2022 has been a hit and miss kind of year for movies. I’m not necessarily referring to the box office or blockbuster films like the latest Jurassic Park sequel or Star Wars prequel. I’m talking about good old fashioned drama. Back in the sixties and seventies when filmmakers were writing and directing movies that were affecting the social fabric of the society we live in, films like Annie Hall, The Godfather, Easy Rider and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, altered the way we looked at the world. It was a special time in history when story and characters were the reason audiences kept flooding the cinema. There’s no arguing there were movie stars like Humphrey Bogart, James Dean, Marylin Monroe and many others iconic actors but usually each time out they played different characters. Their acting was ubiquitous and eclectic. It wasn’t about computer generated images or comic book heroes. The aesthetic criteria for a good film was based on quality screen writing, characters that leaped off the page and dialogue that seemed natural and wasn’t as they say, “on the nose”. Many of the films were based on epic books but the directors were more stylistic. The end product was a film that felt unique and distinct. There were no prerequisite screenings. You didn’t need to see sixteen other films or five Disney shows to understand the story. When the theatre lights dimmed it was magic time. The sixties and seventies had some of the most wonderfully talented directors of all time, Scorcasee??, Hitchcock, Spielberg, Lucas, Kubrick, Bergman, Woody Allen, Billy Wilder, Polanski, Altman, Kazan and other greats. Today, movies no longer seem like a director’s medium or even an actor’s medium. In the age of Covid movies have become franchise tent poles, cinematic universes where t.v shows and podcasts help connect the dots to the bigger story being told. Most audience members have no clue who directed the latest Marvel, DC or Star Wars content. They all look and sound the same and follow a similar cookie cutter plot. Today, I’ve tried to narrow down the top ten Canadian films of 2022 that are original, director and actor driven and have something unique to say instead of spitting out slightly different versions of the original product.
TOP TEN CANADIAN FILMS
10. Crimes Of The Future
Director: David Cronenberg
As the humans adapt to a synthetic environment, the body undergoes new transformations and mutations. With his partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux), Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen), a celebrity performance artist, publicly showcases the metamorphosis of his organs in avant-garde performances. Timlin (Kristen Stewart), an investigator from the National Organ Registry, obsessively tracks their movements, which is when a mysterious group is revealed… Their mission – to use Saul’s notoriety to shed light on the next phase of human evolution.
Director: Jeremy Lalonde.
Starring Amanda Brugel, Jonas Chernick, Shawn Doyle, Natalie Brown, Christine Horne, Sugith Varughese
Ashgrove is a psychological drama that also showcases mystery and science fiction elements. Elevated by spectacular performances from the cast, director Jeremy LaLonde weaves together a unique and intense film experience examining the ideas of truth and sacrifice. In the not-too-distant-future, the world is ravaged by a water pandemic, which has already claimed the lives of 60 million people. Bacteria which cause this virus are discovered in the world’s drinking water, leading to “The Great Paradox“: humans need water to survive, but too much water will cause their demise. We’re informed the human species has 5 years before extinction, placing immense pressure on scientists to find a cure.
8. Before I Change My Mind
Director: Trevor Anderson
The complexity of adolescence is always a welcome angle, and Trevor Anderson’s feature-length debut Before I Change My Mind is more than eager to tackle it head-on. The film’s central hook, the ambiguity around the gender of Robin (Vaughan Murrae), a teenager in the late 1980s who recently moved to Alberta from the United States initially plays like a simple gag, with Anderson leaning into the prolonged denial of an answer for both engagement and laughs. On the first day at their new school, Robin’s teachers and peers draw attention to the question that’s on everyone’s mind: “Are you a boy or a girl?”
7. WOMEN TALKING
Director: Sara Polley
Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley and Claire Foy star in Women Talking, a tale of a remote religious community in which men cruelly call the shots.
“Perhaps forgiveness can, in some instances, be confused with permission.”
The profundity of that simple statement lies at the heart of the horrors found at the center of Sarah Polley’s brilliant Women Talking. Based on the novel of the same name, the film’s almost dismissive title obscures the darkness of the realities the women at the centre of its story must face.
