TORONTO – It’s an Oscars love-in as the Canadian team behind the alien-invasion drama “Arrival” descends on Hollywood for Sunday’s glitzy gala.
Quebec director Denis Villeneuve’s humanistic sci-fi film has eight nominations, tied with Barry Jenkins’s “Moonlight” for the second-most nods. Both are in the running for best picture and best director.
The dazzling musical “La La Land” is in contention for a leading 14 awards, with nominations for best picture, best director and best actor for London, Ont., native Ryan Gosling.
Montreal production designer Patrice Vermette, who’s nominated for his work on “Arrival” alongside Montreal set decorator Paul Hotte, was scheduled to fly in to Los Angeles on Wednesday and his seatmate was none other than “La La Land” producer Fred Berger.
But he was feeling no sense of rivalry.
“I think we’re going to start the celebration in the plane. That’s the plan, actually,” Vermette, who was also up for an Oscar in 2010 for “The Young Victoria,” said in a recent phone interview.
“We’re not rivals, we’re friends. We’re good friends, actually. And he’s good friends with (producers) Aaron Ryder and Dan Levine from ‘Arrival,’ which is funny because this year it seems that a lot of people who are nominated know each other in a good way, which is all positive.
“It’s good, it’s like family, so everybody is happy for each other.”
Indeed, when the nominations were announced last month, Villeneuve said one of the first people he spoke with was Gosling. The Canadian duo had just worked together on the highly anticipated “Blade Runner 2049,” due out in October.
Such is the familial vibe Villeneuve has been known for throughout his career.
He often teams up with the same collaborators, including Vermette, who previously worked with Villeneuve on “Prisoners,” “Enemy” and “Sicario.” Vermette is now working with Berger on “The Mountain Between Us” in Vancouver.
“The bonus of Denis is that you not only get his brilliance, you get these brilliant artists and craftsman who join him. And the movie is a result of all of his work,” said Shawn Levy, a Montreal producer on “Arrival” who shares in the best picture nomination.
“I think Denis has a humanity to him. He thinks about things deeply and he feels things even more deeply, so there’s a warmth and a humanity to him in his work that is palpable and really sophisticated.”
“Arrival” stars Amy Adams as a linguistics expert who goes through a transformative experience as she tries to communicate with aliens who’ve arrived on Earth. Jeremy Renner plays a theoretical physicist in the Quebec-shot film, which explores how intuition, instinct and humility help communication.
“It’s not a typical sci-fi movie with high technology,” said Villeneuve, adding that he thinks the Oscar love came “because of the humanity that is inside the story of this movie.”
This is Villeneuve’s second Oscar ride, after his 2010 drama “Incendies” was nominated for the best foreign-language film award.
“The thing is that a few years ago with ‘Incendies,’ it was a huge surprise and it was like I was a virgin,” Villeneuve said from Los Angeles when the nominations were announced.
“I’ve been through several campaigns — we did it for ‘Prisoners,’ we campaigned once more for ‘Sicario,’ because the movie was being well-received for a time here.
“For ‘Arrival,’ I do have a little bit more experience to feel the momentum.”
Eric Heisserer is nominated for “Arrival”‘s screenplay, which is adapted from the Ted Chiang novella “Story of Your Life.” Bradford Young is nominated for best cinematography and Joe Walker is up for film editing.
Other Canadians nominated for their work on the film include sound editor Sylvain Bellemare and sound mixers Bernard Gariepy Strobl and Claude La Haye.
Strobl said Villeneuve took an unconventional approach to the alien genre and they “all went for it.”
“That was one of the main successes: We were all on the same page.”
Vermette was feeling positive about his chances.
“There’s a lot of love for ‘La La Land,’ obviously, but I think this time I might be closer,” he said. “I don’t know, I hope so.
“Movies are made by the people who dream, so yeah, I can dream about it.”
— With files from David Friend.