Canadian Screen Awards Preview: Will Win/Should Win

Jacob Tremblay as Jack and Brie Larson as Ma in Room.
Photo by Caitlin Cronenberg, courtesy of Elevation Pictures
This year’s Canadian Screen Awards give a lot to celebrate. They mark the end of a good year for Canadian films, both in terms of production and exposure. The field still contains a few clunkers, also rans, and random choices that don’t really represent the year in Canadian film, but they’re outweighed by some examples of diverse and daring cinema, like The Forbidden Room and Demons. On the heels of not one but two Best Picture Oscar nominees with Room and Brooklyn, the films most likely to duke it out for Best Picture, Canada’s doing eh-ok and the Screenies reflect that sentiment.

The Forbidden Room
This weekend’s finale for Canadian Screen Week caps off several days of handing out gongs to great films like Sugar Coated and The GreatHuman Odyssey in the television documentary categories, while Schitt’s Creek and CBC’s remarkable adaptation The Book of Negroes swept the TV drama races. The feature film races, however, are generally open. There isn’t a juggernaut like Mommy this year (depending on how one frames Room, which didn’t perform especially well here) and a mix of small sleeper hits and showier titles by familiar faces. There’s still some work to be done, since the process of nominations by committee still yields a field of nominees that essentially looks as if everyone shared the wealth, but these nominees generally reflect the best in the field. Patricia Rozema’s Into the Forest, however, deserves a much stronger presence, especially in the adapted screenplay category, while Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson’s The Forbidden Room doesn’t have nearly as much support in the arts and crafts fields as it should, but kudos to the Academy for recognizing a film this crazy and bold in the Best Motion Picture category.
Felix and Meira: is the streak of Canadian Oscar submissions/Screenie winners over?

This year sees the probably end of a five-year streak in which Canada's Oscar contender dominated the Screenies. Canuck Oscar bids Incendies, Monsieur Lazhar, War Witch, Gabrielle, and Mommy all won Best Picture on the heels of their exposure in the Oscar race, while all of them except for Gabrielle virtually swept the awards outright as if voters didn't even see any of the other films. Felix and Meira remains a respectable bid, and it's a lovely romance with great performances, but the support for the film outside of the festival circuit is almost as muted as the film is understated film.
Nominee Nick Serrino in Sleeping Giant
The Screenies still face the difficulty of access, though, as it remains hard to see the nominees, although festivals and notably TIFF’s Film Circuit are doing a great job of getting these films to audiences. Personally, I had seen all the Best Picture nominees and most of the other contenders prior to the nominations, but few other films became available outside of overpriced options to buy on iTunes in the days since. In the grand scale of things, however, the Screenies are still on the right track and have a field of films to admire.

Here’s a rundown of who will win, could win, and should win come Sunday. After calling most of the awards last year, I expect to do about as terribly here as I did at the Oscars. It’s a strong and close field of contenders.

Joan Allen in Room

Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role:

The nominees: Joan Allen, Room; Cynthia Ashburger, The Waiting Room; Christine Beaulieu, Le Mirage; Balinder Johal, Beeba Boys; Mylène Mackay, Endorphine 

Here’s an impressive, if surprising, group of performances. I haven’t had a chance to see Mylène Mackay in Endorphine, but these actresses otherwise give a range of subtle, unshowy performances that rarely get attention. Balinder Johal is very effective as the mother of a gangster and the voice of reason in Deepa Mehta’s Beeba Boys, while Christine Beaulieu gives a memorable take on the woman of desire in Le mirage. She could have been just another sex kitten, but her performance really conveys a sense of violation when the film’s protagonist crosses the line. Ashburger’s performance as a wife on her deathbed in The Waiting Room is something of a surprise, but she helps make the film mysterious and haunting. Joan Allen, finally, has a nomination after missing awards traction that many pundits thought would land her at the Oscars for her moving performance as a mother who reconnects with her long-lost daughter in Room. There’s no question that Allen’s performance is in a league of its own compared to the other nominees, although Johal could be a sentimental favourite among the Canuck contenders.

Will win: Joan Allen, Room
I’d vote for: Allen
Shoulda been there: Gabrielle Rose, Two 4 One; Suzanne Clément, My Internship in Canada; Valérie Cadieux, Les êtres chers; Katie Boland, People Hold On
Irdens Exantus in My Internship in Canada.
Photo: Ronald Plante / Les Films Séville

Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role:

The nominees: Waris Aluwalia, Beeba Boys; Tony Nardi, Corbo; Irdens Exantus, My Internship in Canada; Nick Serrino, Sleeping Giant; Patrick Hivon, Ville-Marie.

