11. BLINDNESS (special mention)
Director, Don McKellar
A city is ravaged by an epidemic of instant “white blindness“. Those first afflicted are quarantined by the authorities in an abandoned mental hospital where the newly created “society of the blind” quickly breaks down. Criminals and the physically powerful prey upon the weak, hoarding the meager food rations and committing horrific acts. There is, however, one eyewitness to the nightmare. A woman whose sight is unaffected by the plague follows her afflicted husband to quarantine. There, keeping her sight a secret, she guides seven strangers who have become, in essence, a family. She leads them out of quarantine and onto the ravaged streets of the city, which has seen all vestiges of civilization crumble. The film stars Jullian Moore, Mark Ruffalo, and Danny Glover.
10. CRASH – 1996
Director: David Cronenberg
After getting into a serious car accident, a TV director discovers an underground sub-culture of scarred, omnisexual car-crash victims. He uses the raw sexual energy they produce to try and rejuvenate his sex life with his wife.
Cronenberg can always be counted on to provide the strange, the curious and most horrific images and controversial themes. Odd Fact – he actually went to school with my father-in-law.
9. WILBY WODERFUL – 1994
Director: Daniel MacIvor
A bittersweet comedy about the difference a day makes. Over the course of twenty-four hours, the residents of the tiny island town of Wilby try to maintain business as usual in the face of an emerging sex scandal.
Featuring a stellar ensemble of Canada’s most talented performers: Elliot Page, Sandra Oh, James Allodi, Maury Chaykin, Paul Gross, Rebecca Jenkins and Callum Keith Rennie. The film was an official selection at the Toronto International Film Festival.
8. ROAD KILL – 1990
Director: Bruce McDonald
Bruce McDonald’s debut feature is a rock ‘n’ roll road movie that concerns the adventures of a Toronto rock promoter’s assistant, Ramona (Valerie Buhagiar), sent to track down a band called the Children of Paradise that has gone missing in northern Ontario. Ramona doesn’t drive so she recruits a pot-smoking cab driver (Larry Hudson) to take her the full 400+ km across the province.
Along the way, they meet a film director (Bruce McDonald) with big dreams whose film’s subject matter is dead animals on the highway, and an aspiring serial killer who just doesn’t know how to get started (Don McKellar). Ramona may find the band in the end, but ultimately what she discovers about herself is far more important!
Bruce McDonald’s first low budget feature has inspired generations of Canadians to pick up a camera and make their own indie movie.
7. THE HANGING GARDEN 1997
Director: Thom Fitzgerald
Growing up as a gay teen in Nova Scotia was so hard for young William (Chris Leavins) that he ran away at the age of 15 and cut off nearly all contact with his dysfunctional family. With his sister (Kerry Fox) getting married, he returns home for the first time and is saddened to see that little has changed. The abusive nature of his family triggers old self-destructive tendencies in William as he starts to compulsively overeat to deal with the overwhelming pressure surrounding him.
6. MY WINNIPEG
Director: Guy Maddin
Guy Maddin blends fact and fiction, documentary and drama, reality and myth in this dreamy black-and-white tour of Winnipeg. Widely regarded as Maddin’s best film, My Winnipeg won the award for Best Canadian Feature Film when it premiered at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). A 2015 poll conducted by TIFF named it one of the Top 10 Canadian films of all time, while another in 2016 listed it as one of 150 essential works in Canadian cinema history.
Offscreen.com perfectly describes Maddin’s filmmaking style. “the films of Guy Maddin are an uncanny amalgamation of personal obsessions and private memories made public. Maddin’s fears and desires sparkle amid melodramatic tropes so winkingly heightened and bizarre that every new convolution begs for laughter. Filled with death, psychosexual deviancy, and familial strife, his pictures recall the unlikely history of Winnipeg’s foremost native son of the cinema. Born in February 1956 to a family of Icelandic descent, young Maddin’s formative years were split between the beauty shop where his mother Herdis and aunt Lil worked (directly adjacent to the Maddin family home), and the smoky realm of the cavernous Winnipeg Arena, home of the Winnipeg Maroons, the hockey team for whom Maddin’s father Chas was manager. Maddin fondly remembers being lulled to sleep at night by detuned radio shows, tucked in by blankets of static fuzz as the broadcasts struggled their way across Manitoba’s icebound prairie.”
5. POLYTECHNIQUE, 2009
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Based on the tragic school shooting that took place at Montreal’s École Polytechnique on December 6, 1989 (known as the “Montreal Massacre”), director Denis Villeneuve’s melancholy docudrama portrays the events as seen from the perspective of two students.
There are some tragedies so devastating they defy rational understanding. Villeneuve films in black and white, shifting back and forth in time, attempting to maintain a sane and calm point of view in the face of just such a senseless act of violence. The result is a sensitive yet stark account of one of the more profoundly disturbing crimes in recent Canadian history.
The film won nine Genie Awards, including Best Motion Picture, and five Jutra Awards. The Toronto Film Critics Association awarded it the Best Canadian Film Prize, with critic Brian D. Johnson referring to it as “a film of astonishing courage.”
