Bringing the Oscars to the True North

Looking at the list of Oscar nominees this year, you may, as a Canadian, be disappointed by the lack of Canadians. “Where’s Ryan Gosling?” you might be asking. “Where’s Rachel McAdams?” Or perhaps you’re reminiscing about the good old days when James Cameron and Paul Haggis made Canada proud by bringing back some anthropomorphic hardware.

But worry not. As of this year, Canada literally owns the Oscars — every single one of them. Well, at least the statuettes. The manufacturer of the Oscar statuettes, R.S. Owens, was acquired by St. Regis Crystal, an Ontario-based company, in December 2012. While the statuettes will continue to be manufactured in Chicago, the business decisions will be made by the owners up north in Markham, Ontario.

Sadly, this Canadian domination of the Oscars isn’t going to last very long. With the 85th Academy Awards upon us, the statuettes will soon be in the hands of the lucky winners and Canada will, once again, be left empty-handed. That is, unless War Witch, the French-Canadian nominee in the Foreign Language Film category pulls off a big upset against the heavily-favoured Austrian Amour.

While this lack of Canadian content may seem a disappointing state of affairs, one has to dig a bit deeper to find the silver lining (pun intended). Three of this year’s Best Film nominees have very close ties to Canada. In that vein, here are your Most Canadian Oscar Nominees of 2013:

Life of Pi

When the main characters of a film are a Bengal tiger and a young man from India, you’re probably not suspecting much of a Canadian connection. Yet that is exactly the case in Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, based on Canadian author Yann Martel’s novel by the same name. Martel’s quirky and touching story of the friendship between man and tiger was the winner of the esteemed Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2002. The screenplay, adapted by David Magee, is also nominated for an Oscar and looking to continue the success of the novel.

The Canadian influence on Life of Pi does not end with Martel. Two of the film’s 11 Oscar nominations come courtesy of the man behind the film’s soundtrack, Mychael Danna, for Best Original Score and Best Original Song (Pi’s Lullaby). Born in Winnipeg, Danna studied at the University of Toronto, winning the Glenn Gould Composition Scholarship. He’s worked on projects such as Little Miss Sunshine, (500) Days of Summer, The Time Traveller’s Wife and more recently, Moneyball. Given his success at this year’s Golden Globes, it’s not unlikely that this Canadian composer will bring home his first Oscar. A win would also bring the award back to Canada after eight years, the last winner being Howard Shore for The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.

Argo

Balmy Los Angeles may never experience a conventional winter, but the cold chill brought on by “snub season” — the time around January when the Oscar nominees are announced — comes close. This year’s was even stormier than usual. Ben Affleck, whose nomination for Best Director seemed a lock — especially in hindsight, after Affleck’s and Argo’s wins at the Critics’ Choice Awards and the Golden Globes — was left out of the list of five, a huge shock for the director of a film expected to win best film honours at the Oscars.

There is, however, another huge Argo snub that not enough people are talking about. The film is about the capers of Antonio Mendez, head of the Authentication Branch of the CIA’s Office of Technical Services, and his oddball, only-in-the-movies (really though, it’s essentially a film about a fake film) plan to save six of the American Embassy staff in Tehran. It rounds up this year’s crowded crop of patriotic U.S.-themed films, together with Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty. Of course, in the process of depicting the days leading up to the CIA’s dazzling exfiltration plan, it almost entirely negates the heroic efforts of the Canadian Embassy.

Canadian Ambassador to Tehran, Ken Taylor, and Chief Immigration Officer, John Sheardown, provided shelter for the six Americans; four were taken in by Sheardown, two by Taylor. This came at considerable personal and diplomatic risk, especially since Taylor was housing his guests at the official residence. With the story of the six missing Americans threatening to leak, Taylor arranged for the rental of a safe house, in case of a raid on the Canadian Embassy. It was only at this point that the CIA’s Antonio Mendez got involved, more than two months after the Embassy takeover. At this point, Americans and Canadians started working together. Antonio Mendez provided the cover story — Canadian filmmakers scouting for locations — and Joe Clark’s government issued six authentic passports for the American group.

After Argo screened at the Toronto Film Festival, Ben Affleck faced criticism for downplaying the Canadian role in the rescue operation. In response, Affleck agreed to have Taylor rewrite the film’s postscript text to “The involvement of the CIA complemented efforts of the Canadian embassy in freeing the six held in Tehran. To this day, the story stands as an enduring model for international cooperation between governments.”

While Argo may have glossed over Canadian involvement — perhaps in the name of making a more exciting movie — the gratitude of America is immortalized with that iconic sign saying “Thank You Canada.” 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ESR382L7Wo

Zero Dark Thirty

An American director at the helm of a purely American film about an American obsession, Osama bin Laden. Surely this has nothing to do with Canada. But hold on, let’s investigate this. Kathryn Bigelow was married to James Cameron. She accepted to direct The Hurt Locker only after consulting with her by then ex-husband, who told her, according to the Daily Mail, to drop whatever she was working on and go for it. Bigelow became the first female director to win an Oscar for Best Director. The huge success of Bigelow and The Hurt Locker led to her next film, Zero Dark Thirty, again, being nominated for Best Director and Best Film. And the man behind the statuettes, James Cameron, is from?

Kapuskasing, Ontario, Canada.

Okay, maybe that connection doesn’t work after all. But still, it goes to show that Canada is more integral to the Oscars than might seem at first.

And now, for the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The Most Canadian Oscar goes to . . . Argo. It was a very close contest with Life of Pi, but the true story of the bravery of Canadians in 1979 beat out a tiger in a boat, no matter how brilliant the novel nor how atmospheric the music.

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