Here’s a random bunch. Unlike the supporting actresses, these performances lean towards the scene-stealing variety, but they are surprising choices given the contenders who didn’t make the cut, like Martin Landau (Remember), Louis Negin (The Forbidden Room), Luzer Twersky (Felix and Meira) and the cast of Hyena Road. Young Nick Serrino conveys wisdom beyond his years as a troubled boy in Sleeping Giant, which earned him the Best Supporting Actor prize from the Vancouver Film Critics Circle, and he might be the safest bet to win. The heavy support for Sleeping Giant throughout the Canadian film scene and festival circuit means that the film is bound to win something. Hivon is powerful in the mess of Ville-Marie, while Toni Nardi is a quietly compelling presence as the patriarch of Corbo. Waris Aluwalia probably has an edge since his comedic presence in Beeba Boys is one of the few things about the film that actually works. Moreover, in a climate sensitive to inclusivity, a win Beeba Boys helps avoid controversy. However, it’s worth noting that although the Screenies have three acting nominees of colour (Aluwalia, Johal, Irdens Exantus), the Canadian film industry still has a problem with representation. We’ve just had a few filmmakers succeed, like Deepa Mehta, Atom Egoyan, Mina Shum, Zacharias Kunuk, and Kim Nguyen, which allows us to pretend that all’s well in the diversity department.

The best performance, however, comes from the endlessly endearing Irdens Exantus as the titular intern of Philippe Falardeau’s My Internship in Canada. Playing an eager political beaver who comes to Canada from the Caribbean, this performance blends greatly with Falardeau’s satirical comedy. His performance deserves to represent the film’s excellent ensemble cast.

Will win: Nick Serrino, Sleeping Giant?
I’d vote for: Irdens Exantus, My Internship in Canada
Shoulda been there: Louis Negin, The Forbidden Room; Roy Dupuis, The Sound of Trees

Karelle Tremblay in Les êtres chers

Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role:

The nominees: Céline Bonnier, Passion of Augustine; Leah Fay Goldstein, Diamond Tongues; Brie Larson, Room; Karelle Tremblay, Les êtres chers; Hadas Yaron, Felix and Meira.

Goldstein can probably count on a contingent of support from the Toronto crowd, which really threw its support behind Diamond Tongues. The film didn’t see much life outside the city and her character isn’t especially sympathetic or accessible unless one is a Queen West hipster, so a nomination is probably it for the July Talk singer in her respectable screen debut. One could say the same about Céline Bonnier for her restrained power in Quebecois hit The Passion of Augustine, while great performances from Karelle Tremblay and Hadas Yaron are more likely to give Quebec some of its few wins of the night. Tremblay is a powerhouse as a young woman who survives years of change and tragedy at her family home in Les êtres chers and Yaron gives a performance of remarkable subtlety and longing in our Oscar bid Felix and Meira. However, this year is all about Brie Larson and her Oscar-winning performance in Room. She’ll presumably win this prize by a landslide and add a Screenie to her crowded shelf.

Will win: Brie Larson, Room
I’d vote for: Karelle Tremblay, Les êtres chers
Shoulda been there: Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood should have duked it out for Into the Forest, while Bond girl Monica Bellucci would have been a fair choice for her spectacular turn in the disappointing Ville-Marie. Brooklyn’s Saoirse Ronan was ineligible due to the film’s co-production status, but maybe this rule needs to change since she’s worthy and one of the Canadian film MVPs of the year.

Jacob Tremblay in Room.
Photo by Caitlin Cronenberg, courtesy of Elevation Pictures

Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

The nominees: Maxim Gaudette, Les êtres chers; Jasmin Geljo, The Waiting Room; Christopher Plummer, Remember; Rossif Sutherland, River; Jacob Tremblay, Room

Geljo is terrific in The Waiting Room and Gaudette’s excellent performance in Les êtres chers might be the dark horse here, but this category is a two-way race. (I haven’t yet had a chance to see River.) Best Actor features the biggest age gap between performers since Quvenzhané Wallis went head to head with Emmanuelle Riva as nine-year-old newcomer Jacob Tremblay competes against 86-year-old industry stalwart Christopher Plummer. It’s hard to deny that Plummer is the finest actor that Canada has ever produced, so age and respect probably play nominal factors here if voters have mixed feelings about giving the prize to a kid. Plummer recently won a Screenie for his performance in the TV adaptation of The Tempest; he’s won an Oscar and this award isn’t going to do anything for his career, but his compelling and challenging performance as a vengeance-seeking man with dementia is the only reason to see Atom Egoyan’s Remember. He certainly gives a worthy performance if he wins.

On the other hand, Jacob Tremblay’s performance in Room is legitimately the best of the bunch. Bias against his age or assumptions that young actors merely reflect the efforts of their directors could work against him, but as with Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild, Tremblay gives a ferocious performance. Acting is acting, whether or not it comes from within or from a director’s instructions. Who are we to make the call that we know what’s going on in an actor’s head? Doesn’t the performance become even more interesting if it’s all just a game of make believe? Screenie voters gave the prizes to the kids from Monsieur Lazhar and War Witch, so youth doesn’t seem to be a hindrance here.

