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Brooklyn Letexier-Hart (as Waseese) and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers (as Niska) in Night Raiders.Elevation Pictures

If there is such a thing as the perfect Canadian Screen Awards nomination slate, 2022′s list just might have nailed it.

Before you yell at me or demand to know why you should even care about the Canadian Screen Awards, let me explain, because, just like the entirety of the country’s film, television and digital media sector, the CSAs are … complicated.

On Tuesday morning, the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television announced its full list of nominees for the 2022 CSAs. In the feature film category, Danis Goulet’s Indigenous sci-fi thriller Night Raiders and Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson’s drama Scarborough lead the pack, with 11 nominations each, including best motion picture. On the television side, CBC’s Sort Of came out on top, with 13 nods including best comedy series. And in the digital media arena, the web series 21 Black Futures and For the Record (both available to stream on CBC Gem) triumphed with eight nominations each.

Other big CSA contenders this year include the films All My Puny Sorrows (eight nominations), Wildhood (six), and Drunken Birds (six), plus the TV series Pretty Hard Cases (11), Wynonna Earp (11), Coroner (10), and Kim’s Convenience (10), the latter of which is making its last CSA go-round after airing its fifth and final season.

Canadian TV performances shone in 2021 with Sort Of’s Bilal Baig, Ginny & Georgia’s Katie Douglas, and more

So: Why is this year quote-unquote perfect, especially for the readers out there who might be currently googling 85 per cent of the titles listed above? Well, it comes down to what the CSAs are meant to accomplish, and who they are meant for – a tricky balancing act that the organization has been attempting to pull off ever since it merged the Gemini and Genie awards a decade ago.

In terms of general audiences, CSA nominees should ideally include productions that Canadians have actually heard of – maybe even seen and enjoyed! – plus the many under-the-radar titles that deserve whatever sized spotlight that the CSAs can provide. For members of the industry, there should be recognition for stellar work that has surpassed the myriad limitations faced by Canadian storytellers. And for the Canadian Academy itself, there’s an alchemy that mixes both “successful” productions (whatever that means these days) as well as enough provocative titles to generate buzzy, heated conversations around the digital water cooler come Canadian Screen Week in April.

As ever, it’s a challenge to carefully parse the entire CSA announcement, with this year’s list featuring 1,325 nominated individuals across 145 categories (up slightly from last year’s 1,258 individuals across 141 categories). But at first glance, this year’s CSA class just about hits the sweet spot. Especially on the television side, where there are hits (Kim’s Convenience, Transplant), cult favourites with devoted audiences (Wynonna Earp, Letterkenny), up-and-coming success stories (Sort Of, which has benefited greatly from its HBO Max pickup in the United States), and critically acclaimed work that could use any boost on offer (Pretty Hard Cases). If you haven’t heard of any of the above, then the CSAs offers a handy primer to expand your viewing options.

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Amanda Cordner (as 7ven) and Bilal Baig (as Sabi) in CBC's Sort Of.Keri Anderson/CBC

On the film side, matters are trickier. This is partly owing to the Canadian Academy’s eligibility rules, which mean that a good number of nominated films – the Miriam Toews adaptation All My Puny Sorrows, the Indigenous coming-of-age romance Wildhood, the microbudget drama Scarborough – haven’t actually been released yet. On one hand, the CSAs can act as a great advertisement for excellent Canadian films with little marketing budgets (all of them). On the other hand, it’s hard to get audiences excited about films they can’t yet watch.

In other years, this dilemma was solved (or at least partly balanced out) by nominating big-ish movies that had already been released into the world. But this year’s already released movies – including the dystopian thriller Night Raiders, the Canada-Mexico narco melodrama Drunken Birds, and the Québécois period drama Maria Chapdelaine – come into the CSAs with only a whiff of general recognition. And then there are the true outliers: movies that even I haven’t heard of (mostly Québécois titles that never escaped the province’s theatres, including The Time Thief, You Will Remember Me and The Noise of Engines).

This isn’t a knock on this year’s films – I highly recommend digitally renting Night Raiders, Drunken Birds and Maria Chapdelaine tonight if you can, and I can’t wait to tell everyone I know to go see Scarborough once it opens in theatres Feb. 25 – but only a lament for the beast that is Canadian film distribution.

Is this year’s situation better than, say, when the CSAs nominate big splashy co-productions that are questionably Canadian in content, even if they’re partly Canadian in financing (including last year’s co-pro trifecta of The Nest, Falling and French Exit)? I’m honestly not sure, though I am confident there are people both pleased and upset today that the buzzy-ish thriller Night of the Kings is up for best motion picture even though, creatively speaking, there’s little on-screen that could be called “Canadian.”

Given the general state of tumult facing the country’s screen industry – underlined by the fact that this year’s CSAs is, once again, going completely virtual – I’m playing the optimist. Nothing, especially in Canadian arts, is ever perfect. But this perfect-for-2022 CSAs news is close enough.

Highlights of the 2022 Canadian Screen Award Nominations

Best motion picture: Drunken Birds, Night of the Kings, Night Raiders, Scarborough, Wildhood

Achievement in direction: Anthony Scott Burns (Come True), Danis Goulet (Night Raiders), Philippe Gregoire (The Noise of Engines), Sasha Nakhai and Rich Williams (Scarborough), Bretten Hannam (Wildhood)

Best drama series: Coroner, Moonshine, The North Water, Transplant, Vikings

Best comedy series: Jann, Kim’s Convenience, Letterkenny, Sort Of, Strays

Best web program or series: 21 Black Futures, The Communist’s Daughter, For the Record, Next Stop, Querencia

The 2022 Canadian Screen Awards main gala will air April 10 at 8 p.m. ET on CBC and stream on CBC Gem.

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