The multi-layered comedy/drama Barney's Version, which stars Golden Globe-winner Paul Giamatti as the blunt, irascible Barney Panofsky, leads the field with 11 Genie nominations this year, while the harrowing French Canadian drama, Incendies, is close behind with 10.
The nominations were announced in Toronto on Tuesday.
Barney's Version, which netted Giamatti his Golden Globe statuette for best actor on Jan. 14, was nominated in most major categories, including best picture, direction, adapted screen play, as well as the lead and supporting actor fields.
Giamatti was shut out of the best actor category at this year's Academy Awards nominations; however, Montreal-based makeup artist Adrien Morot received an Oscar nod for aging Giamatti over the course of 30-odd years in Barney's Version.
Barney's Toronto-based producer Robert Lantos said he was touched that the movie, based on Mordecai Richler's award-winning novel and voted audience favourite at festivals in Venice and San Sebastian, has been recognized by Canada's arts community.
"As great as it is to be recognized abroad, there is nothing sweeter than applause at home," said Lantos. "This is Mordecai's book, a novel very much about us, and not a film that could have been made anywhere else in the world - or by anyone else. Getting kudos for it at home is music to my ears."
Denis Villeneuve's acclaimed Incendies also made the cut for best motion picture and best director. Reached by phone in Montreal, the Québécois director said he's thrilled with the reception his $6.5-million film received yesterday and added still can't get his head around the movie's recent Oscar nomination for best foreign film.
"When you do a film, you are not thinking about winning an Academy Award. I'm still in shock about that news. I haven't digested it yet."
Asked if he's written his speech for the Feb. 27 Academy Award ceremony, Villeneuve said he hasn't yet had time. "But I won't improvise," he added. "Even if I don't win, I want to be prepared. I know the competition is very strong. But just to be nominated ... I'm already a winner."
Quebec's influence in the Canadian film industry is evident in the best picture category, where Barney's Version and Incendies (both partially shot in Montreal) vie for top honours with Daniel Grou's gripping drama 10 1/2 (about a troubled Quebec youth), Xavier Dolan's Les amours imaginaires (about a love triangle), and Vincenzo Natali's DNA-doctoring thriller, Splice, starring Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody.
The great divide between French and English Canadian cinema was again a hot topic Tuesday, with Villeneuve admitting "it's just so much easier to be a French Canadian director right now.
"We have support from the media and from the audience," said Villeneuve, whose film has surpassed $3-million in box office in Quebec. (As of Jan. 28, it is screening in select theatres across English Canada). "For English-speaking Canada, there is just so much competition from the Americans, not to mention it's tougher to get media coverage."
Nominees for best direction include Dolan for Les amours imaginaires ( Heartbeats), Richard J. Lewis for Barney's Version, Natali for Splice, Grou (who also goes by the name Podz) for 10 1/2, and Incendie's Villeneuve, who won nine Genies for his 2009 drama Polytechnique about the Montreal Massacre.
In the running for best actor are Jay Baruchel ( The Trotsky), Giamatti ( Barney's Version), Robert Naylor ( 10 1/2), Timothy Olyphant ( High Life), and François Papineau ( Route 132).
The best leading actress nominees include Incendies' Lubna Azabal, Grown Up Movie Star's Tatiana Maslany, Trigger's Molly Parker, Barney's Version's Rosamund Pike, and Trigger's Tracy Wright, who recently died of cancer.
Supporting nods went to Dustin Hoffman ( Barney's Version), 10 1/2's Martin Dubreuil, Route 132's Alexis Martin, Gunless's Callum Keith Rennie, and High Life's Rossif Sutherland (brother to Kiefer, son of Donald).
The best supporting actress nominations went to Sonja Bennett ( Cole), Anne-Elizabeth Bosse ( Les amours imaginaires), Minnie Driver ( Barney's Version), Terra Hazelton ( Fubar II), and Mary Walsh ( Crackie).
The acclaimed documentary Last Train Home made the cut for best documentary, along with La Bell Visite ( Journey's End), In the Name of the Family, Leave Them Laughing, and You Don't Like the Truth: 4 Days Inside Guantanamo.
The Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television also named Canadian-German co-production Resident Evil: Afterlife, the fourth instalment in the popular thriller-horror franchise produced by Toronto's Don Carmody, its Golden Reel Award winner in 2011. The film, which stars Milla Jovovich, was the top-performing Canadian film in domestic theatres last year, grossing a total of just less than $7-million.
To date Afterlife, which was shot in stereoscopic 3-D in Toronto, has grossed almost $300-million worldwide, toppling the former Canadian-made record-breaker, Porky's, a 1982 release from Ivan Reitman.
Barney's Version, which is roughly halfway through its Canada-wide run, has earned $1.8-million at the domestic box office. It is currently showing on 38 screens in the United States (with plans to go wide on Feb. 18), and has ticket sales just under $1-million.
The Genie awards will be broadcast live from the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on March 10 on CBC.