The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Canadian Oscar nominees prepare to rub shoulders with A-listers at glitzy bash

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TORONTO - Mychael Danna never planned on a career in film.

And yet the Toronto-bred composer finds himself competing for two trophies at the Academy Awards on Sunday, a feat he says he never could have predicted when he started musing on how to make a living in music.

"I wasn't even that interested in film growing up. I kind of missed a lot of the iconic films," Danna admitted recently during a rare moment of downtime in Toronto.

"It was only when I came to the University of Toronto and was studying music composition (things changed). I started mixing with people at the university and I ended up working with people in theatre and I had a fabulous time. I loved the people and this whole idea of storytelling was so new to me and then it was there that I met (future director) Atom Egoyan, through theatre. And both of us kind of went into film together."

Danna is nominated for best song and best original score for his work on Ang Lee's 3D kaleidoscope "Life of Pi," an effects-laden adaptation of the bestselling novel by Saskatoon-based author Yann Martel.

The film is up for a staggering 11 nominations, including one for Vancouver-based visual effects artist Guillaume Rocheron.

Steven Spielberg's sweeping historical drama "Lincoln" leads the pack overall with 12 nods. That tally includes one for set decorator Jim Erickson of Salt Spring Island, B.C., who will compete for best production design.

But all eyes appear to be on the political thriller "Argo," considered a front-runner in the best picture race after nabbing best film and earning best director statues for Ben Affleck at the Golden Globes and British Academy Film Awards.

Canada's biggest shot at glory comes in the best foreign-language film category, where Montreal writer-director Kim Nguyen is the third Quebec filmmaker in as many years to vie for the prestigious honour.

That contest pits his searing child soldier drama "Rebelle" — also known as "War Witch" — against the heavily favoured "Amour" from Austria, which is also up for best picture. The other foreign-language contenders are: Norway's "Kon-Tiki," Chile's "No" and Denmark's "A Royal Affair."

Nguyen, who follows in the footsteps of last year's nominee Philippe Falardeau and Denis Villeneuve in 2011, says he's excited to be part of the star-studded affair and is stealing himself for some seriously surreal experiences.

"The part of organizing for the Oscars for us is like kind of a wedding ceremony — you've got a certain number of tickets, you've got a certain number of people you can invite, everybody wants to come, you know. I want to go but everybody wants to go too," says Nguyen, adding that his film crew rented a house to serve as home base.

"We'll try to keep it as sane as possible but it's really insane. We're kind of like crossing to the other side in a way because when you get there and you're face-to-face and shaking hands with these people that you've respected for so long like Spielberg or Robert De Niro, there's something really eerie about those moments."

The best live action short category is laden with Canadian talent: the Somalian coming-of-age tale "Asad" is produced by Toronto-bred Mino Jarjoura, the Afghanistan-set "Buzkashi Boys" is produced by Montreal-based Ariel Nasr and the mystery tale "Henry" is written and directed by Montreal actor Yan England.

They compete against Shawn Christensen's "Curfew" and "Death of a Shadow," by Tom Van Avermaet and Ellen De Waele.

The affable Jarjoura says he expects "to party all night" whether he and his American director Bryan Buckley win or lose. He notes that pre-Oscar and post-Oscar activities will make for a very long day Sunday.

"It starts at around 3 (in the afternoon) for red carpet, I'm told, and then the awards show I think is at 5 (p.m.) and it sort of goes late," notes the L.A.-based Jarjoura.

"And then there's a ball afterwards to go to, and then there's parties if you win. You need to have your trophy to go to the parties."

Again, whether he wins or loses is not a concern, he jokes: "You haven't seen me crash a party."

Danna heads into the bash already having won best original score at the Golden Globe Awards last month.

He notes that the past several weeks have been marked by steady hobnobbing at star-studded bashes including the Critics' Choice Movie Awards and the British Academy Film Awards.

"It's been kind of 10 years of parties all crammed into two months. But it's amazing," says Danna, whose lengthy resume includes two other films by Lee and all of Egoyan's movies.

He says an especially moving moment came earlier this month at the annual Oscar luncheon, where all the nominees were invited to celebrate their achievements together.

Attendees included Ben Affleck, Denzel Washington, Sally Field, Hugh Jackman, Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro.

"They call you up one by one and (you) stand on a big stage and have a big group photo and that was one of the very coolest moments, ever," he says. "It really makes you realize what an incredible honour and achievement it is to kind of be in this place."

Nevertheless, Danna says he's far more comfortable remaining out of the limelight.

"I am very much enjoying it but I'm enjoying it, I think, precisely because I know it's two months and that's it," he says.

Danna cut his teeth composing music for Egoyan's acclaimed arthouse films and it was through Egoyan that he caught the attention of celebrated director Mira Nair, who recruited him for 1996's "Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love."

From there, he says he met Lee, who hired him for 1997's "The Ice Storm" and again for 1999's "Ride with the Devil."

When Lee signed on to tackle "Life of Pi," a spiritual tale about an Indian boy adrift on the Pacific with a Bengal tiger, the director was intent on involving Danna.

"(Lee) said 'Well, you're doing this film. You were born to do it,'" Danna recalls.

He admits that all the elements seemed to mesh well with his background and experience: The project was based on a Canadian novel, it was partly set in India where his wife was from and it demanded a deft mix of orchestral music, choirs and a broad range of instruments from around the world.

Danna marvels at the path his career has taken, admitting that much of his celebrated run was unplanned. He studied piano and sang in choirs as a kid and never dreamed it would one day put him in the company of the world's biggest celebrities.

"I wanted to be a composer and I had no idea how that was going to work out, I didn't really think it through," says Danna.

"I just followed what I wanted to do."

The Academy Awards will be handed out Sunday in Los Angeles and will air live on ABC and CTV.

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