Will win: Jacob Tremblay, Room
I’d vote for: Tremblay
Shoulda been there: Patrick Huard, My Internship in Canada; Gavin Crawford, Two 4 One

Les êtres chers.
Yannick Grandmont / Les Films Séville

Best Director

The nominees: Lenny Abrahamson, Room; Andrew Cividino, Sleeping Giant; Anne Émond, Les êtres chers; Maxime Giroux, Felix and Meira; Philippe Lesage, The Demons

Here’s a contest that could prove controversial. I’m not talking about the totally nonsensical omission of Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson for their flat-out crazy, wild, brilliant, and audacious direction of The Forbidden Room—that technical work alone merits the prize. The tricky question here is whether a foreign artist will win Best Director. Only once has the award gone to a non-Canadian in the directing category and Aussie Bruce Beresford holds that honour for winning in 1991 for Black Robe. Irish director Lenny Abrahamson seems like a shoo-in for Room given the critical success of the film and his Oscar nomination, but the industry remains sensitive to the ever-changing definition of what constitutes a Canadian film, and the hallmark of a “Canadian” film often lands on the nationality of its director. I disagree and believe that international co-production is something that we need to embrace as “Canadian,” but I seem to be in the minority. If part of this journey requires us to award foreign directors when they merit the prize, then that’s a fair compromise for the resources and reach that films like Room can give the Canadian film scene. The work itself is quite good, especially if one considers Tremblay’s performance and the range of emotion that Room elicits within such a tight space.

If the prize should go to a Canadian, though, the four nominees have the work to merit an upset. Philippe Lesage proves himself a rare talent with his chilling first dramatic feature that draws heavily on his experience in documentary. The Demons both lives and dies by its abrupt change in perspective about two-thirds of the way through the film, though, and the move is bound to cost him as many votes as he gains. If a Quebecois director is going to continue the streak that has seven directors from La Belle Province winning the prize over the past years, then Anne Émond truly deserve to win for her revelatory direction of Les êtres chers. She’s a born talent and deserves the Screenie for handling this domestic tragedy with such nuance and sensitivity. Every frame of the film is beautiful and the performances are subtle and powerful. Ditto the understated direction of Felix and Meira by Maxime Giroux, although the film noticeably lacks the heat of Canada’s recent Oscar bids. The likeliest contender to stand tall against Oscar-nominee Abrahamson is newcomer Andrew Cividino for his impressive first feature, Sleeping Giant. Like Abrahamson in Room, Cividino draws terrific performances from young actors, but more impressive is the inquisitive eye with which he frames the Canadian landscape in this coming of age tale.

Will win: Lenny Abrahamson, Room
I'd vote for: Anne Émond, Les êtres chers
Shoulda been there: Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson, The Forbidden Room; Patricia Rozema, Into the Forest.

Saoirse Ronan as Eilis Lacey in Brooklyn.
Kerry Brown. Courtesy of Mongrel Media.

Best Motion Picture

Now comes the tricky part: Best Motion Picture. The previous categories probably indicate that Room has the top prize in the bag. In addition to three probably acting prizes, it’s a safe bet for Best Director and a 100% sure winner for Best Adapted Screenplay. That’s at least five main prizes without factoring in the arts and technical stuff. (Which Hyena Road stands a fair chance of dominating.) Room is the most nominated film of the contenders with thirteen nods across the board—pretty much every category in which it was a contender, although Tom McCamus could have popped up in the supporting group—but don’t assume that Canada’s other co-pro, Brooklyn, is weak because it has only three nominations. As a minority co-pro without a Canadian director or writer (and technically the Canadian producers are co-producers), the film is only eligible for Canadian contributions. It’s a surprise that the production design by François Séguin isn’t nominated, but one shouldn’t be taken aback if Brooklyn upsets Room after winning Best Score and Best Cinematography. On one level, Brooklyn is simply the better film and it’s connecting with audiences far more strongly than Room is, scooping almost $3.5 million more than Room at the Canuck box office. Brooklyn also lends itself towards the continuation of telling tangibly Canadian stories through co-production. Brooklyn’s tale of immigration resonates strongly in a country that is largely inhabited by people who made the journey overseas like Eilis does, or are descendants of people who did.