After confirmation through capture that the men in their community have been drugging and raping them in their sleep over the course of many years, the women in a small Mennonite community use the rare occasion of the men’s departure (to post bail for the perpetrators) to convene and discuss their options for survival. As the story unfolds, they lay out their choices: do nothing, stay and fight, or leave. A communal vote eliminates the first, then ties the second and third. And so, together, eight women congregate to lay out the pros and cons of each. What hangs in the balance is forgiveness. They have been instructed to wipe the slate clean by the time of the men’s return in two days. If they refuse, they relinquish their right to enter the kingdom of heaven, as dictated by the very men who have violated them.
Polley’s script deftly conveys the enormous weight of the impossible choice these women have been tasked with making. The extent of the harm that has been done to them is terrifying to behold — knocked out with cow tranquilizers sprayed through the slats in their wooden homes and brutalized as they lay helpless and unconscious. And the rapes themselves are so vicious that they leave irrefutable lasting evidence: broken teeth, and bloody fetuses expelled in the dark of night. And yet, the men have spent years telling them their pain is the work of ghosts, or the devil, or worst of all, their own narcissistic pleas for attention. “They made us disbelieve ourselves,” says one young woman over the course of the day. To her, it is almost worse than the assault itself to be made to doubt her own reality. After all, how can harm be remedied if it cannot even be acknowledged?
6. Doug The Slugs & Me
Director: Teresa Alferd
Director Teresa Alfeld’s very personal film, “Doug and the Slugs and Me,” chronicles the rise, fall and legacy of the 1980s band led by singer Doug Bennett, who happened to be her East Van neighbour when she was a kid. For years, Bennett’s raspy voice was heard over the party music of The Slugs, whose mix of New Wave, R&B, reggae and ska nearly broke the band into the U.S. market but remained a uniquely Canadian success story with hits including “Too Bad,” “Day By Day,” “Makin’ It Work,” “Chinatown Calculation” and more.
Teresa practically was raised at her best friend and next-door-neighbour Shea Bennett’s home in East Vancouver during the 1990s. She was aware Shea’s father Doug Bennett was the lead singer of Doug & The Slugs, but had no idea how well known they were. When Teresa and Shea’s friendship came to an abrupt end in high school, the former BFF’s completely lost touch with each other. In 2004 Teresa was beyond surprised to hear Doug had passed away at age 52.
Throughout the film Teresa gains impressive access to surviving bandmates and to Bennett’s family. Inturn, the director becomes a central figure in her own film and has no problem when the lense magnifies her past. Her camera captures her reuniting with Shea as the bond they shared is reinginited and she reflects on how Doug affected her early years. As Teresa learns more about the band and the Bennett family, she realizes there was more going on next door than she could understand as a child, “What was (in my mind) going to be a quick and dirty rock-doc soon blossomed into a four-year journey,” says Teresa in a director’s note on the documentary’s website. “What started as a simple profile of this unique band became very personal, very fast, and despite my reluctance, I had to stop fighting the fact that I needed to become a character and enter the story.”
5. The End of Sex
Josh (Jonah Chernick) and Emma (Emily Hampshire) are ready to jump all over each other when they finally have a week alone together with their daughters attend sleepover camp, but they quickly find that things aren’t like they used to be. Their attempts to revive things, which include a threesome with Emma’s colleague Wendy (Melanie Scrofano), only serve to dredge up more potential issues that make them question whether they’re truly compatible. The End of Sex reunites My Awkward Sexual Adventure director Sean Garrity with his stars Hampshire and Chernick, who take on writing duties for this film. This is a comedy that’s meant to showcase perfectly normal people who have adjusted to the state of being parents, putting different things first and being ignorant of how their own relationship to each other has changed in the process. This is a story that could happen to any couple.
