Several Canadians came away with first-time Oscar wins at the Academy Awards Sunday night.
Toronto filmmaker Sarah Polley's “Women Talking” won for best adapted screenplay.
It's the first career Oscar for Polley, whose film also received a best picture nomination but lost to the interdimensional drama “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
“Women Talking” is about a group of women who gather in a hayloft to discuss what steps to take after a series of sexual assaults shocks their remote Mennonite community.
What ensues is a debate about faith, forgiveness and justice that echoes a real-world discourse about violence against women and abuses of power.
Polley adapted the script from Manitoba author Miriam Toews' 2018 novel of the same name. The movie's ensemble cast includes Rooney Mara, Claire Foy and Jessie Buckley.
“I just want to thank the Academy for not being mortally offended by the words 'women' and 'talking' being so close together like that,” Polley said as she accepted the award.
“Miriam Toews wrote an essential novel about a radical act of democracy in which people who don't agree on every single issue managed to sit together in a room and carve out a way forward together, free of violence.
“They do so not just by talking but also by listening.”
Polley's film beat out “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Living,” “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” and “All Quiet on the Western Front.”
She was previously nominated in the same category for the 2007 relationship drama “Away from Her.”
In the performance categories, Canadian-American Brendan Fraser nabbed the award for best actor for his role in “The Whale.” Fraser had become a prize favourite after an awards season of heartfelt speeches, including one at the Toronto International Film Festival where he received a Tribute Award.
Fraser's portrayal of a shut-in professor looking to connect with his estranged daughter earned praise, though the film has been criticized for its depiction of the main character's weight.
Fraser has called it a “redemption story” and expressed gratitude for the role.
“I started in this business 30 years ago and things didn't come easily for me,” he said on stage, accepting his first Oscar.
“I'm grateful to Darren Aronofsky for throwing me a creative life line and hauling me aboard the good ship, 'The Whale,”' he said, referring to the film's director.
Fraser's competitors in the category were Austin Butler, Colin Farrell, Bill Nighy, and Paul Mescal.
Montreal-born makeup artist Adrien Morot was part of the team recognized by the Academy for helping Fraser transform into the 600+-pound character.
Morot won the Oscar for best makeup and hairstyling alongside Judy Chin and Annemarie Bradley.
As part of the routine, the team glued several thick pieces of silicone onto Fraser's face and body, before applying makeup.
“The Whale” is Morot's fifth collaboration with Aronofsky following “Mother!,” “Noah,” “The Fountain,” and “White Boy Rick.”
Along with Polley, another Toronto filmmaker took home hardware Sunday - director Daniel Roher's “Navalny” won best documentary.
Roher's film is an investigative look into the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is now in a gulag in Russia and believed to be in solitary confinement.
Roher dedicated his award to Navalny and other political prisoners.
“Alexei - the world has not forgotten your vital message to us all. We cannot, we must not be afraid to oppose dictators and authoritarianism wherever it rears its head.”
In an interview ahead of the awards, Roher said all the attention the film is getting has been “bittersweet,” but he hopes that the spotlight will help keep Navalny alive.
Roher won alongside Odessa Rae, Diane Becker, Melanie Miller and fellow Canadian Shane Boris.
The other documentary nominees included the Canada-U.S. co-production “Fire of Love,” which was co-produced by Boris.
The top winner of the night was indie hit “Everything Everywhere All at Once” from directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, winning seven Oscars in total.
Aside from winning best picture, it also earned acting prizes for Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan and Jamie Lee Curtis, and best directing for the Daniels.
- with files from The Associated Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 12, 2023.