3/10/2017

Canadian Screen Awards Preview: Who Should Win on Sunday?

Xavier Dolan on the shoot of It's Only the End of the World
Shane Laerdière, Sons of Manual
And we’re back! After catching our breath following that doozy of a finale to the Oscars, it’s time for Canada’s own award show: the Canadian Screen Awards. The nickname of “The Candies” doesn’t seem to have caught on despite the noble effort to make the moniker stick, so we’ll just keep on running with The Screenies as an abbrev’d name.

It’s still two steps forward, one step for the Screenies as they enter their fifth year as an all-encompassing awards fête. There are so many awards being handed out this week. Congrats to the digital works, sportscasters, etc., but this preview concentrates on the movies simply for convenience.

Even focusing on all the film nominees and taking them all on remains a challenge in this large and scattered national cinema. The results from the nomination committees once again show the pros and cons of selecting nominees by panel, rather than ballots en masse, since every category boasts a consistent mix of worthy frontrunners, admirable saves, efforts to encourage inclusion and diversity, out-of-nowhere contenders, bizarre snubs, and nominees from the lunatic fringe. (On what planet is Bad Weeds better than Window Horses?) Most categories also share the wealth between distributors and regions, so, more often than not, it seems as if everyone got their one spot.

Once again, the top Canuck Oscar contender leads the field. Xavier Dolan’s Oscar submission It’s Only the End of the World leads the pack with nine nominations and looks to be in pretty good standing following three surprise wins at France’s César Awards—for Best Actor (Gaspard Ulliel, strangely omitted here) and two for Dolan with Best Director and Best Editing. It’s Only the End of the World will probably revive the trend of giving the Screenie to Canada’s Best Foreign Language Film submission after Room broke the streak last year. Moreover, it’s one of the only films in the top category to have screened widely, if at all.

Trying to predict the Screenies proves increasingly speculative and pointless year by year. More often than not, one film just swoops in and takes everything. But what we can do is say who should win. In the spirit of “Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it,” here’s how my Screenie ballot would look.

Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves
K Films Amérique

Best Picture



Five of these nominees are great films and some of them are basically filling the category. Let’s focus on the Screenies’ better half.

While Hello Destroyer and Maliglutit are predictable nominees both that their merits, they’re too slow and inconsistent to stand as Canada’s best. Before the Streets, on the other hand, is a great example of the Academy unearthing a hidden gem and spotlighting a film that’s worthy of the attention even if it got lost in its relatively modest release. This debut feature by Chloé Leriche is powerful and bold filmmaking. Ditto Johnny Ma’s visceral and haunting Old Stone, which is a dark and gritty thriller set in China that the director infuses with great philosophical depth.

Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World is a new turn for the Quebecois auteur as he eschews his signature style for a claustrophobic and intensely emotional chamber piece driven by an all-you-can-eat buffet of great acting by some of France’s top stars. Some people hate it, but I think it’s raw art that cuts deep and hard.

Another of Canada’s top directors, Bruce McDonald, is in top form with Weirdos. This offbeat road movie shows the Hard Core Logo director in his element as he delivers a rugged, darkly funny, and sweetly endearing ode to oddballs. It’s one of his best films.

The film that most deserves the Canadian Screen Awards’ top prize, however, is Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie’s audacious, unconventional, and flat-out exhilarating Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves. This ambitious film boasts a scope and formal complexity unlike any of the other nominees and the four young actors deliver brave and intense performances as the student radicals. Graves captures the pulse of a generation—the anger and tone of defiance in the film offer a much-needed voice of hope.

My vote: Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves
Should have been nominated: Window Horses, Nelly, Anatomy of Violence

Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves
K Films Amérique

Best Director


The nominees: Chloé Leriche, Before the Streets; Kevan Funk, Hello Destroyer; Xavier Dolan, It’s Only the End of the World; Matt Johnson, Operation Avalanche; Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie, Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves

Funk shows a lot of potential with his moody deconstruction of hockey and masculinity in Hello Destroyer, while fellow newcomer Leriche looks to be a remarkable new talent on the scene for her sensitivity and hand at realism. Matt Johnson, on the other hand, might actually be the downfall of his own work since his screen presence/persona overwhelms the film—and, admittedly, Operation Avalanche is essentially a movie that he’s made before and made better.

Dolan’s notable turn in style and restraint makes him a favourite in this race and the strength of the ensemble cast is the work of a great director who can control a tightly constrained scene and make it brim with power. On the other hand, there is simply so much at work to admire in Graves as the duo of Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie find a dexterous weaving of style and substance. Their radical anti-establishment tone meshes with the unconventional shape-shifting aspect ratios, onscreen text, lengthy speeches, and formal interplay between drama and documentary. Graves should reek of excess and self-indulgence, yet it all comes together with just the right tone of revolutionary authority. It’s a risk that succeeds.

