It’s always frustrating to read a THE BEST FILMS OF ____ list, get excited about a film I’ve never heard of, and then discover that its only played at a few festivals and there are no immediate plans for its release. The reality of today’s media-choked world is that often by the time it gets released, I will have forgotten about it completely.
This is especially the case with Canadian Cinema. A film will often play a few festivals, maybe even win a few awards, and then completely disappear. Hopefully, a couple of years later it will be quietly released, but how would I know? Canadian films have no advertising budgets, I won’t stumble on it while browsing my local ROGERS VIDEO, and only a few films make it to the big streaming platforms. “Whoa! I didn’t know that finally came out.” is something I say often while flipping through the DVDs at my local library.
In an effort to give you options, I’ve paired all my 2017 choices with Canadian films that are currently available to watch. Some of the sub-recommendations are mirror images of a 2017 film, others are merely thematically linked, and a few are there because I had nowhere else to put them, but damn it, it’s they’re so good. And no one has watched them!
10. NEVER STEADY, NEVER STILL (2017)
NEVER STEADY, NEVER STILL rises above the depressing nature of the material by slicing the drama to the barest essentials. There’s no hysterics, no big turns, just the reality of the day today. It features an amazing performance by Shirley Henderson, who plays a woman suffering through late-stage Parkinson’s that has recently lost her husband, and another great turn from Théodore Pellerin, who portrays her son. Grief may haunt every frame, but it’s captured in a beautifully calm fashion, and love is always bubbling right under the surface.
Availability: It opened theatrically in Toronto, but there are no current plans for a home release.
AVAILABLE NOW: SLEEPING GIANT (2016)
In boring cottage old country during the dead heat of summer, a trio of boys make trouble and hang out. They talk trash, steal from the local store, and dare each other to jump off the highest cliff in town. It sounds simple on paper, but Director Andrew Cividino distinctly captures the focal points in the lives of his coming-of-age characters, where every minor event will reverberate for the rest of their lives. Funny and truthful without ever getting overly sentimental.
9. THE LITTLE GIRL WHO WAS TOO FOND OF MATCHES (2017)
Adapted from a popular Quebec novel, THE LITTLE GIRL WHO WAS TOO FOND OF MATCHES tells the story of a young brother and sister who have spent there lives living in the middle of the woods, completely isolated from outside contact. When their monstrous father commits suicide, everything is thrown into turmoil and the two siblings are forced to to decide if they want to leave the forest, how they’ll fend for themselves, and how they should deal with the horrible creature in the shed…
Shot in beautiful black and white, director/writer Simon Lavoie lenses the story’s creepy Gothic overtones in a hectic wide angle style that gives things a refreshingly vibrant feel. It all plays like a cockeyed adaption of Shirley Jackson’s novel of childhood isolation WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE helmed by a punch-drunk David Lynch.
Availability: The film will be released on Blu-Ray on March 20th.
AVAILABLE NOW: NELLY (2016)
Part literary adaptation, part-biography. Writer/Director Anne Émond’s fragmented telling of the short-life of bestselling author Nelly Arcan dodges the Bio-Pic pitfalls by illustrating Émond story through a prism of fragmentation: The author is portrayed at once as a star, a sex worker, a lover, and each slice of life separate from each other, before becoming unavoidably tangled. Obtuse at first, it lets the mood do the talking, and slowly rolls out emotional truths until its tragic conclusion.
Availability: Nelly is available on DVD.
8. BOOST (2017)
Two immigrant young men struggle through teenage life in Montreal, spotting cars to be stolen for a local criminal, but when they decide to get into the thievery game themselves, things get extremely dangerous very fast. Suspenseful and tightly wound, BOOST tells its straightforward story with the threat of violence lurking every corner, as it grapples with the reality that difficult choices are sometimes the only option. Starring Canadian Screen Award winner Nabil Rajo.
Availability: Theatrically released in Quebec in April 2017, BOOST will be receiving a theatrical run in Toronto and then proceed to digital and (hopefully) physical mediums in the second quarter of 2017.
AVAILABLE NOW: FIRESONG (2015)
In his first feature, Writer/Director Adam Garnet Jones gives us a story Canadian Cinema had never touched: The romantic struggle between two indigenous young men on a reservation. For them and their friends, the idea of a different life seems almost impossible, as suicide, poverty, and despair are the only things that lie ahead, and the balance between one’s heritage and a better future seemingly impossible to reconcile. A rawly emotional film that overcomes it’s rough-hewn performances and technical chops through talent and perspective.
7. THE RAVENOUS/LES AFFAMÉS (2017)
No one will deny that there’s been an oversaturation of zombie content in the last few years, so it’s understandable that most viewers may approach The Ravenous with trepidation. Thankfully, director Robin Aubert delivers exactly what the genre needs – a slick, no-nonsense, and idiosyncratic spin on the story of survivors trekking across an undead riddled wasteland. In this case, the wastlands is the Quebec countryside and the characters have already settled into odd daily rituals, formed friendships, and become humorously annoyed by each other. It’s distinctly its own beast, without ever trying to sweat through a re-invention of the tropes, which results in a bloody engaging ride. Emphasis on the bloody part.
