Critic’s Choice: TOP 5 of 2021

Here in BC, all the movie theatres were closed province-wide for the first half of 2021 (except for the one that re-branded as a sports bar) for some kind of public health reason, I dunno. That didn’t slow us down here at Hollywood North Magazine as the cameras kept rolling and the screeners kept arriving. 

The films on offer seemed more eclectic than usual, ranging from action thrillers to uplifting drama to side-splitting comedy, from short to long, from wonderful to terrible. One of my favourite parts of the year is getting a chance to go back and evaluate all the amazing Canadian films released online and on-screen this year (the theatres did eventually reopen!). There were a lot that scored 8/10 and above and it took quite some effort to narrow the choices down. Without further ado, my Top 5 of 2021:


5) See for Me

If you’ve ever wondered how Don’t Breathe might play out with the blind character as the protagonist, Randall Okita’s thriller has you covered. While I certainly support the more artistically-inclined cinema that Canada produces, I’m just as enthusiastic about well-made programmers that seek to entertain and leave the viewer satisfied by the end credits. All departments in front and behind the camera deliver a slick product and my local popcorn supplier and I are all the happier for it. That being said, I still felt compelled to dock a point for the American setting since there’s nothing in the plot that precludes a setting north of the 49th.


4) The Forbidden Reel

“Our films have always reflected our country’s history and viewers sensed that everything that occurred on screen belonged to them”. This sentiment expressed by Afghan filmmaker “Engineer” Latif Ahmadi in Ariel Nasir’s lovingly-rendered doc is one I wish I could share about Canada’s own film history. Unlike many countries, the fate of Afghanistan’s film archive is extremely vulnerable to the whims of extremists, a situation even more pertinent given recent events. While the future of Afghan cinema is uncertain, docs like this one ensure at least a flicker of its past will live on.


3) Jukebox

Those outside Canada often fail to comprehend just how much of a nation-within-a-nation Quebec truly is. The supremacy of the French language within this one region of America has led to a self-sustaining industry of film, TV and music, the latter of which a snapshot is put under the microscope in this stunning doc by Guylaine Maroist and Eric Ruel which tells the rolicking story of Denis Pantis and his talent for turning out francophone versions of anglophone hits in the 1960s. It’s a rock and rollin’ gem that will leave the 45s spinning in your head long after the credits roll.


2) Plantonic

I’ve rarely reviewed short films in the past, but with this year bringing multiple capsule reviews under my belt, it was only a matter of time before some short-form cinema ended up on my Top 5. This surprisingly moving story of a man who literally grows and nurtures a life partner has plenty to say about loving relationships and wastes nary a second in exploring its themes. A winning effort and a strong case for the continued consumption of short-form cinema.

Honourable Mentions


Keep Rolling

Those close to me know what a die-hard fan of Hong Kong action cinema I am, but rarely have I ventured beyond the brawls and bullets to witness the more human scale drama the former British colony has to offer. Equally capable as both biopic and career deep dive, Keep Rolling does justice to its subject and a poignant road marker for a supposedly autonomous region increasingly swallowed by a communist superpower.


Ryan’s Babe

I’m cheating a little here since this film was both released and then re-discovered in a box somewhere long before 2021. But I couldn’t end the year without giving a written shout-out to one of the more bizarre pieces of CANCON to ever emerge from the Great White North (Saskatchewan in this case). A meandering road trip tale about a handsome yet hapless protagonist on the run from a growing cast of kooky characters, Ryan’s Babe knows little of cinematic conventions and even less about basic human interaction and the results couldn’t be more hysterical. Leave your synthesizer on a loop and dive in!


1) Run Woman Run

It’s not often I manage to end the year with a new all-time favourite and that is truly an early Xmas gift in itself. The filmmakers behind the Indigenous New Wave continue to surpass the rest of Canada in both storytelling and compelling subject matter along with rich characters to match. This story of a young mother attempting to improve her physical and spiritual health through a personal marathon resonates universally while speaking locally (literally in the case of a Mohawk language subplot). With this and Kayak to Klemtu, director Zoe Leigh Hopkins is two for two so far and I personally can’t wait to witness her third effort.

‘Till next year!

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