This year’s Canadian Genie Awards show promises to be both entertaining and suspenseful as John Candy hosts a flat-out race between David Cronenberg’s “Naked Lunch” and Jean-Claude Lauzon’s “Leolo” on Nov. 22 at Canada’s version of the Oscars.

Previous years offered predictable affairs when Cronenberg’s “Dead Ringers” or Lauzon’s “Night Zoo” (which took a record 11 statuettes) swept their respective ceremonies. But never before have two internationally distributed Canadian films from rival provinces been pitted against each other.

Montreal-based Lauzon refused to comment, and Cronenberg was on location of “M. Butterfly” in Toronto, but Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television rep Susan Unger acknowledged: “We haven’t had it so neck-and-neck other years.”

“Naked Lunch” leads the Academy’s 13th race with a total of 11 nominations while “Leolo” racked up nine, as did Cannes hit “Being At Home With Claude,” directed by Jean Beaudin.

Pix also will face stiff competition from surprise 11-time nominee “La Sarrasine” (directed by Paul Tana) and Robert Morin’s award-winning “Requiem Pour Un Beau Sans-Coeur” (Requiem for One Beautiful Son of a Bitch), which earned four nominations including best pic.

Thesp Judy Davis is noticeable by her absence for a best actress nomination for “Naked Lunch” and has been given a consolation nomination in best supporting actress category for the virtually invisible pic “On My Own.”

Weller cops nom

However, “Lunch” co-star Peter Weller is in the running for best actor and Oscar winner Jeremy Thomas (as producer of “The Last Emperor”) is co-nominated with Gabriella Martinelli for best pic.

Canadian-born Candy — who has done everything from “National Lampoon’s Vacation” to “JFK”– will orchestrate the 20-statuette ceremony from Toronto’s Metro Convention Centre.

With the vast majority of nominees from Quebec, Candy may find some good comedy material in French/English-language difficulties during a live broadcast on the English channel of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Previous shows lost viewers (the year of the “Night Zoo,” for example) when 80% of thank-you speeches were in French on English-language CBC.

At press time, Unger said the show would not be broadcast on French CBC, Radio Canada, and didn’t know whether simultaneous translation would be provided.

Nonetheless, TV ratings look promising with Candy as host and film titles that are recognizable to the general public. Alliance Releasing launched all three front-runners–”Naked Lunch,””Leolo” and “Being at Home With Claude”–in Canada this year.

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