My vote: Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie
Should have been nominated: Ann Marie Fleming, Window Horses; Bruce McDonald, Weirdos;  

Gang Chen in Old Stone.
Films We Like

Best Actor


The nominees: Jared Abrahmson, Hello Destroyer; Lawrence Barry, Riverhead; Gang Chen, Old Stone; Andrew Gillis, Werewolf; Stephan James, Race

I haven’t even heard of Riverhead, so that’s out. I joked to myself that it probably only has five votes on IMDb and wouldn’t you know it… it does!
Addiction drama Werewolf doesn’t work for me on any level—and I know I’m in the minority on this film—and that’s partly due to my inability to feel anything beyond disinterest for the characters and performances. Jared Abrahmson, on the other hand, does a much better job of playing an out-of-control screw up. His brooding turn as an overaggressive hockey player in Hello Destroyer really digs into the character’s head. Ditto Gang Chen as the titular cab driver in Old Stone. His turn creates a man of fascinating and complex psychology. The extent to which one feels his anguish and desperation leads the film down its tragic path. Up-and-comer Stephan James, finally, will probably win for his impressive physical performance as runner Jesse Owens in the race-drama Race, but he should be vying for a trophy with his stronger turn in hidden gem Across the Line instead.

My vote: Gang Chen, Old Stone
Should have been nominated: Ethan Hawke, Born to Be Blue; Gaspard Ulliel, It’s Only the End of the World

Carmen Ejogo in Born to Be Blue
eOne Films

Best Actress


The nominees: Nathalie Doummar, Pays; Carmen Ejogo, Born to Be Blue; Sasha K. Gordon, Natasha; Breagh MacNeil, Werewolf; Tatiana Maslany, The Other Half

As much as I wanted to see Chloé Robichaud’s second feature Pays at TIFF, it just slipped by me. Unfortunately, I can’t comment on Doummar’s performance.

Unfortunately, I can comment on Sasha K. Gordon’s performance in Natasha since the film is available from library streaming services. This film is not very good with its awkward oh, but why can’t I have sex with my cousin? story and cheap ho-hum aesthetic. Gordon’s nomination wins the booby for the most random and out of nowhere nomination of the year. One can’t really say much about her work in Natasha other than that, well, she’s in the film. Someone at Mongrel really fought for this one to save face, which wasn’t really necessary since Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany’s great performance in The Other Half is probably going to make her a double winner.

I can’t comment on this category at all without noting the inexcusable absence of Mylène Mackay. Her work in Nelly surpasses any lead performance in any Canadian film this year. It’s a dark, edgy, and hypnotic turn that juggles multiple characters and personalities who are all facets of the same deeply complicated woman. Awards are made for this kind of work. I can understand why people don’t like the film—it’s provocative and demanding—but failing to acknowledge her performance just doesn’t sit right with me.

Similarly, Carmen Ejogo acts the hell out of her part in Born to Be Blue. She elevates the film as Chet Baker’s devoted and long-suffering (and fictional) wife Jane. Ejogo owns the final moments of the film as Jane recognises her husband’s illness and refuses to be a victim. She deserves the award in MacKay’s absence. But Born to Be Blue is a vehicle for Ethan Hawke and he gives one of the best performances of his career, yet isn’t among the Screenie star-power. To nominate the worthy Ejogo without nominating her co-star simply defies explanation.

My vote: Carmen Ejogo, Born to Be Blue
Should have been nominated: Mylène McKay, Nelly

Jacques Newashish in Before the Streets
Wide Management

Best Supporting Actor


The nominees: Vincent Cassel, It’s Only the End of the World; Henry Czerny, The Other Half; Evan Mercer, Riverhead; Jacques Newashish, Before the Streets; Michael Revatnar, Kidnap Capital

Mercer and Revatnar get tumbleweeds while Cassel merits consideration for his full-throttle turn as the brother with anger issues in It’s Only the End of the World, but Jacques Newashish all but steals Before the Streets with his subtle and quietly powerful performance as an elder looking out for the next generation.

My vote:  Jacques Newashish, Before the Streets
Should have been nominated: Laurent Bélanger, Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves

Molly Parker, with some Manhattans for the kids, in Weirdos

Best Supporting Actress


The nominees: Nathalie Baye, It’s Only the End of the World; Kwena Bellamare Boivin, Before the Streets; Molly Parker, Weirdos; Sherri Springfield, Jean of the Joneses; Gabrielle Tremblay, Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves

Here’s the one category that the Screenies more or less got right! I might have swapped Shepherd or Boivin for Marion Cotillard or Emmanuelle Lussier Martinez to make It’s Only the End of the World and Those Who Make Revolution Halfway double nominees, but Baye and Tremblay are both deserving of a nomination, if not a win, for their respective films. Tremblay’s potential is notably historic given that she is the Screenies’ first transgender nominee for playing a trans-character. She’s a force to be reckoned with and the standout of the ensemble.