A female journalist from the McGill Reporter published a critique on the film shortly after it debuted, “It is not for nothing that Villeneuve is one of Canada’s most gifted contemporary filmmakers. Moments of affective grace and horror in Polytechnique do not diminish the tragedy, but speak to the complicated and contradictory ways in which we still live its effects. Polytechnique does resort to clichés: in the end, an unexpected pregnancy offers hope for a female survivor. While this gesture feels forced, other seeming clichés work: in the hallways during the shootings, a world turned upside down, the camera upends itself in response, taking flight along the ceiling where the glowing fluorescents are both the desire to flee and the reminder that there is no easy transcendence of this scene. Polytechnique is not a masterpiece but a flawed and worthy film in a minor key, an untimely and necessary meditation. If the terrible centre of the film is that brutal foreclosure of conversation in the classroom, Polytechnique accomplishes something not by being the final word, but in its desire to respond.”
Ironically the school shooting portrayed in the film has become a part of normal everyday nightmarish life in the United States as parents send their kids off to school and university never knowing whether they’ll see them again.
4. LAST NIGHT – 1998
Director: Don McKellar
In this Canadian drama by Don McKellar, various citizens of Toronto anxiously await the end of the world, which is occurring, for reasons explained, at midnight. While widower Patrick Wheeler (McKellar) braces for his fate, he meets Sandra (Sandra Oh), the wife of a businessman, who is intent on committing suicide. Meanwhile, Patrick’s friend Craig Zwiller (Callum Keith Rennie), embracing a hedonistic approach to the apocalypse, decides to have as much sex as he can while there is still time.
3. JESUS CHRIST VAMPIRE HUNTER, 2001
Director: Lee Demarbre
A delightfully schlock-filled B-movie from Canada, Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter is pretty much exactly what it sounds like it would be about – Jesus Christ has returned, and he’s fighting vampires. For reasons unknown to anyone in the Catholic Church, there have been a rash of attacks on lesbians by vampires, and to make matters worse, they’re now immune to sunlight. There can be only one solution – to get Jesus from his hiding place, and take on the vampires, including the lesbians that have turned into more vampires. Along the way, he’ll have to enlist the help of Mexican wrestler El Santos, “Apostle to the Apostles” Mary Magnum, and… learn to do a snazzy musical number.
Chris Gore the editor at Film Threat loved this movie, “The filmmaking team that won the “Spirit of Slamdance” prize in 2000 with the short, “Harry Knuckles and the Treasure of the Aztec Mummy,” returns to the Lounge and ups the ante with this tale of the ultimate action hero: Jesus Christ. The second coming is upon us, and Jesus has returned to earth. But before he can get down to the serious business of judging the living and the dead, he has to contend with an army of vampires that can walk in the daylight.
2. KISSED, 1996
Director: Lynne Stopkewich
Teenager Sandra (Molly Parker) is obsessed with death, so much so that after wandering into a funeral home she wishes to be a mortician. But this fascination becomes highly sexual as Sandra develops a taste for necrophilia. Her secret passion doesn’t cause any problems until she enters college and meets medical student Matt (Peter Outerbridge), who soon falls for the unusual young lady. She comes clean about her morbid sexuality, but turning her on to the world of the living is no easy task.
Roger Ebert had this to say about Kissed, “”Kissed” was, needless to say, one of the most controversial films at the Toronto and Sundance festivals. Mostly people talked about how Lynne Stopkewich, its co-writer and director, had gotten away with it. One would think there was no way to film this material without disgusting the audience–or, worse, making it laugh at the wrong times. Stopkewich does not disgust, and when there are laughs, she intends them (there is a quiet mordant humor trickling through the film). What is amazing, at the end, is that we feel some sympathy for Sandra and some understanding.”
1. THE BOYS OF ST.VINCENT, 1982
Director: John Smith
Director John N. Smith’s The Boys of St. Vincent is an emotionally devastating dramatization of the physical and sexual abuse suffered by the children at a Catholic orphanage in Newfoundland. The film originally aired in two parts on CBC television on December 6 and 7, 1992, before being released abroad as a feature film.
The first part of the film is set in 1975 at the nightmarish St. Vincent orphanage and recounts the abuse inflicted by the pedophilic priests on the young boys in their charge. The beating of one boy attracts the attention of the police, but an investigation is buried by the head of the justice department and church officials. Arrests and a trial are averted; Brother Lavin, the head of the orphanage, and several brothers are dismissed and sent away for “treatment.”
The second part picks up the story fifteen years later in Montreal with the arrest of Lavin, now married and the father of two pre-teen sons. An inquiry into the past events is launched, forcing the victims to face their abusers once again . During the inquiry, the ramifications of the priests’ monstrous abuses and the legacy of suffering inflicted by their actions become painfully clear.
Featuring a vivid performance by Henry Czerny as the sadistic Brother Lavin, The Boys of St. Vincent does not flinch from depicting the physical and emotional horrors endured by the boys. However, despite its sensational subject matter, the film’s approach is restrained and non-exploitative. Neither anti-Catholic nor homophobic, the film is a dark and impressively complex critique of the abuse of power and its effect on the human spirit. Inspired by the real-life Mount Cashel scandal. The film was intensely controversial and was banned from airing in Ontario for a time during 1992 by the Ontario Court of Appeals on grounds that the film would prejudice the trial of four Christian Brothers who had been charged with sexual assault.
It is Perhaps the most important Canadian film everyone should see.