Hopefully you guys aren’t burnt out on awards shows just yet (don’t worry, film festivals and TV season finales will kick into high gear soon enough) because this weekend it’s finally Canada’s time to shine as the big winners of this year’s Canadian Screen Awards are revealed tomorrow night starting at 8pm on CBC, hosted by returning emcee Martin Short.
Although the festivities of the awards ceremony have been going on all week (with special award winners and recipients of digital media awards and some television awards viewable on the CSA website for ceremonies held earlier in the week), the majority of eyes and ears with an interest in homegrown entertainment will be focused firmly on Sunday night’s show from the Sony Centre in Toronto as the best in Canadian television and film have a star studded gala.
The film side of this year’s awards is interesting since a great majority of the films nominated for Best Motion Picture haven’t even be released in Canadian theatres yet. The aboriginal family drama Empire of Dirt and Canada’s selection for Oscar contention Gabrielle both saw release recently, and Sebastien Pilote’s Le Demantelement saw release in Quebec last year, but that’s about it. Dennis Villeneuve’s psychological doppelganger drama Enemy gets released next weekend, Michael Dowse’s delightful romantic comedy The F Word won’t hit screens till the summertime, Don McKellar’s remake The Grand Seduction comes out at the end of May, and Xavier Dolan’s exceptional thriller Tom at the Farm should be out in Quebec by the end of March. As for the Inuit themed drama Maïna, this is literally the first I have heard of its existence, but its inclusion has me intrigued.
As far as I know, all of these films have distribution, so that really isn’t the problem in terms of bringing them to the people, but it certainly hints at a disheartening and completely marketing driven trend that insists on dumping Canadian made films in the first quarter of the new year instead of letting people get caught up in a kind of excitement that would make the awards ceremony a bit more meaningful. The movies in the line up are all pretty great, and at least in the cases of Enemy and The F Word there are other considerations tied to lucrative American distribution deals that makes the wait on those make a little more sense on a business level. As much as I’m happy to see these films chosen, I just have to wonder if it wouldn’t make more sense to actually showcase films people have seen instead of telling them straight up what they need to see further down the line. Sure they all played at festivals, and both those screenings and all awards shows are just helping hands when it comes to advertising, but it’s just weird to watch an awards show go by the year a film was produced rather than when it was distributed. I understand the need to build buzz, but there’s a fine line between doing that and leaving outside viewers scratching their heads as to what it was that just won.
Granted, most of the time the Academy just tends to go with whatever got put forward for Oscar contention South of the Border, which makes Gabrielle the heavily favoured front runner here. It’s a good film, but also a pretty safe bet. The only curious omission that makes me think otherwise is the exemption of director Louise Archambault from the Best Achievement in Direction category. Instead, Villeneuve, Pilote, Dolan, and Dowse are joined by Canadian cinematic luminary Robert LePage and his co-director Pedro Pires for their collaboration on Triptych. While I want to say that the award will most likely go to Villeneuve for his ambitious and literary work on Enemy, it will most likely also go to him because of his connection to the US produced Prisoners last year. I would love to see it go to Dowse or Dolan, though. Both of their films take tired genres (romantic comedies and thrillers, respectively) and add a great amount of depth and energy to them that have been absent for quite some time.
As for the acting categories, they’re also packed with an array of talent that isn’t exclusively Canadian, but certainly deserving and interesting. The race for Best Actor actually only includes one Canadian at all: Gabrielle Arcand for his performance as a lifelong farmer on the verge of losing his land in Le Demantelement. American actor Jake Gyllenhaal gets a nod for his dual role in Enemy, continually branching out former British teen idol Daniel Radcliffe is noticed for his work in The F Word, and Indian newcomer Rajesh Tailang is a welcome sight for his portrayal of a wounded father search for his lost son in Richie Mehta’s underrated and still unreleased Siddharth. Irish actor Brendan Gleeson is nominated for taking the lead in The Grand Seduction, but at least he’s playing a Newfoundlander, so that pretty much counts. But still, look for one of the two big name Hollywood stars to take this award with Gyllenhaal getting the slight edge.
