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Maelstrom, a film narrated by a talking fish, leads the list of nominees for the 21st annual Genie Awards, honouring achievement in Canadian film.

Quebec director Denis Villeneuve's film, about a hit-and-run driver whose life falls apart, leads this year's pack with 10 nominations, including best picture, best director and best actress. Maelstrom is Canada's official foreign nominee for the 2001 Oscars and last week was accepted for screening at the influential Sundance Film Festival in January.

Close behind, with nine nominations, is director Clement Virgo's Love Come Down, a drama about two brothers, one black, one white, who deal with a family tragedy. Next, with eight nominations, is Here's To Life,a tale of three octogenarians' day out from a nursing home;followed by New Waterford Girl,a comedy about an inventive Cape Breton teenagers plan to leave home, with seven nominations.

The nominations were announced yesterday by the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television at an afternoon fête at the Leo Kamens Gallery in Toronto. The awards ceremony takes place on Jan. 29 (8 p.m., CBC-TV) and will be broadcast from the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Six films are vying for best-picture honours: Maelstrom, Love Come Down, New Waterford Girl, Possible Worlds, Stardom and To Walk With Lions.

In all, there are 154 nominations in 18 categories, comprising 18 feature films, along with 13 shorts and documentaries.

The nominees are selected by a jury of 90 "Canadian film professionals" who, in some cases, appear to have tastes that differ widely from both the critics and audiences. (The eventual winners will be determined by votes from the 1,500 members of the academy.)

Among the anomalies in the best-picture list is the presence of To Walk With Lions, a film by a non-Canadian director, Carl Schultz, that was coolly received by critics and at the box office.

Journalists were also surprised by the exclusion from the best-picture list of Gary Burns's waydowntown, a critical hit that won awards in film festivals in Toronto and Vancouver as the most popular Canadian film. Actress Liane Balaban, who earned considerable media attention for her role in New Waterford Girl,was also left off the nomination list.

Burns, however, picked up a directing nomination for waydowntown, a satire about young office workers in a Calgary mall.

Four Quebec directors received nominations: Alain DesRochers, for his debut La Bouteille,Robert Favreau for Les Muses orphelines,Robert Lepage for Possible Worlds and Villeneuve for Maelstrom.

A possible area of contention is the decision, last year, to open the Genie Awards to international films with as little as 20-per-cent Canadian financing. This has raised the problem of big-budget star vehicles enjoying an advantage in some categories, particulary in the crafts. The Art of War, for example, was an American studio picture starring Wesley Snipes that was directed by Montrealer Christian Duguay. The film earned six nominations, including original music and five technical categories: cinematography, editing, art direction, overall sound and sound editing.

As well, non-Canadians can compete in performance categories. This year's best-acting nominations include Britain's Tilda Swinton in Possible Worlds and Americans Kim Hunter and James Whitmore for Here's to Life,directed by Canadian Arne Olsen. A nomination for best supporting actor goes posthumously to Scottish actor Ian Bannen ( Waking Ned Devine), for To Walk with Lions.

In the best-actor category, other nominees come two to a movie, with David Cubitt and Colm Feore from The Perfect Son competing with Tony Nardi and Timothy Webber for My Father's Angel, along with Whitmore.

In addition to Hunter and Swinton, best-actress nominations went to Marie-Josée Croze for Maelstrom and to Ginette Reno and Pierrette Robitaille who star in Laura Cadieux . . . La Suite.

One of the more competitive contests is shaping up in the documentary category, where the nominees are Ron Mann for Grass,Alanis Obomsawin for Rocks at Whiskey Trench,Peter Starr, Luis O. Garcia and Bay Weyman for Spirits of Havana,Adam Symansky, Éric Michel and Peter Wintonick for Cinéma Vérité: Defining The Moment and John Walker and Kent Martin for The Fairy Faith.

And the nominees are ...

Here is a complete list of contenders for the 21st Genie Awards honouring the best in Canadian cinema:

