TORONTO – The Academy Awards nominations are due out Jan. 16 and the names of two Quebec directors are emerging as strong contenders.
Jean-Marc Vallee and Denis Villeneuve both had cross-border cinematic success in 2013, with “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Prisoners” respectively, and it seems likely their projects will get some attention from Oscar.
Here’s a look at their careers, their prospects for the golden statuette, as well as a list of other Canadians whose names could be called by the Academy:
Vallee and the true-life story of “Dallas Buyers Club”:
Vallee: Born in Montreal. His previous heralded projects include the family drama “C.R.A.Z.Y.”, the Oscar-winning royal portrait “The Young Victoria,” and the love story “Cafe de Flore.”
“Dallas Buyers Club”: Matthew McConaughey surrendered himself to the role of Ron Woodroof, a Dallas rodeo cowboy who embarked on a medicine-smuggling mission after finding out he’d contracted HIV in the mid-’80s. Like McConaughey, who lost an extreme amount of weight for the role, Jared Leto also transformed himself to play a transgender HIV-positive patient. Jennifer Garner co-stars as a doctor and Steve Zahn plays Ron’s brother in the film that’s written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack.
Praise for the film: “Dallas Buyers Club” is on the short list in the makeup and hairstyling category for the Oscars. Meanwhile, the Toronto Film Critics Association recently gave Leto and Garner supporting actor nods for their parts, and both Leto and McConaughey are up for Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards. The whole cast is also nominated for a SAG trophy. “I don’t think there’s any more powerfully emotional film this year than what he’s done in ‘Dallas Buyers Club,’” says Cameron Bailey, artistic director of the Toronto International Film Festival.
Oscar predictions: Vallee made the film for just $4 million. He got around the low budget by coming up with “really smart” technical ways of shooting, says Bailey noting they used natural light “and the kind of cameras that would allow natural light to register well onscreen.” Still, Bailey feels “acting is going to be one of the key areas for this film” in the Oscar race. “The performances, obviously especially from Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, are phenomenal. They are so thoroughly transformed in these movies…. It’s the kind of performance that I think the Academy often recognizes.”
Villeneuve and the haunting kidnapping thriller “Prisoners”:
Villeneuve: The Gentilly, Que., native’s 2010 Middle East family saga “Incendies” was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign language film. His other lauded credits include the surreal 2000 drama “Maelstrom” and his haunting 2009 portrait of the Montreal massacre in “Polytechnique.”
“Prisoners”: In the dark thriller written by Aaron Guzikowski, Jake Gyllenhaal plays an unflappable cop probing the disappearance of two little girls in Pennsylvania. Hugh Jackman is fierce as the untamable father of one of the girls while Maria Bello deftly plays his depressed wife. Other stars include Viola Davis and Terrence Howard as the parents of the other child, Paul Dano as a seemingly simple-minded suspect and Melissa Leo as his protective mother.
Praise for the film: “Prisoners” was the second runner-up for the audience award at September’s Toronto film fest. It also won a best ensemble award from the National Board of Review and a supporting acting trophy for Gyllenhaal at the Hollywood Film Festival. It’s Villeneuve’s first big-budget U.S.-backed feature (it cost about $46 million) and it proves he’s “equal to some of the best Hollywood directors,” says Bailey. “When I saw ‘Prisoners,’ I came out of the screening last summer thinking, ‘This is easily as good as anything else I’ve seen from David Fincher.”
Oscar predictions: Niv Fichman, who produced Villeneuve’s other recent film “Enemy,” says he thinks there’s “no doubt” “Prisoners” will get a best picture Oscar nomination. “I think that the performances in that film are extraordinary, so to me there’s no doubt that they should get a bunch of performance nominations. And the film is extraordinary on so many levels. The screenplay is incredible, it could get nominated for that and for some of the technical awards as well.” Bailey says he thinks the film could get Oscar nominations including best direction: “Roger Deakins shot ‘Prisoners,’ he is an extraordinary cinematographer; he’s been recognized by the Academy before. I think ‘Prisoners’ looks amazing, and that’s another possible prospect. I would hope that some of the acting cast gets nominated as well.”
Other Canadians who could get Oscar nominations:
Toronto’s Sarah Polley for her deeply personal documentary “Stories We Tell”: The intimate family tale from the actress-turned-director — who was nominated for an Oscar for writing her 2006 drama “Away From Her” — has been a critical darling for its unique storytelling style. Already deemed best non-fiction film by the New York Film Critics Circle and best documentary by the National Board of Review, it’s now on the short list for a best documentary Oscar nomination. “I think it’s a leading contender for the documentary Oscar,” says Bailey.
Chris Landreth for “Subconscious Password”: Landreth won an Oscar for his 2004 animated short “Ryan.” With the 11-minute 3-D “Subconscious Password,” he directed a journey through the mind as it goes searching for information. “Subconscious Password” is on the short list for an Oscar nomination and seems to stand a good chance at making the final cut. “This film is beautifully directed and (as) smartly designed as ‘Ryan,’” says TIFF senior programmer Steve Gravestock. “He’s a great technician and he’s very inventive.”
Several other Canadian-based filmmakers are on the short list for a best animated short Oscar nomination: “Gloria Victoria,” by Montreal-based director Theodore Ushev; “Requiem for Romance by Toronto-born, Montreal-based filmmaker Jonathan Ng and Vancouver-based Irish animator Eoin Duffy for “The Missing Scarf.” The National Film Board of Canada is listed as a co-producer on “Hollow Land.”
- With files from Canadian Press reporter Cassandra Szklarski.