However, here is no force in the field mightier than Molly Parker. Her turn as the bipolar mother in Weirdos was not only the best performance from any Canadian film in theatres or on the festival circuit last year, it was the single best performance of 2016 in anysupporting role, period. Her work with McDonald in Weirdos is a refreshing reminder that Canadian film can nurture its own stars and give them meaty work worthy of their talents. There’s something extremely satisfying in seeing one of our best actresses at the top of her game in a return to form for one our best directors.

My vote: Molly Parker, Weirdos

The rest of the field


Best Adapted Screenplay

Natasha, Daniel Bezmozgis
Montreal la blanche, Bachir Bensaddek
It's Only the End of the World, Xavier Dolan

My vote: It's Only the End of the World
Should have been nominated: Window Horses


Best Original Screenplay

Hello Destroyer, Kevan Funk
Jean of the Joneses, Stella Meghie
Maliglutit, Zacharias Kunuk
Old Stone, Johnny Ma
Weirdos, Daniel MacIvor

My vote: Weirdos
Should have been nominated: Those Who Make Revolution Halfway...


Best Documentary Feature


Waseskun
The Prison in Twelve Landscapes
KONELINE: our land beautiful
I am the Blues
Gulistan, Land of Roses

★My vote: KONELINE: our land beautiful
Should have been nominated: The Apology


Achievement in Art Direction/Production Design


Bad Weeds
Born to Be Blue
Race
Two Lovers and a Bear
Weirdos

★My vote: Born to Be Blue
Should have been nominated: The Apology


Achievement in Cinematography


Before the Streets
It's Only the End of the World
Nelly
Old Stone 
Werewolf

★My vote: Nelly
Should have been nominated: Those Who Make Revolution Halfway, Weirdos


Achievement in Cinematography in a Documentary


Giants of Africa
Gun Runners
KONELINE: our land beautiful
I am the Blues
The Skyjacker's Tale

★My vote: KONELINE
Should have been nominated: Aim for the Roses


Achievement in Costume Design


The Girl King
Nelly
Operation Avalanche
Race
Weirdos

★My vote: The Girl King

Achievement in Editing


Bad Weeds
Old Stone
Two Lovers and a Bear
Weirdos
Werewolf

★My vote: Born to Be Blue
Should have been nominated: Those Who Make Revolution Halfway...


Achievement in Editing in a Documentary


Black Code
Giants of Africa
Gulistan, Land of Roses
KONELINE: our land beautiful
Wasekun

★My vote: KONELINE
Should have been nominated: Aim for the Roses


Achievement in Make-Up


Born to Be Blue
It's Only the End of the World
The Northlander
Race
Two Lovers and a Bear

★My vote: Two Lovers and a Bear
Should have been nominated: Numb


Achievement in Art Direction/Production Design


Bad Weeds
Born to Be Blue
Race
Two Lovers and a Bear
Weirdos

★My vote: Born to Be Blue
Should have been nominated: The Apology


Achievement in Music - Original Score


Born to Be Blue
Hevn (Revenge)
Numb
Two Lovers and a Bear
Window Horses

★My vote: Window Horses


Achievement in Music - Original Song


Before the Streets - "Sokecimoywekw"
Born to Be Blue - "Could Have Been"
A Date with Miss Fortune - "Almost Had It All"
King Dave - "Natalie"
Lovesick - "Draw Blood"

★My vote: "Sokecimoywekw"

Achievement in Visual Effects


Operation Avalance
Race
The Unseen

★My vote: Race?


Achievement in Overall Sound


Bad Seeds
It's Only the End of the World
King Dave
Operation Avalanche
Race

★My vote: It's Only the End of the World


Achievement in Sound Editing


It's Only the End of the World
King Dave
Operation Avalanche
Race
The Unseen

★My vote: It's Only the End of the World


Best Short Documentary


Frame 394 (watch)
The Road to Webequie
Stone Makers
this river (watch)
Tshiuetin (watch)

★My vote: Frame 394


Best Animated Short


Blind Vaysha
I am Here
I Like Girls
Mamie 
Red of the Yew Tree

★My vote: Blind Vaysha


Best Live Action Short Drama


A Funeral for Lightning
Mutants
Oh What a Wonderful Feeling
Star
Wild Skin

★My vote: Oh What a Wonderful Feeling


Which nominees get your Screenie votes?