Canadians look to Oscar haul
Canada is making one of its strongest showings ever at the Academy Awards on Sunday night, with stars like Sarah Polley and Ellen Page up for major Oscar hardware along with a handful of Canadian animators and sound engineers who will square off against each other on Hollywood’s biggest and glitziest night.
Halifax’s Page is up for best actress for her role as a pregnant teenager in Juno, itself a best picture nominee. Montreal-born director Jason Reitman is nominated for best director for his sophomore film, an independent picture shot in Vancouver that’s pulled in an impressive US$143 million at the box office.
The Toronto-based Polley is up for best adapted screenplay for Away From Her, the moving Alzheimer’s drama based on an Alice Munro short story. The British star of that film, Julie Christie, is competing against Page in the best actress category.
Despite all the big names, it’s relatively obscure Canadians in the sound-mixing and animated short categories who could have a strong shot of walking away with Oscar gold.
B.C.-born soundman Craig Berkey, who worked on best picture frontrunner No Country for Old Men, is staring down countrymen Paul Massey and David Giammarco, a native of St. Catharines, Ont., for their sound mixing in 3:10 to Yuma. It’s Massey’s sixth Oscar nomination.
“It sounds like sour grapes when you say it’s an honour just to be nominated, but it’s actually not at all sour grapes,” said Massey, 50, a Canadian citizen who was born in the U.K. but lived in Toronto for 13 years before moving to L.A.
“The nomination is from your peers and they truly understand what it is that you do, but the final vote is the entire membership and sometimes that just comes down to the most popular film. So I am always really excited to get the nomination.”
In the animated short category, rookie Canadian directors are going head-to-head.
Madame Tutli-Putli, a stop-motion animated short about an existential train ride from Montrealers Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski, is up against I Met the Walrus, a film from 27-year-old Josh Raskin that details Toronto lawyer Jerry Levitan’s encounter, as a 14-year-old Beatles fan, with John Lennon.
Levitan, who produced the short and will share the Oscar with Raskin if it wins, is delighted by the nomination because he spent so many years trying to figure out how best to recount the day in 1969 when he barged his way into Lennon’s room at the downtown Toronto King Edward Hotel and interviewed the amused Beatle.
“I’d been talking about it for so long, and it was a major part of my adolescence and a major part of my life,” Levitan said in a recent interview at the hotel. “People approached me to do all kinds of things, to buy my material, to do a documentary ñ all kinds of stuff, and I was just never happy with what they were proposing.”
Instead, Levitan said, he decided to seek out some young Toronto filmmakers to come up with something different and artistic, and found Raskin, a Ryerson University film grad.
“I liked him, I thought he was bright, he loved John Lennon and the esthetic of John Lennon and he loved the story. We started talking about how to do it and he had an idea to take my 30-minute audio tape and turn it into 5-1/2 minutes and animate it,” Levitan recalled.
“He was afraid to even tell me this, but before he finished his sentence I said: `Great.”‘
However, the National Film Board’s Tutli-Putli could have the edge over I Met the Walrus on Oscar night. Tutli-Putli has already won two awards at last year’s Cannes film festival, and the academy has long had a fondness for NFB productions.
Canadians look to Oscar haul