Rounding out the whopping field of ten contenders, The Forbidden Room is my pick for the best Canadian film of the year—and it really should be better represented in the artistic and technical categories—but the strange aesthetic is still very like-it-or-leave-it even if it’s one of Maddin’s stronger works. (The film also won the Toronto Film Critics' Canuck gong.) Remember has a reward in its nomination, while Les êtres chers and The Demons are less likely to win for Quebec than Felix and Meira is, which, as mentioned in the Best Director category, seems unlikely to continue the streak of Oscar submissions stealing the show. The film just didn’t connect with Canadian audiences strongly enough to win Best Picture. Falardeau’s My Internship in Canada is a dark horse, but a very dark one since it missed nominations for director, acting, editing, and score, which all seemed like no-brainers. The wild card, finally, is Sleeping Giant, the year’s festival hit and a rare film to play the awards game with a qualifying run in Toronto before the end of the year… but it’s bizarre that Cividino isn’t getting this year’s prize for breakthrough director. (Dubbed the Claude Jutra prize until the scandal of his alleged pedophilia rocked the industry.) That prize goes to Jamie M. Dagg for River, which is a surprise given that Sleeping Giant is up for the top prize. There isn’t a better dramatic first feature by a Canadian this year, so are voters saving the big prize for Sleeping Giant?

Will win: Brooklyn, Room, Brooklyn, Room, Brooklyn, Room? Against better judgement, I’ll go with Room.
I’d vote for: The Forbidden Room
Shoulda been there: Into the Forest, The Sound of Trees

Other categories:

Best Original Screenplay:

Les êtres chers

★Will win: My Internship in Canada
★I'd vote for: Internship
★Shoulda been there: The Forbidden Room, Felix and Meira

Adapted Screenplay:

The Saver

★Will win: Room 
★I'd vote for: abstain
★Shoulda been there: Into the Forest, Sleeping Giant

Achievement in Costumes:

Hyena Road
Songs She Wrote About People She Knows 

★Will win: Forsaken?
★I'd vote for: Beeba Boys
★Shoulda been there: The Forbidden Room, The Girl King

Achievement in Cinematography:


★Will win: Brooklyn
★I'd vote for: Brooklyn
★Shoulda been there: The Forbidden Room

Achievement in Art Direction/Production Design:

Felix and Meira

★Will win: The Forbidden Room
★I'd vote for: The Forbidden Room
★Shoulda been there: Brooklyn

Achievement in Film Editing:

Le garagiste
Les êtres chers
Sleeping Giant

★Will win: Hyena Road
★I'd vote for: Les êtres chers
★Shoulda been there: The Forbidden Room, My Internship in Canada, Into the Forest

Achievement in Make-up:

Hyena Road

★Will win: Hyena Road 
★I'd vote for: Backcountry
★Shoulda been there: The Forbidden Room

Achievement in Music – Original Score

Passion of Augustine
Songs She Wrote About People She Knows

★Will win: Brooklyn
★I'd vote for: Brooklyn
★Shoulda been there: Into the Forest, My Internship in Canada

Achievement in Music – Original Song

Scratch: A Hip Hop Opera
Songs She Wrote About People She Knows 

-->Listen to all the nominees here!

★Will win: People Hold On
★I'd vote for: People Hold On

Achievement in Overall Sound

Le garagiste
Into the Forest
My Internship in Canada

★Will win: Hyena Road 
★I'd vote for: Into the Forest (metronome scene!)

Achievement in Sound Editing

Le garagiste
The Forbidden Room
Hyena Road

★Will win: Hyena Road
★I'd vote for: Hyena Road

Achievement in Visual Effects:


★Will win: Hyena Road
★I'd vote for: Hyena Road
★Shoulda been there: The Forbidden Room

Ted Rogers Award for Best Documentary Feature:

Last of the Elephant Men

★Will win: Hurt
★I'd vote for: Hurt
★Shoulda been there: Al Purdy Was Here, Ninth Floor

Achievement in Cinematography – Documentary

Hadwin’s Judgement
The Last of the Elephant Men
The Messenger
Some Kind of Love
Welcome to FL

★Will win: The Messenger
★I'd vote for: Welcome to FL

Achievement in Editing – Documentary

Welcome to FL

★Will win: How to Change the World
★I'd vote for: How to Change the World
★Shoulda been there: Ninth Floor

Best Documentary Short

Bacon and God's Wrath
The Little Deputy
Quiet Zone
World Famous Gopher Hole Museum

★Will win: Bacon and God's Wrath
★I'd vote for: Bacon and God's Wrath
★Shoulda been there: Bring Me the Head of Tim Horton

Best Live Action Short

Blue Thunder
Mynarski Death Plummet
She Stoops to Conquer

★Will win: Overpass
★I'd vote for: Blue Thunder

Best Animated Short

Auto Portraits
Ballad of Immortal Joe
In Deep Waters 
The Sleepwalker      

★Will win: The Sleepwalker
★I'd vote for: BAM 

Discovery Award

(Festival film with budget under $250 000)
Winner: Mina Walking

What are your #cdnscreen16 picks and predictions?


The Canadian Screen Awards air this Sunday on CBC.