Critic’s Choice: Top 5 of 2019

As we wrap up the last decade before the roaring 20s return, I found myself with an even longer list of quality titles to choose from making my task of narrowing down a Top 5 list even harder this year. The multiple festival visits including my first to Whistler Film Festival (WFF) earlier this month yielding plenty of tantalizing Canadian productions and talent to discover.

Even a period as short as a year can alter initial impressions, but the best films maintain their place in your heart and demand to be seen again. Hopefully there’s something in here you missed the first time around or will want to revisit. Without further ado, let’s dive in! 

5) Who Let the Dogs Out

A delightful reverse-engineering of the creative process, Who Let the Dogs Out endeavours to discover who originated the infamous song hook of the same name. Director Ben Sisto has a lot of fun here and so do we as we’re taken on a journey that whisks us away to the Bahamas, then a UK barber shop and other surprising places. I won’t reveal the author here, but I guarantee it won’t be what you’d expect. At a short and breezy 61 minutes, the doc is a well-timed antidote to the more sombre social justice flavour the documentary genre has taken as of late.

 4) This Mountain Life

Not your average nature doc, This Mountain Life is a captivating deep dive at a landscape often only glimpsed here in BC. It turns out our mountain ranges hold many stories from a man making Art Attack-style snow art to an active monastery populated my cross-country skiing nuns! All of this is punctuated by the harrowing journey of a mother and daughter as they attempt a 2300km journey through the mountains from Squamish to Skagway. It’s all stunningly shot, well-rendered filmmaking on display and a testament to living life to the fullest.

3) Harpoon

What do you do when your screenplay strands three characters in the middle of the ocean but your budget can’t afford any sharks (real or fake)? If you’re editor-turned-director Rob Grant, you make the humans themselves the apex predator. The seagulls in Harpoon have more to fear as our hapless trio drinks their blood to stay alive and dissect their longstanding friendships while waiting for a rescue that may never come. It’s gruesome, disturbing and way funnier than you’d expect from the above description. Worth seeing in a theatre, but maybe leave the friends at home. 

2) Canadian Strain

A welcome Canadian flavoured story in a world full of Telefilm-funded Hollywood wannabees, Canadian Strain tells the timely story of a veteran weed dealer pushed out of the market by Big Government and Big Cannabis. Exceedingly entertaining and deliriously disarming, Geordie Sabbagh’s sophomore flick weave’s its tale via superb performances and the juicy juxtaposition of real life news clips and old school doc footage. Strain is a whip-smart good time and more than worthy of our tax and box office dollars. More like this please!

Honourable Mentions

AMI

You’d think Black Mirror would’ve stolen all the thunder from the technology cautionary tale, but this effort from multi-talented Rusty Nixon might just be the Mirror episode that got away. The black sheep offspring of 2001’s HAL and Apple’s Siri is spawned in the form of the titular AMI; the latest AI for your smartphone and medicine for the melancholic Cassie. Still grieving over the loss of her mother, Cassie molds the app into her late matriarch’s image. This would be fine if said app didn’t send Cassie off her meds and trigger an underlying bloodlust that almost no one in Cassie’s life is safe from.

There’s some rookie mistakes at play here including a rocky first act and the eye-rolling substitution of a montage for character development. Flaws aside, AMI is a gripping and gory ride that the midnight theatre audience was made for, but will ironically more than likely be watched on the latest smartphone.

John Wick 3: Parabellum

We usually endeavour to focus on Canadian content here at Hollywood North Magazine, but occasionally more American-flavoured content gets caught in our dragnet. In my defence, I initially thought the film had been partially lensed in Montreal like its predecessor although this turned out not to be the case. But with Toronto-raised star Keanu Reeves continuing his own brand of irresistible whoop-ass eye candy, I’m sure my editor and readers shall forgive its inclusion.

What else can I say about the latest entry in this sleeper hit franchise? You either buy into the neon-soaked retro-futuristic underworld cult of assassin insanity of John Wick 3 or you don’t. Reeve’s Wick deepens as a character and finds about 100 new ways to kill an s.o.b while doing it. It’s all Grade A fun and a textbook showcase of why the stunt community needs its own Oscar category yesterday!

And the top pick of 2019 goes to:

 

1) The Grizzlies

The amount of Canadian cinematic downers could fill up the Olympic Stadium and then some. The tragedy has it’s place in fiction, but audiences need to be inspired and have something to cheer for. In that spirit, I present the best Canadian cinematic export in recent years: The Grizzlies.

Easy to market as a sports drama, Grizzlies tells the true-life story of underachieving inuit students whose lives are turned around through the game of lacrosse. Lovingly shot in Iqaluit (doubling for Kugluktuk) and remarkably performed by largely novice actors (they get excellent support from screen veterans Will Sasso and Tantoo Cardinal), the film offers a glimpse of a Canada that audiences rarely if ever see for themselves. This crowd-pleaser has it all: sports, drama, comedy and reconciliation. So what are you waiting for?

And that’s it for 2019. See y’all next decade!

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