Well, at least we now know what to call them: the Canadian Screen Awards emphatically announced themselves as the Candys Sunday as presenters and winners followed instructions from host Norm Macdonald to nickname the four-year-old prizes accordingly.
It's a good name, recognizing Canadian comic John Candy (who died in 1994) and sharing the first three letters of the word Canada while punning off the sweetness of victory. But it will take more than a good name to compensate for the frustrations of trying to celebrate talent in an often undervalued industry in a country without a real star system. Those frustrations were on full display Sunday during the CBC telecast of the awards, a two-hour show that featured as many head-scratching moments as it did high points.
The highs included the ebullient presence of several generations of Canadian comics as the father-and-son team of Eugene and Dan Levy picked up prizes for Schitt's Creek, which won best comedy, best actor in an ongoing comic role (for Eugene, beating out Dan in the category), and best actress in a comic role for Catherine O'Hara. With Levy Sr. also presenting a lifetime achievement award to Martin Short, who has previously hosted the awards, the legacy of the Second City comedy troupe and its wacky humour was in the air. Perhaps that is why Macdonald's much drier comic tone often fell flat, especially once he had moved outside the comfortable format of the opening monologue.
As a dig at the remoteness of Cape Breton or a unfunny gag about a loot bag filled with a pancake and a curling stone went nowhere, Macdonald felt removed from his material. Of course, like many funny Canadians, he has long since departed for the U.S., where he made his mark on Saturday Night Live. The kind of familiarity with the Canadian scene that Rick Mercer and Mary Walsh or the cast of This Hour has 22 Minutes could telegraph in their brief appearances as presenters was missing from his performance.
Meanwhile the difficulties posed by celebrating winners who aren't working in Canada also became sadly apparent as American actress Brie Larson wasn't present to accept the accolades for her performance in Room, the role that won her an Oscar last month. Similarly, Room's writer Emma Donoghue, who won for best adapted screenplay, had to read a text message from director Lenny Abrahamson, when he also won for his work on the film adapted from her novel.
Still, the night belonged to the film about a boy and his mother held captive in a single room, which also won best picture, and best actor for nine-year-old Jacob Tremblay who, needless to say, is the youngest person ever to win a Candy. He was something of a sentimental favourite in his category, although that title might also belong to veteran Christopher Plummer, playing a Holocaust survivor in Remember and quipping "Eat your heart out Jacob," when the audience gave him a standing ovation as he came on stage to present the award for best picture.
His was a gracious appearance; Jay Baruchel presenting best director was funny; why the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television insists on importing the Oscar tradition of dual presenters stupidly quipping at each other off a teleprompter when the show is short on celebs anyway is a mystery. Other mysteries of the night included singer Chilina Kennedy delivering You Make me Feel like a Natural Woman (which she is currently performing in the Broadway musical Beautiful) to celebrate female nominees. Just give them work and give them prizes – no need to sing 45-year-old American pop songs at them.
The high points, on the other hand, also included several reminders that artists create film and television for audiences and that there are Canadian talents who attract a dedicated following. Images of familiar figures such as Yannick Bisson, thanking fans for voting him the fans' choice award and announcing a 10th season for Murdoch Mysteries on CBC TV, or Brent Butt, paying a similar tribute to CTV after Corner Gas: The Movie won an award based on its high ratings, may not be wildly glamorous but they are the markers of a healthy industry.