The other acting categories, however, feature a lot more Canadian talent. Empire of Dirt stars Cara Gee and Jennifer Podemski are nominated for Best Actress and Supporting Actress, respectively; ditto the leads for Gabrielle, Gabrelle Marion Rivard and Alexandre Landry for Supporting Actress and Actor. Tom at the Farm gets two Supporting nominations as well for Evelyne Brochu and a genuinely bone chilling performance from Pierre-Yves Cardinal. Both supporting actor categories come with potential dark horses, though. Canadian favourite Jay Baruchel gets a nomination for the otherwise pretty mediocre caper comedy The Art of the Steal, and even though he’s only in his film for a short period of time one can’t discount Marc Lebreche’s work in the film Whitewash as a mysterious drifter. Supporting actress also finds well liked Canadian rising stars Sarah Gadon (Enemy) and Tatiana Maslany (the unreleased Cas & Dylan, who will also be competing quite obviously later in the night for Best Leading Actress in a Drama for her work on TV’s Orphan Black) competing. Best Actress is also one of the few places at all in the awards show to find mention of the astoundingly overlooked Rhymes for Young Ghouls in the form of Kawennahere Devry Jacobs’ performance as a troubled native teen out for revenge.
Over on the TV side of things, the Shaw Media Award for Best Dramatic Series (that is the full name of the award) looks like it will go to the previously mentioned cross-border success Orphan Black, but that’s far from a done deal. Also competing for the dramatic prize is APTN’s Blackstone, Global’s Bomb Girls, CTV’s Motive, and the now wrapped Flashpoint. There’s a compelling case to be made for the ambition of Bomb Girls and the success and consistency of Flashpoint right up until the very end helps to turn this one into a pretty interesting three horse race.
As for dramatic performances, if the Academy doesn’t award Tatiana Maslany for her stellar work on Orphan Black to make up for her Emmy snub south of the border, we have kind of failed as a country. No one is close to approaching what she does on television every week, so hopefully this is the one solid lock of the night. Her biggest competition comes from the still great Meg Tilly for her work on Bomb Girls, but the category also includes Helene Joy for Murdoch Mysteries, Michelle Thrush for Blackstone, and Katheryn Winnick for the surprisingly underrepresented Vikings.
Leading actor in a drama seems to be led by Hugh Dillon for his continually great work on Flashpoint, in what might be the best chance the show can have for a farewell during the awards if it doesn’t take the top prize. Sam Huntington gets nominated for his work on Being Human, David Sutcliffe for Cracked, and Ben Bass for Rookie Blue round out the category. (Please note that the supporting actor awards in all TV categories have already been given out earlier in the week. There are a lot of awards on this show, hence why it takes a full week instead of just one night, automatically making it a more streamlined affair than the Grammys or the Emmys.)
In terms of comedies, the nominees are between the Jason Priestly starring Call Me Fitz, Gavin Crawford’s Wild West, CBC’s Mr. D, Seed, and Tiny Plastic Men. Priestly gets a leading actor nomination alongside Mr. D star Gerry Dee and Gavin Crawford with Jesse Camacho for Less Than Kind and Ron James for his New Year’s special taking the other two spots. Leading actress has two nominations for Less Than Kind for actresses Wendel Meldrum and Nancy Sorel going heads to heads against Call Me Fitz’s Tracy Dawson and Seed’s Carrie-Lynn Neales.
Who will seize the day and claim one of Canada’s most prestigious entertainment prizes? Well, I’ll be backstage at the awards tomorrow night starting at about 5pm EST to start broadcasting the awards that won’t be aired and what to expect from the tape delayed telecast. Follow me on Twitter for updates throughout the night and come back on Monday for a full rundown of the evening’s festivities and general shenanigans.