Arts·My Favourite Season

Are Brendan Fraser, Sarah Polley and Michelle Yeoh about to give us back the joy of awards season?

The 2022/2023 awards season is officially underway, and TIFF gave us our first look at what just might be a Canadian blitz this time around.

The 2022/2023 season is officially underway, and we just might be looking at a Canadian blitz this time around

Michelle Yeoh stars in "Everything Everywhere All At Once." (A24)

My Favourite Season is a monthly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that runs through the six-month "season" that is both his favourite and Moira Rose's. It explores all things awards in the leadup to the big one: the Oscars, which will take place on March 12, 2023.

While today is technically the last day of summer, we are actually several days — arguably even weeks — into the only season I prefer more: awards season.

Or at least, that was once the truth. For some time, I worried that it had died a divine death on February 9, 2020, when Jane Fonda concluded that "season" by opening an envelope, taking a perfectly timed pause and then reading a word I'd never expected would bring me pure joy: Parasite.

Perhaps in that moment, the rabid, mostly straight fans of Joker cast a curse on the rabid, mostly gay fans of the Oscars for celebrating its big loss to Parasite. Because the two awards seasons that would follow were... not much of a good time.

There were many cancelled or delayed ceremonies, lots of glitchy Zoom speeches, a poorly produced Oscars in a train station that ended disastrously and, of course, the even more disastrous Oscars that followed those (we don't really need to get into any of that, please — not for a long while). Yes, there were moments of solace (everything involving Youn Yuh-jung springs to mind) but not nearly enough to make up for all the rest.

And yet, here I am, entering this awards season with a strange sense of optimism — so much so that I've decided to start this monthly column navigating the waters of the season, with a supplementary Oscar predictions chart to boot. It's something I did for almost a decade at my previous job (and something I was glad to no longer be doing when I thought about how soul-crushing covering those past two seasons must have been for so many). But from where things stand now, this seems like it could be just the right season to jump back in. 

This is the CBC, after all, and this is almost certain to be the most Canadian awards season we've seen since James Cameron dominated the festivities with Titanic 25 years ago. Often — and I mean this with all due respect — the most Canadian part of any given awards season is the fact that the Toronto International Film Festival is generally considered to be its unofficial kickoff. This definitely felt like the case this year, with the festival returning to its first fully in-person edition since 2019 and roughly half of Hollywood's biggest stars coming along for the ride. 

Among them was Steven Spielberg, who came to TIFF for the very first time with his largely autobiographical The Fabelmans. And the people of Toronto thanked him for his presence by bestowing unto the film the festival's People's Choice Award, which has a pretty undeniable track record when it comes to the Oscars: of the 10 winners before this year, every single one went on to a best picture nomination, and three of those won.

Given critics have generally agreed with the Torontonian consensus and that, believe it not, Spielberg is arguably overdue for another win (only three wins from his current 19 nominations seems slightly low for one of our GOATs), The Fabelmans is pretty locked in to frontrunner status, at least for the time being.

Steven Spielberg's The Fabelmans. (TIFF)

But the fact that Canada's largest city gave Mr. Spielberg a boost is hardly the only thing we have going for us this season.

The Fabelmans actually stars two Canadians with outside shots at nominations in a pair of Vancouverites: newcomer Gabriel LaBelle (who plays a young version of Spielberg) and recent Emmy nominee Seth Rogen (as Spielberg's surrogate uncle of sorts). While those nominations are far more likely for their American co-stars Michelle Williams (who was as close to a lock for a win as there was until today's twist that she'd run in lead instead of supporting), Paul Dano and Judd Hirsch (who, despite just having a couple scenes, is so good that TIFF audiences exploded into applause at his exit), there are a couple other Canadians looking very good for Oscar nominations — and maybe even wins.

Canadian icon Sarah Polley (who, oddly enough directed, Williams and Rogen in her previous narrative feature, Take This Waltz) is certain to get a screenplay nomination for her adaptation of Canadian author Miriam Toews' Women Talking, which was runner-up to Fabelmans for TIFF's People's Choice Award. The film also seems like a good bet for best director — which would make Polley the first Canadian woman ever nominated — and best picture. And while its large ensemble cast might be limited to one or two supporting nominations, its Canadian members Sheila McCarthy (as Greta) and Michelle McLeod (as Mejal) are both incredibly deserving (and are likely to pick up a few "best ensemble" prizes from critic's award groups).

Sarah Polley shooting her newest film Women Talking. (Michael Gibson/United Artists Releasing)

Though he was born in Indianapolis, Brendan Fraser is the son of two Canadians (and, fun fact, the nephew of the only Canadian to win a gold medal at the 1952 Summer Olympics, George Genereux) and went to school at Toronto's Upper Canada College. He's a very likely (first-time!) Oscar nominee for another film plenty of people at TIFF were talking about: Darren Aronofksy's The Whale. Though not everyone (myself included) appreciated the film's heavy-handed themes or its depiction of obesity, few could deny how extraordinary Fraser's work in the film is.

It'll be definitely fun for us up here to have such a huge Canadian presence at the awards, which could also likely include Domee Shi's Toronto-set Turning Red in the animated feature race and potentially even James Cameron all over again if Avatar: The Way of Water defies expectations — as almost everything Cameron makes does. But it's not like you have to be Canadian to all in on watching the beloved likes of Polley and Fraser win Oscars.

Same goes for a slew of other folks who are very much in the mix this year. Who doesn't want to see Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan onstage accepting awards for Everything Everywhere All At Once? Or Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson both finally getting their first Oscar nominations for the astounding The Banshees of Inisherin? Or Michelle Williams finally winning for The Fabelmans (if her new category placement allows, at least)? We might even have Tom Cruise back on the awards scene for the first time since 1999 thanks to the mammoth success of Top Gun: Maverick, and that will be nothing if not entertaining to witness.

Obviously, it's still September and none of these things are certain to happen (though it would be pretty shocking to me if most of them don't). We would also, of course, be naive to count out some cataclysmic event throwing everything back into chaos. But until that happens, let's enjoy the ride.

Check out our latest predictions for the 2023 Academy Awards here.


Peter Knegt (he/him) is a writer, producer and host for CBC Arts. He writes the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and hosts and produces the talk series Here & Queer. He's also spearheaded the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag, variety special Queer Pride Inside, and interactive projects Superqueeroes and The 2010s: The Decade Canadian Artists Stopped Saying Sorry. Collectively, these projects have won Knegt four Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films, the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights and the host of the monthly film series Queer Cinema Club at Toronto's Paradise Theatre. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.

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