03/08/2012 09:07 EST | Updated 05/08/2012 05:12 EDT

Genies race features Quebec films, co-pros

A handful of Quebec films that have garnered critical raves — including Café de Flore, Monsieur Lazhar and Starbuck — are competing for Genie glory Thursday night alongside high-profile international co-productions such as A Dangerous Method and The Whistleblower.

At 2011's ceremony, Quebec film Incendies, directed by Denis Villeneuve, took the top prize at the annual celebration of Canadian film. This year, Monsieur Lazhar,Philippe Falardeau’s story of an Algerian immigrant who helps a middle-school class cope with the suicide of their former teacher, earned an Oscar nomination before it became a leading Genie contender.

Jean-Marc Vallée's romantic drama Café de Flore heads into the awards with a leading 13 nominations, while Starbuck, a hilarious comedy from Montreal’s Ken Scott, has already cultivated audiences across Canada. It will be presented the Golden Reel Award for best box office returns for a Canadian film.

Good time for Quebec film

It’s a good time for Quebec cinema, says Anne Émond, the young director who has won this year’s Claude Jutra Award for best debut film for her rave-set romance Nuit #1.

Monsieur Lazhar producer Kim McCraw agrees. She and partner Luc Déry are the same team who guided Incendies through its Oscar journey on 2011 and said the second nomination for Monsieur Lazhar was a surprise.

“We were pinching each other. Another time, a second year. It’s amazing,” she told CBC News.

At the Genie Awards, this clutch of strong films from Quebec is up against international co-productions, such as German-Swiss-British-Canadian co-production A Dangerous Method and German-Canadian co-production The Whistleblower.

David Cronenberg, one of Canada’s finest filmmakers, will be at the awards in Toronto in support of A Dangerous Method, his film about the relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. Star Viggo Mortensen, nominated for best supporting actor in the role of Freud, is also expected to attend.

Monsieur Lazhar’s Falardeau, Déry and McCraw and star Sophie Nélisse are expected on the red carpet, as is The Whistleblower director Larysa Kondracki, a new Toronto talent who has earned a best picture nomination with her first feature.

Skating and Sheepdogs

George Stroumboulopoulos is hosting the Genies gala, which features a skating performance by Joannie Rochette, Jamie Salé and David Pelletier to highlight the best original song nominees. Rossif Sutherland is the voice of the Genies.

Singer Johnny Reid, Saskatoon rockers The Sheepdogs, and Toronto’s K’naan are to perform during the gala broadcast, to be carried by CBC.

The best actor race pairs two Quebec stars — Patrick Huard of Starbuck and Fellag of Monsieur Lazhar — against Garret Dillahunt of soldier’s story Oliver Sherman and Scott Speedman of gangster tale Edwin Boyd. Also up for best actor is Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung, though it’s not known if he will attend.

The best actress race taps two international stars — Rachel Weisz as an American policewoman in post-war Bosnia in The Whistleblower and Michelle Williams in the romantic tragedy Take This Waltz. Three francophone actresses, Vanessa Paradis in Café de Flore, Pascale Montpetit in The Girl in the White Coat, an unusual fantasy drama inspired by a Nicholas Gogol story, and Catherine de Léan in Nuit #1 are competing for the award.

A 'very personal' film

Nuit #1, a “very personal film” by Quebec’s Émond, takes place in a single night, with two people who meet at a rave first having sex, before they talk all night about their disaffection with life.

“It’s kind of universal, this feeling of looking where to go in life," Émond told CBC News "At some point in your life, you are always asking why you are living. That’s what this is a movie about.”

Émond said she thought only a handful of her friends, all in their 20s and 30s, would relate to the film and is surprised at how well it has been received around the world.

“For me and for all of us in the team, we did this movie honestly. We didn’t think about prizes, about festivals — it’s just a really, really good surprise,” she said of Nuit #1's nominations for Genie Awards.

Child actors

Two very young actors are recognized with performance nominations. Montrealer Sophie Nélisse was 10 when she played Alice, the young girl who is traumatized at the sight of her teacher’s body in Monsieur Lazhar. The best supporting actress nominee has been acting since the age of seven.

Marin Gerrier, a French actor who plays the boy with Down syndrome in Café de Flore, has a supporting actor nod.

CBC Live will livestream the Genie Awards red carpet from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. ET, followed by the non-televised portion of the awards gala from 6 to 6.45 p.m. ET. The awards gala will be broadcast on CBC-TV from 8 p.m. (8.30 p.m. NT).