadian Academy in the top categories on his first four films, and he leaves with a total of four prizes himself (add Original Screenplay and Editing to the tally) and a welcome ticket to the club. The young auteur was remarkably subdued and humble in his onscreen acceptance by thanking the members of the Mommy family—including actors Antoine Olivier Pilon, Anne Dorval, and Suzanne Clément, all of whom won and have collaborated with Dolan on previous films, although he dedicated his pre-show Original Screenplay award to his mother, calling her an inspiration. (Dolan’s films have been marked by mommy issues since 2009’s I Killed My Mother.) The twenty-five-year-old filmmaker has done a lot to bring a fresh generation of fans both Canadian and international to the local film scene, so it’s great to see him honoured by his peers. I’m really happy to see Mommy clean up at the awards, especially the actors for their full, raw, and powerful performances.
Yay for Anne Dorval!

Canada’s other Cannes sensation, Maps to the Stars, put two Canadian Screen Awards to its list of hardware with gongs for John Cusack in the Best Supporting Actor category and Howard Shore in Best Music, which brings the composer to six wins from the Canadian Academy. (I would have given the prize for Original Screenplay to Maps writer Bruce Wagner for his wickedly funny satire, although Wagner did make it to the stage to accept Cusack’s award on his behalf.)
Julianne Moore: star of the night!
Maps carries some of the biggest buzz of the year for Canadian film thanks to Julianne Moore’s Best Actress win at Cannes and her Golden Globe nomination, and Moore deserves another prize for coming out to support the film once again following what must have been an exhausting award season that continued after her Oscar win last week for Still Alice. Moore’s attendance at last night’s Canadian Screen Awards is significant since she’s easily the biggest name we’ve had at the show so far, and it was genuinely exciting to see her presence bring so much attention to the show and to the movies when she could have easily (and understandably) called it quits after the Oscars. I think that says a lot about her character. Thanks for coming out to support Canadian films, Miss Moore! We hope to have you back! 

Full credit belongs to Andrea Martin for sharing the spotlight with Julianne Moore, Xavier Dolan and company while being an excellent host. The highlight reel of Martin’s very funny hosting stint includes a silly pantiless tumble on the red carpet and a good 50 Shades of Grey bit, and a nod to the unseasonable contrast from the Oscars by welcoming the stars to “The only red carpet where you have to wipe your boots.” Martin’s strong stint as host also deserves top marks for keeping the focus of the humour on the nominated films and television shows themselves (with a few tie-ins to pop culture references), including a fun audition spoof for Orphan Black in which she appeared as some of her alter-egos to mach Tatiana Maslany’s shape-shifting performance as multiple clones. I also like how well she accepted the silliness of award season (particularly in Canada) with her opening monologue that repeated the clunkiness of the phrase “Canadian Screen Awards” and embraced the self-congratulatory character of awards season with self-deprecating glory. She killed it and I hope that she returns next year.
Andrea Martin killed in as host.
The show itself bears many signs of improvement beyond proper qualification of films, increased star status (Kiefer Sutherland was on hand to present Best Film), and funny hosting, since the Screenies simply ran more smoothly as an overall broadcast and event. More clips and coverage of the nominated films highlighted the work beyond the rolls calls and acceptance speeches, which have largely characterized the previous two shows, and the snippets of Tu dors Nicole, In Her Place, Cast No Shadow, and other nominated films prove what a strong year 2014 was for Canadian films even though all the dramatic prizes were divvied up between four films. (Dr. Cabbie nabbed Best Song while dunce blockbuster Pompeii scooped five well-deserved prizes for its technical work, plus a prize for its box office success.) Other highlight wins include doc winners Everything Will Be for the new documentary cinematography award, Jutra for Best Documentary Short, the edgy Hole for Best Live Action Short, and Oscar-nominee Me and My Moulton for Best Animated Short. Being able to see more of the films this year also made it a fairly smooth ride for predictions, for I got 19/24 bets correctly, and was pleasantly surprised by some of the mistakes.

If there’s any complaint to be had about the Canadian Screen Awards, it’s that Martin’s funny opener offers a reminder that they awards really do need an abbreviated nickname—I always feel a bit dismissive when I call them the Screenies. “Canadian Screen Awards” doesn’t have the same ring as “The Oscars” or even “The Genies.” Maybe a new name can be the next big makeover contest.
Mommy's Suzanne Clément

The nature of the omnibus awards show also lends an area for improvement since there’s an inevitable schizophrenia to the broadcast as it jumps from an award for film to one for TV comedy to one for dramatic television to one for digital to another one for film to one for news anchoring to another one for TV, and so on. (I’ll admit that I mentally tuned out of at least ten minutes of the broadcast as the awards deviated from film.) But that also stems from my ignorance of Canadian television in contrast to Canadian film, so my job now is to catch up on more home-grown TV. I have The Book of Negroes and Schitt’s Creek checked off for next year, but I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never seen an episode of Orphan Black! (That’s a lie: I actually caught part of an episode while at my brother’s, and it was too far into the season for me to decipher which Tatiana Maslany was which.)

A bit more French could also make the broadcast more inclusive, since the show is entirely in English even though we mostly honour Québécois films every year. The show does include an on-air translator for the acceptance speeches, but I’m not sure how aware the winners and participants are since Anne Dorval began by apologizing for her English before giving a speech in Franglais—an endearing one at that. An awkward time delay also made viewership a bit scattered since press at the show were announcing the winners live an hour before most viewers caught the show at home, while I caught the Halifax-stream broadcast, which bizarrely aired live. My main complaint, though, is the voiceover that listed the nominees with attributions like 'journalism student', etc., which seems dismissive since it flags artists as part time amateurs. ('You're nominated for an award, but you're still not an actor!' it seems to say.) Most of the housekeeping, then, is on CBC's side.

All in all, though, the Canadian Screen Awards are on well on their way to help Canadians see their merits in their own arts and culture, and last night’s fun, star-studded, Mommy-filled fête felt like an award show done right.

(Full list of film winners here.)

What did you think of last night's Canadian Screen Awards?