I'm rooting for Jacob Tremblay. I was disappointed that the nine-year-old star of Room didn't get an Oscar nomination so I'm hoping he wins the best-actor category at the Canadian Screen Awards on Sunday. Maybe 9 is still young enough not to fully appreciate the difference between winning a Canadian Screen Award and winning an Oscar.
Yes, it's awards season – time to ruminate anxiously about whether Canadian audiences will recognize the titles of any of the nominated movies in their national awards show. Since the Canadian screen industries very sensibly merged their various awards in 2013, the new ceremony has mainly relied on TV actors for the glamour quotient – it's Tatiana Maslany; there's Yannick Bisson! – while the film categories continue to be dominated by Quebeckers, which does little to bond English-Canadian audiences with Canadian film. (Please, can we dub these new prizes the Screenies already? This will be their fourth year without a handy nickname, which also doesn't help with the bonding thing.)
But this year things are looking … well, up might be an overstatement, but certainly they are looking different. Yes, there are many Quebec films in the running for best picture including Felix and Meira (Canada's unsuccessful selection for the foreign-language Oscar nomination) as well as the political comedy My Internship in Canada, the troubling coming-of-age story The Demons and the family drama Our Loved Ones.
But there are also several well-recognized English-language films including Remember, Atom Egoyan's Holocaust revenge drama starring Christopher Plummer, and The Forbidden Room, a superbly odd love letter to old movies from experimental director Guy Maddin and his collaborator Evan Johnson. And, of course, there are the two high-profile, Oscar-nominated co-productions, Room and Brooklyn.
You don't have to be Canadian to win a Canadian Screen Award but your movie does – whether it's a Canadian majority co-production (Room, shot in Toronto with help from the Irish) or a minority co-production (Brooklyn, shot partly in Montreal, led by the Irish with British participation, too). Throw in Sleeping Giant, a coming-of-age drama set on the shores of Lake Superior and a much-praised directorial debut from Andrew Cividino, which to date has only been seen at film festivals; and note that Paul Gross's Hyena Road picked up the most nominations, but in the technical categories, and you have a pretty wide selection of films on offer.
Isn't there enough variety here to beguile Canadian audiences? Canadian films earn a notoriously small percentage of Canadian box office, most of which goes to Hollywood products, and for years there was industry and government hand-wringing over those couple of measly percentage points. Since 2011, however, Telefilm Canada has assembled a shopping basket of criteria including not only box office but also sales on other platforms as well as measures of cultural success, such as appearances at festivals or awards. This produces a number that, after five years, remains meaningless to anyone outside the industry. The baseline year, 2010, scored 100. The last year available, 2014, was an 86. (See what I mean?)
Here's one thing you can be pretty sure that Telefilm is not measuring: how people are rating Canadian movies on the Internet Movie Database. The top-rated Canadian movie of all time? Room. No. 2 is Incendies, the 2010 Denis Villeneuve film that was nominated for the foreign-language Oscar. No. 3 is A Christmas Story, the 1983 family movie. No. 4 is Xavier Dolan's 2014 success, Mommy. And so the list goes on, hopping all over the place from populist to art house but mainly drawing from the past couple of decades.
That is enough reason to believe that audiences are increasingly discovering Canadian film, argues Arik Motskin, one of three analysts who compiled that top-50 list for The 10 and 3, a Canadian website specializing in telling news stories with charts and numbers. Motskin and his colleagues simply compiled a list of all nominees for the Canadian Screen Awards or their various predecessors, went to IMDb and started counting up the ratings offered by users. Then the team applied IMDb's own system of adjusting ratings to ensure that movies ranked by very few users are not overscored, and came up with the top 50.
Motskin points out that the list, which also includes Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter, Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell and It's All Gone Pete Tong, features very recent films compared to most international top-50 or 100 lists, which skew toward the classics. The oldest film is the 1967 Allan King documentary Warrendale and it's the only one from the sixties.
Of course, part of the reason is that there were few Canadian movies made prior to the growth of the domestic industry in the 1970s, but Motskin also points to the popularity with IMDb users of Canadian movies from 2000 on, such as My Life Without Me, Away from Her and The Barbarian Invasions, while only a small handful of the obvious classics, films such as 1971's Mon Oncle Antoine, show up. "There is certainly some movement going on, and you see that in the IMDb ratings," he said.
There's an optimistic note on which to tune in Sunday night to see Canadian film feted.