Looking Back at Notable Canadian Oscar-Winners in Major Categories

We are just a week away from the January 23rd announcement of the official nominees for this year’s Academy Awards, and given that there is a decent chance a Canadian can come away with an award (Ryan Gosling and Celine Song are out best hopes), I thought it best to take a look back at some of the most notable Oscar wins for Canadians in major categories over its history.


Best Picture

The first Canadian nominee and winner in the Best Picture category is also Canada’s most influential and prolific producer extraordinaire, Jack L. Warner. Yes, that Warner, one of the four fraternal founders of Warner Bros. Studios. Nominated for the award on six separate occasions over a thirty-year period, Warner finally earned a statue on his final nominations for producing the classic My Fair Lady.

Albert S. Ruddy, however, has one Oscar more than Warner, earning his first award as the lone producer of The Godfather in 1972. There is little more that needs to be said in that regard, given The Godfather’s status as one of the greatest movies ever made (if not the greatest), but impressively Ruddy won his second Best Picture award for Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby thirty-two years later, having never lost when nominated. 

Other Canadian winners of the award includes James Cameron for Titanic in 1998 (more on him in a moment), Paul Haggis in what is likely the most controversial win in the category’s history for Crash in 2005, and the most recent Canadian winner for Best Picture, J. Miles Dale, for co-producing Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water in 2017. 


Best Director

The Best Director category has seen nine Canadians nominated eleven times since 1947, but there has only been one winner: James Cameron, again for 1997’s Titanic. As it happens, Atom Egoyan was also nominated in the category that same year for his outstanding work on The Sweet Hereafter (which also starred a future Oscar-winning filmmaker I will discuss later). There have been a handful of nominations for Canadian filmmakers since Cameron’s win, with Denis Villeneuve being the most recent of them with a nomination for his work on Arrival in 2016.


Best Actress

I have written before about the trailblazer that was Mary Pickford before, who not only helped shape the Hollywood of today, but she also won the second ever Best Actress award in 1929 for her performance in Coquette. Interestingly, a Canadian actress won the award another two years running, with Norma Shearer (who became the ceremony’s first five-time acting nominee), winning the award in 1930 for The Divorcee, while Marie Dressler won in 1931 for Min and Bill.

Given this impressive run by the Canadian leading ladies of early cinema, it’s certainly surprising that a Canadian actress has not won the award since. In fact, the last Canadian nominee for Best Actress was Elliott Page (who went by Ellen Page at the time) for Juno in 2007, and they are the first Canadian perform to be nominated in the category since Geneviève Bujold for Anne of the Thousand Days in 1969, meaning there have only ever been five Canadian actresses nominated for Best Actress.


Best Actor

The Best Actor category is not much different, with more Canadian actors having been nominated for the award (seven actors, two more than Best Actress), though only one has ever come away with statue, last year’s winner Breandan Fraser for The Whale. Even then, Fraser was born and raised in the U.S., but holds dual citizenship as he is the son of two Canadians. 

Ryan Gosling (who is up for Best Supporting Actor this year for his performance in Barbie) is the only other Canadian nominated for Best Actor in the twenty-first century, having been nominated twice, the first of which was in 2006 for Half Nelson. The last time a Canadian actor was nominated in this category before him was Alexander Knox in 1944, another stunning gap.


Best Actress in a Supporting Role 

This is a particularly interesting category, as there have been a meagre six nominations for Canadian actresses historically, none of whom have been nominated more than once, and only one of them, Anna Paquin, came away with the Best Supporting Actress statue for her performance in 1993’s The Piano….Oh, and she won it when she was eleven years old, which makes her the second-youngest actress to ever win a competitive Oscar, behind only a ten-year-old Tatum O’Neal, who won in 1974.

Not only did Paquin beat out the likes of Winona Ryder, Emma Thompson, and co-star Holly Hunter (nominated for The Firm here, but ultimately won Best Actress for playing the lead in The Piano), but she also achieved what Canadian actresses such as Rachel McAdams, and sisters Meg and Jennifer Tilly never could. At least for now.


Best Actor in a Supporting Role 

Three wins out of thirteen nominations ain’t bad, relatively speaking, and that’s how many Canadian actors struck gold for their supporting roles in movies, with the first two winners being Harold Russell for The Best Years of Our Lives in 1946 and Walter Huston for The Treasure of Sierra Madre in 1948. 

What followed was yet another extended win drought, broken only by Christopher Plummer’s win for 2011’s Beginners, which happened to make him the oldest actor ever to earn the award at eighty-two years of age. Plummer is also the category’s oldest nominee, having been nominated again for 2017’s All the Money in the World (replacing a disgraced Kevin Spacey during production), not to mention he’s the only Canadian with multiple nominations in the category, having three, with his first being for 2009’s The Last Station.


Best Screenplay (Original and Adapted)

Canadians have four wins between the two writing categories, with an even two in each, though interestingly the number of total nominations in the Adapted Screenplay category, of which there are thirteen, far outweigh the six for Original Screenplay. Read into that how you will, but Canada has produced a great deal of supremely talented screenwriters, with Paul Haggis earning three nominations – winning once for Crash – between the two categories, more than any other Canadian. That tally is followed by last year’s winner of Best Adapted Screenplay, Sarah Polley (who is also an actress and starred in The Sweet Hereafter) for Women Talking, as she has two total nominations, the other being for her masterpiece 2007 drama Away from Her in the same category.

The remaining winners are John Irving, who won Best Adapted Screenplay 1999’s Cedar House Rules, and Roger Avary, whose story contributions to the 1994 Quentin Tarantino classic Pulp Fiction was enough to earn him an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

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