In case you haven’t noticed, BDJ Unscreened has been lying fallow for the last couple of weeks, partly for the usual holiday reasons, and partly because, as the new president of the Toronto Film Critics Association, I was insanely busy organizing last night’s TFCA inaugural gala awards dinner So busy that I’m the last person to report on it—and on the fact that Guy Maddin received our new $10,000 Rogers Best Canadian Film Award for My Winnipeg. Sarah Polley presented the award. (click here for photos of the star-studded evening).
The TFCA been giving out awards for 11 years now, but untl now it our ceremonies were private dinners with just the members and thier guests. We’d get together in a modest Italian restaurant and have a terrific time in our own company. There was a particular Italian restaurant on St. Clair Ave. that that one of the TFCA’s founding members and longtime vice-president, Angela Baldassarre, discovered for for us. It had amazing food at bargain prices and by the time we were drunk, inevitably the proprietor—an Italian gent with a toupee who claimed to have palled around with Fellini, and had a signed photo of him on the wall—would haul out a guitar and break into folkloric song as he strolled by the tables. Suddenly we were all extras in Amarcord.
Occasionally an award-winner would should up. One year Paul Thomas Anderson appeared with Fiona Apple to accept our Best Picture award for Magnolia. The film’s distributors wanted to converge on our little affair with an army of handlers and publicists and executives. We feared our Dionysian gathering would congeal into a function. So we held our ground. No handlers. Paul Thomas Anderson had a fabulous time. He wore a wrinkled white shirt. He drank cheap wine. I’m sure he’d never been to an awards ceremony at a trattoria run by a singing restauranteur in a toupee. It was a lovely era. Toronto Sun critic helped Bruce Kirland presided over the TFCA for 10 years, and he is stil with us. Angela Baldassarre, bless her soul, died in 2007.
This year, we decided to ramp up our awards dinner. Given that Toronto is one of North America’s major—film capitals—and a Canadian media capital with an exceptionally diverse and astute community of film critics—we felt the TFCA deserved a higher profile, and a dinner on a par with those held by New York and L.A. critics groups. As long as it didn’t become a function. Be careful what you wish for. Last night’s TFCA dinner was a gala media event—one of those luxe affairs that Stephen Harper famously bitched about during the last election campaign. Just two months ago, it was an idea. My employer, Rogers Communications Inc. got things rolling by creating a $10,000 prize for Best Canadian Film, plus generous financial support. He hired a pair o event producers (former TIFF director Helga Stephenson and partner Kate Daniels)—magicians of the red carpet—who put together a lavish cocktail and champagne dinner for 150 guests at Nota Bene restaurant, one of the finest in the city. My original pitch was this: the Giller meets the Golden Globes, but more intimate than the Giller and more honest than the Globes.
In an industry where nights like the Genies and the Geminis have turned into juggernaut tests of endurance, we wanted this to be the one film event that people would actually look forward to. And whaddya know? It succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. The cream of Toronto’s filmmaking community showed up, including Atom Egoyan, Don McKellar, Bruce McDonald, Patricia Rozema, Sturla Gunnarsson, Jennifer Baichwal—and Sarah Polley, last year’s winner for Best Canadian Film (Away From Her), who presented the new prize. Among the industry honchos on hand were Telefilm executive director Wayne S. Clarkson, producer Robert Lantos and the Honorable Aileen Carroll, Ontario Minister for Culture and Seniors. My table mates included my boss, Maclean’s Editor-in-Chief Ken Whyte, and the boss of bosses, Rogers Vice-Chairman Philip B. Lind. I had to give a speech, and tried to get through it without saying anything that would get me fired. Though I did make a joke at the expense of the Honorable Minister: “Culture and Seniors? That’s a great mix of portfolios . . . because pretty soon seniors will be the only people who will be able to remember the days when we could still afford to have a culture.”
All of our awards but the new Canadian prize were announced in December. And they are listed below. We kept the winner of the Rogers Best Canadian Film Award in suspense until Sarah Polley announced it at the dinner. If I can be so self-serving, I’ll cite my own quote from the TFCA press release: “My Winnipeg gleefully obliterates the line between fact and fiction, documentary and drama – between lucid memoir and fevered dream. It’s an exquisitely Canadian film that has won praise from around the world, and we are pleased to add our voice to the acclaim with this inaugural prize.” Guy Maddin was on hand to accept his award, along with the directors of the other two nominees, Stéphane Lafleur (Continental, A Film Without Guns) and Yung Chang (Up the Yangtze). Maddin was very funny, talking about how he used distain awards but now thinks it’s better to get them than not. He also let us know that actress Ann Savage, who played his mother in My Winnipeg, “bought the farm” on Christmas Day. He went on to say that he wasn’t being disrespectful. “That’s how she would have said it,” he said. A journalist from one of the trade papers double checked to make sure Savage had indeed died, because after seeing the fabulous conflation of fact and fiction in My Winnipeg, with Maddin you can never be sure.
Aside from Best Canadian Film, here are the other 2008 award-winners and runners up voted by the members of Toronto Film Critics Association:
“Wendy and Lucy” (Mongrel Media)
“Rachel Getting Married” (Mongrel Media)
BEST PERFORMANCE, MALE
Mickey Rourke, “The Wrestler”
Sean Penn, “Milk”
Jean-Claude Van Damme, “JCVD”
BEST PERFORMANCE, FEMALE
Michelle Williams, “Wendy and Lucy”
Anne Hathaway, “Rachel Getting Married”
Meryl Streep, “Doubt”
BEST SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE, MALE
Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight”
Josh Brolin, “Milk”
Robert Downey, Jr, “Tropic Thunder”
Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Doubt”
BEST SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE, FEMALE
Rosemarie DeWitt, “Rachel Getting Married”
Penelope Cruz, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”
Viola Davis, “Doubt”
Jonathan Demme, “Rachel Getting Married”
Danny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire”
Andrew Stanton, “WALL-E”
Jenny Lumet, “Rachel Getting Married”
John Patrick Shanley, “Doubt”
Peter Morgan, “Frost/Nixon”
BEST FIRST FEATURE
“Ballast”, directed by Lance Hammer
“The Band’s Visit”, directed by Eran Kolirin
“Frozen River”, directed by Courtney Hunt
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
“Kung-Fu Panda” (DreamWorks Animation)
“Persepolis” (Mongrel Media)
“Waltz with Bashir” (E1 Films)
BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM
“Let the Right One In” (Mongrel Media)
“A Christmas Tale” (Seville Pictures)
“The Class” (Mongrel Media)
“I’ve Loved You So Long” (Mongrel Media)
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
“Man on Wire” (Mongrel Media)
“Standard Operating Procedure” (Mongrel Media)
“Up the Yangtze” (KinoSmith/EyeSteelFilm)
For a complete report on the TFCA Awards co to torotofilmcritics.com
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