Best Motion Picture Love Come Down, Eric Jordan, Damon D'Oliveira, Clement Virgo Maelstrom, Roger Frappier, Luc Vandal New Waterford Girl, Jennifer Kawaja, Julia Sereny Possible World, Sandra Cunningham, Bruno Jobin Stardom, Denise Robert, Robert Lantos To Walk with Lions, Pieter Kroonenburg, Julie Allan Achievement in direction Gary Burns, waydowntown Alain Desrochers, La Bouteille Robert Favreau, Les Muses orphelines Robert Lepage, Possible Worlds Denis Villeneuve, Maelstrom Best Screenplay Denys Arcand, J. Jacob Potashnik, Stardom Frank Borg, My Father's Angel Gilles Desjardins, Michel Marc Bouchard, Les Muses orphelines Denis Villeneuve, Maelstrom Clement Virgo, Love Come Down Best actor David Cubitt, The Perfect Son Colm Feore, The Perfect Son Tony Nardi, My Father's Angel Timothy Webber, My Father's Angel James Whitmore, Here's to Life! Best actress Marie-Josée Croze, Maelstrom Kim Hunter, Here's to Life! Ginette Reno, Laura Cadieux . . . La Suite Pierrette Robitaille, Laura Cadieux . . . La Suite Tilda Swinton, Possible Worlds Best supporting actor Ian Bannen, To Walk with Lions Nicholas Campbell, New Waterford Girl Martin Cummins, Love Come Down Patrick Huard, La vie après l'amour Jean-Nicolas Verreault, Maelstrom Best supporting actress Annick Bergeron, La Beauté de Pandore Céline Bonnier, Les Muses orphelines Helen Shaver, We All Fall Down Stacy Smith, New Waterford Girl Mary Walsh, New Waterford Girl Barbara Williams, Love Come Down Cinematography Guy Dufaux, Stardom Jonathan Freeman, Possible Worlds Pierre Gill, The Art of War Jean Lépine, To Walk with Lions André Turpin, Maelstrom Editing Michel Arcand, The Art of War Richard Comeau, Maelstrom Hélène Girard, Les Muses orphelines Susan Maggi, New Waterford Girl Susan Shipton, Possible Worlds Art direction Sylvain Gingras, Maelstrom Emmanuel Jannasch, Norma-Jean Sanders, New Waterford Girl Anne Pritchard, Ginette Robitaille -- The Art of War François Seguin, Danièle Rouleau, Possible Worlds Zoe Sakellaropoulo, Jean Morin, Stardom Costume design Debra Hanson, New Waterford Girl Suzanne Harel, Laura Cadieux . . . La Suite Patricia Hargreaves, Here's to Life! Michel Robidas, Stardom Denis Sperdouklis, La vie après l'amour Music -- Original Score Patric Caird, Here's to Life! Normand Corbeil, The Art of War Aaron Davis, John Lang, Love Come Down François Dompierre, Laura Cadieux . . . La Suite Alan Reeves, To Walk with Lions Music -- Original Song Michael Bublé, Dumb ol' Heart from Here's to Life! Michael Bublé, I've Never Been in Love Before from Here's to Life! Deborah Cox, Keith Andes, Lascelles Stephens, Our Love from Love Come Down Deborah Cox, Keith Andes, Lascelles Stephens, 29 from Love Come Down François Dompierre, Fortuna from Laura Cadieux . . . La Suite Overall sound achievement Gilles Corbeil, Luc Boudrias, Louis Gignac, Maelstrom Daniel Pellerin, Paul Adlaf, Peter Kelly, Brad Thornton, Brad Zoern, Love Come Down Tom Ronan, Daniel Pellerin, Brad Thornton, Brad Zoern, Violet Bill Sheppard, Mark Berger, Ruth Huddleston, Here's to Life! Hans Peter Strobl, Jocelyn Caron, Don Cohen, Bernard Gariepy Strobl, The Art of War Sound editing Mathieu Beaudin, Jérome Décarie, Carole Gagnon, Antoine Morin, François Senneville, Maelstrom Michel B. Bordeleau, Pierre-Jules Audet, Jérome Décarie, Natalie Fleurant, Marc Gagnon, The Art of War Dean Giammarco, Maija Burnett, Kris Fenske, John Ludgate, Brendon Ostrander, Here's to Life! David McCallum, Fred Brennan, Susan Conley, Steven Hammond, Garrett Kerr, Jane Tattersall, Robert Warchol, Love Come Down Glenn Tussman, Richard Betanzos, Michael Gurman, Steven Gurman, Paul Hubert, Vincent Regaudie, To Walk with Lions Best documentary Ron Mann, Grass Alanis Obomsawin, Rocks at Whiskey Trench Peter Starr, Luis O. Garcia, Bay Weyman, Spirits of Havana Adam Symansky, Eric Michel, Peter Wintonick, Cinéma Vérité: Defining the Moment John Walker, Kent Martin, The Fairy Faith Best animated short Thérèse Descary, Claude Cloutier, Marcel Jean, Jean-Jacques Leduc, Du Big-Bang à mardi matin/From the Big-Bang to Tuesday Morning Thérèse Descary, Pierre M. Trudeau, Coucou, Monsieur Edgar! Cuckoo, Mr. Edgar! Michael Scott, Eugene Fedorenko, Rose Newlove, David Verrall, Village of Idiots Best live action short drama Joel Awerbuck, Michael Downing, Clean Rite Cowboy Kate Gillen, Dominique Cardona, Laurie Colbert, Below the Belt Marlene Rodgers, Ines Buchli, Foxy Lady, Wild Cherry André Théberge, Alain Jacques, Le p'tit varius Simone Urdl, Phil Barker, Soul Cages