4. The Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks
Director: Reg Hakema
In Reg Harkema’s latest documentary, he takes a deep dive into the history of Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson — otherwise known as the Kids in the Hall. Recounting the history of the famed sketch comedy troupe, investigating some behind-the-scenes drama and paying tribute to their legacy, The Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks is a passionate and thoughtful film about five Canadian kids who left an indelible mark on comedy and pop culture. Comedy Punks interweaves the creation of their hit TV show and archival videos from their personal collections with talking heads, creating an entire new perspective on the journey The Kids endured to reach the top of their profession. Harkema interviews the group as a whole and one on one, providing each Kid the opportunity to share his own memories. It’s clear from their group interview that their chemistry hasn’t grown stale. They swap stories like army buddies, and any past resentments appear to have subsided a long time ago. For those unfamiliar with the Kids’ story the documentary retells their journey: Thompson’s fight with leukemia, McKinney and McCulloch departing for Saturday Night Live and Foley and McDonald’s falling out. Harkema isn’t afraid to ask the tough questions but at the same time the film doesn’t turn into a gossip rag by treating the documentary almost as if he were protecting his own children.
2. Black Ice
Director: Hubert David
Black Ice celebrity producers included, LeBron James, Maverick Carter, and rappers Drake and Future. Billy Hunter, the former head of the NBA players association, who claims he holds the exclusive rights to produce a film about the Coloured Hockey League (CHL) has sued the producers for approximately ten million dollars. Current and former NHL players are interviewed throughout the documentary like P.K. Subban, Make Dumba, Wayne Simmonds, and Akim Ali. Many of them talk about the racism and abuse they’ve faced while playing the game they love. The film also chronicles the story of Herb Carnegie, an amazingly talented Black player who probably could’ve led the NHL in scoring during the 1940s and ’50s but never conquered the big leagues because of his skin color. Only long after his death was he inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The NHL finally broke its color barrier in 1958, a decade after Jackie Robinson was hitting homers in the majors. That year Willie O’Ree became the first Black hockey player to play in the National Hockey League (NHL). He played professional hockey for more than 20 years, including 45 games with the Boston Bruins.
1. 752 Is Not a Number
Director: Babak Payami
On January 8, 2020, Ukraine Airlines Flight 752 crashed as it was leaving air space over Tehran, Iran. All 176 souls on board perished, many of them Iranian Canadians . The incident occured five days after a US drone-strike assassinated Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani, and only hours after the Iranian military had launched retaliatory ballistic missile strikes on an American airbase in Iraq.
Immediately after the plane went down, video footage was leaked showing Flight 752 being shot down by what looked to be an object fired from the ground. For days, Iranian authorities denied responsibility. They claimed the plane crashed because of an engine fire. The government agencies quickly bulldozed the crash site, destroying crucial evidence, and additionally refused to grant international safety and oversight bodies access to any of the aircraft’s wreckage or its black box voice recorders.
Inevitably foreign governments reported the truth. In fact, Flight 752 had been shot down by the Iranian military. Eventually, Iran’s government story shifted, from malfunction to pilot error, before they ultimately came clean admitting the plane was destroyed by a military missile which was only launched because of a falsely identified threat.
Newmarket, Ontario, dentist Hamed Esmaeilion does not want an apology, nor compensation. He only wanted to discover the truth about the tragedy which took the lives of his wife Parisa and their nine-year-old daughter Reera. Determined not to buy into Iran’s propaganda, Hamed travels to Iran to claim his family’s remains. Afterward he embarks on a journey littered bureaucratic red tape in an unprecedented effort to bring justice to all the victims of this atrocity
752 Is Not a Number is directed by veteran Iranian-Canadian filmmaker Babak Payami, whose 2001 movie Secret Ballot won Best Director at the Venice Film Festival. The film most connects emotionally in small flashes of detail, and moments of reflection. It’s heartbreaking when Hamed notes that his wife and daughter weren’t on the list of the first 50 victims initially released after the crash, and speculates that this must have been because their bodies were more difficult to identify. Later, Payami and cinematographer Amir Ghorbani Nia let the camera linger on Hamed sorting through dead flowers and rain-stained offerings of condolence outside the door of his office. Finally, as the film moves toward its conclusion and progress seemingly arrives in the form of a Ukrainian legal action asHamed copes with the effect of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.