Toronto film critics bow to ‘The Master’

Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic wins four prizes, while ‘Bestiare,’ ‘Goon’ and ‘Stories We Tell’ vie for the $100,000 Rogers Best Canadian Film Award

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Joaquin Phoenix (left) and TFCA nominee Philip Seymour Hoffman in 'The Master' / courtesy eOne

I bring you breaking news from the Toronto Film Critics Association—of which I’m president but do not control. It’s what they call a democratic organization; one critic, one vote. At a weekend meeting, over platters of crustless sandwiches fit for a garden party, we voted on our favorite films of 2012. There was some spirited debate, and some very close races, but no one lost an eye. Unlike the characters in the movie we liked best, we didn’t swig moonshine or wrestle each other to the ground. The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson’s 70 mm epic about a cult leader and the ravaged war veteran who falls under his spell, dominated the TFCA winner’s circle, taking four categories, including best picture, director, screenplay and supporting actor. This is the second time an Anderson film has won the TFCA’s top prize: In 1999, his Magnolia won awards for Best Picture and Best Director, and he shared the Best Screenplay prize with Being John Malkovich author Charlie Kaufman. (Anderson was also named Best Director in 2002 for Punch-Drunk Love, making this his third time winning that award.) Yes, P.T., we like you; we really like you.

The TFCA (of which I’m president) also announced today the three finalists for the newly endowed $100,000 Rogers Best Canadian Film Award: Bestiaire, directed by Denis Côté, Goon, directed by Michael Dowse, and Stories We Tell, directed by Sarah Polley. Each of these movies defies any fixed preconceptions about the character of Canadian cinema. They’re all films of a kind we haven’t seen before. Bestiaire is a visionary documentary from Montreal that explores our relationship to the animal world. Stories We Tell, a doc from Toronto, unfolds as a procedural home movie, investigating the filmmaker’s family secrets; and Goon, shot largely in Winnipeg and set across the country, is a viciously funny comedy about hockey violence.”

The diversity of these three films shows there’s nothing predictable about Canadian cinema. Each represents an adventure in a genre we haven’t seen before. Bestiaire is a visionary documentary from Montreal that explores our relationship to the animal world. Stories We Tell, which toggles between Montreal and Toronto, is an equally unconventional doc: it unfolds as a procedural home movie, in which Polley unlocks a Pandora’s box of family secrets. And Goon, shot largely in Winnipeg and set across the country, is a viciously funny comedy about hockey violence.

Canadian filmmakers were also honoured in the TFCA’s other awards, with Stories We Tell winning the Allan King Documentary Award and Panos Cosmatos sharing the Best First Feature prize for Beyond the Black Rainbow with Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Michael Haneke’s Amour was named the year’s Best Foreign-Language Film. Haneke’s drama, starring Jean-Louis Trintingnant and Emmanuelle Riva as an elderly couple deteriorating in their Paris apartment, won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

More details of the 16th annual TFCA awards, which were voted by the member critics at a meeting on Dec. 17:

  • Denis Lavant was named Best Actor for his complex performance as an actor assuming multiple roles for an unknown audience in Holy Motors.
  • Rachel Weisz took Best Actress for her wrenching turn as a woman who follows her heart into an affair with a troubled veteran in Terence Davies’ 1950s melodrama The Deep Blue Sea.
  • Gina Gershon was named Best Supporting Actress for her ferocious performance in William Friedkin’s Southern-fried noir comedy Killer Joe.
  • ParaNorman, Chris Butler and Sam Fell’s stop-motion horror comedy about a young boy trying to stop an uprising of ghouls in his accursed New England town, won Best Animated Feature

The 2012 TFCA Awards will be presented at a gala dinner at Toronto’s Carlu on January 8, 2013, hosted by Cameron Bailey, artistic director of the Toronto International Film Festival. There the TFCA will also reveal the winner of the newly endowed Rogers Best Canadian Film Award, which this year carries a record-setting $100,000 cash prize—it’s now the richest arts award in the country.  The runners-up will each receive $5,000. Actor/director Don McKellar will be on hand to present the award.

I’ve been asked if all that money puts a lot of pressure on us. It shouldn’t. Sure, there’s more pressure to do our homework and make a responsible decision. And there is something strange, and unprecedented, about a ragtag gang of film critics deciding the fate of $100,000—a sum tantamount to major funding for some independent filmmakers. But the TFCA Awards are not a game show.  The selection process remains the same it’s always been: when our members pick the Best Canadian Film in the first week of January, our job is simply to pick what is, in our view, the Best Canadian Film, money be damned. The real pressure is on the winning director, who has to figure out  how to spend, or spread, the wealth.

The full list of Toronto Film Critics Association Awards winners and runners-up:

“The Master” (eOne)
“Amour” (Mongrel Media)
“Zero Dark Thirty” (Alliance Films)

Denis Lavant, “Holy Motors”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”
Joaquin Phoenix, “The Master”

Rachel Weisz, “The Deep Blue Sea”
Jessica Chastain, “Zero Dark Thirty”
Emmanuelle Riva, “Amour

Philip Seymour Hoffman, “The Master”
Javier Bardem, “Skyfall”
Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln”

Gina Gershon, “Killer Joe”
Amy Adams, “The Master”
Ann Dowd, “Compliance”
Anne Hathaway, “Les Miserable”

Paul Thomas Anderson, “The Master”
Kathryn Bigelow, “Zero Dark Thirty”
Leos Carax, “Holy Motors”

“The Master”, written by Paul Thomas Anderson
“Lincoln”, written by Tony Kushner, based on the book
            “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin
“Zero Dark Thirty”, written by Mark Boal

“Beasts of the Southern Wild”, directed by Benh Zeitlin
“Beyond the Black Rainbow”, directed by Panos Cosmatos
“The Cabin in the Woods”, directed by Drew Goddard

“ParaNorman” (Alliance Films)

“Brave” (Disney*Pixar)
“Frankenweenie” (Disney)

“Amour”(Mongrel Media)
“Holy Motors” (Mongrel Media)
“Tabu” (filmswelike)

“Stories We Tell” (Mongrel Media)
“The Queen of Versailles” (Mongrel Media)
“Searching for Sugar Man” (Mongrel Media)


“Bestiaire”, directed by Denis Côté
“Goon”, directed by Michael Dowse
“Stories We Tell”, directed by Sarah Polley