Last night was the Toronto Film Critics Association‘s gala awards dinner, and I’m still buzzing. Full disclosure—I’m president of the TFCA and this soirée is my baby. With generous sponsorship from Rogers, we launched the event last year, pitching it as the Giller meets the Golden Globes on a more intimate scale. And it’s taken off. Last night the cream of Toronto’s film community, and trio of Quebec filmmakers, gathered at Toronto’s Nota Bene restaurant to celebrate a year in film. All but one of the 2009 TFCA Awards, which are voted by the member critics, had been previously announced. But last night our guest of honour, David Cronenberg, announced the winner of the Rogers Best Canadian Film Award and presented it, with a $10,000 cheque, Quebec director Denis Villeneuve for Polytechnique. The other two other finalists, Benoit Pilon (The Necessities of Life) and Bruce McDonald (Pontypool), were both worthy contenders, but Villeneuve’s film was perhaps the most ambitious of the three. If I can quote my own TFCA press release: “Polytechnique is a film of astonishing courage. Without a whiff of exploitation or crude moralizing, Denis Villeneuve brings a sensitive, unflinching eye to the 1989 Montreal Massacre – an event most filmmakers would consider untouchable. Villeneuve conveys the horrific tragedy of the event while exploring underlying issues of misogyny, male guilt and institutional circumstance. Set in a haunting silence of snow and concrete, Polytechnique’s contemplative drama honours the victims by preserving the mystery of an unfathomable crime, and never pretending to unlock the psychology of the killer. With grace, empathy and a stark, formal beauty, Villeneuve shows how a memorial can be an act of imagination.” When Rogers vice-chairman Phil Lind presented the cheque to Villeneuve, the director confessed, “I haven’t paid my Rogers cable bill.”
No one can accuse Toronto critics of being Toronto-centric. Another Quebec filmmaker, Xavier Dolan, showed up to accept the inaugural Jay Scott Prize for an emerging artist, which carries a cheque of $5,000. This charming wunderkind—who wrote, produced, directed and starred in his much-acclaimed feature debut, J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother), received the award from Atom Egoyan, who was over the moon with enthusiasm for the film. For the full list of the other awards, which were announced last month, go the TFCA website.
After the presentation, I had a long and fascinating chat with Cronenberg, most of which should remain off the record. But he did point out that there was some irony in him presenting the award to Polytechnique, because after the Montreal Massacre, Toronto Star columnist Michelle Landsberg had the bone-headed temerity to suggest that the violence in Cronenberg’s movies might have contributed to the killer’s motivation.