Availability: Currently available everywhere on Netflix, well, except for Canada. A Quebec release will be forthcoming.
AVAILABLE NOW: LES MAUVAISE HERBES/THE BAD SEEDS (2016)
Because of some bad debts, a stage actor (Alexis Martin) goes on the run and ends up in the frozen wilds of the Quebec countryside. He stumbles on an illegal Marijuana grow-op and its owner (Gilles Renaud) is forced to imprison the actor, to make sure he keeps his mouth shut until his crop is harvested. Over time, both captive and captor slowly from a friendship, which becomes extra complicated when a woman (Emmanuelle Lussier Martinez) shows up to check the electrical meter, and they’re forced to imprison her as well.
A gently and funny film that never goes too broad and knows when to hit hard dramatically. I’m not familiar with the work of Writer/Director Louis Bélanger, but there’s a real humanist touch to THE BAD SEEDS that should have made it an easy export. Unsurprisingly, it never left Quebec.
Availability: The film is available on DVD with English Subtitles
6. LUK’LUK’I (2017)
A visually imaginative portrait of four lives on the fringes of society during the Vancouver Olympics. Everyone on screen in LUK’LUK’I is painfully alone, but the film never wallows in their pain, and paints their daily life with a mixture of imagination and fantasy. With the help of real-life Vancouver personalities and actors who wouldn’t usually get the chance to be featured in such prominent roles, Director Wayne Wapeemukwa creates an endearing tapestery of empathy.
Availability: No plans for a theatrical release.
AVAILABLE NOW: WEREWOLF (2016)
Two young people struggle with methadone addiction as they trudge through the barren reality of day to day life in Nova Scotia. A harsh film that gains power through its verite style and affecting cast, who are so real it hurts. Winner of the Toronto Critics Association Best Film Award.
Availability: Available for purchase through ITUNES
5. WEXFORD PLAZA (2017)
An aimless young woman (Reid Asselstine) works as an all-night security guard in a strip-mall parking lot. Her co-workers are jerks but seem pretty harmless, and when she’s smitten with a cute bartender, she decides to put her feelings on the line…And then we jump back to the beginning of the story to see it all from someone else’s perspective.
A well thought out little gem, Joyce Wong’s debut feature as writer/director is clear cut on the surface, yet attuned to the valid feelings of people’s small complex lives.
Availability: Available on ITUNES
ALSO AVAILABLE NOW: RHYMES FOR YOUNG GHOULS (2013)
Set in the 70’s, Writer/Director Jeff Barnaby’s first feature chronicles the story of an artistically inclined Mi’gMaq teenager (Devery Jacobs) who finds herself facing off against a villainous Indian Agent (Mark Anthony Krupa), whose on a mission is to send any indigenous children under the age of sixteen to the horrors that are Canada’s residential schools. It’s a snapshot of a horrible historical moment, but Barnaby infuses the story of rebellion and revenge with an arch cinematic style fuelled by youthful energy. Another film that somehow failed to find the audience it deserved.
4. THE CRESCENT (2017)
After an unexpected death in the family, a young woman (Danika Vandersteen) and her son (Woodrow Graves, the child of director Seth Smith and his wife/producer Nancy Urich) find themselves trapped in an eerie home on the edge of the beach, which seems to be under siege by supernatural force, or maybe something even worse. Premiering at Midnight Madness last year, THE CRESCENT is a somber little tale, in tune with films like REPULSION or MESSIAH OF EVIL, that latches onto the uncomfortable silences contained in the night, and the bizarre creatures that are revealed under the light of day.
Availability: No release date has been announced.
AVAILABLE NOW: THE INTERIOR (2015)
When a listless man (Patrick McFadden) is diagnosed with a fatal disease, he decides to set out into the woods to find himself, only to discover that something is hunting him through the dark of night.
This one’s a bit of cheat because I’m good friends with the Producer Peter Kuplowsky, but the film is a genuinely creepy ride, singular in scope, and helmed in a quiet way that burrows deep under a viewer’s skin. Plus, the first half is really funny before going to nightmare town.
3. BLACK COP (2017)
A cop (Ronnie Rowe) decides that he’ll start to treat white people the same way cops treat black people.
Angry, funny, minimal and expansive. There’s an alchemy to Black Cop in the way that it plays with a cinematic form that is as once divisive as it is fascinating. Writer/Director Cory Bowles takes what could have been a straight-ahead BAD LIEUTENANT riff and mixes in direct to camera addresses and found footage-like material into a package that works because its intentions are so pure. Winner of the John Dunning Discovery Award.
Availability: Black Cop was picked up by US distributor, with a release date pending.
AVAILABLE NOW: HELLO DESTROYER (2016)
An up and coming hockey player makes a dangerous mistake on the ice which causes his life to collapse around him.
A pure downer on paper, writer/director Kevan Funk avoids making the film a painful experience by infusing every frame with a true empathy for his protagonist (Tyson Burr). There’s a fine line between pessimistic nihilism, and the struggle to keep one’s head above water, and Hello, Destroyer focuses on the latter beautifully, and Funk proves himself adept at capturing inner turmoil in the most visually intoxicating of ways.
2. ALL YOU CAN EAT BUDDHA (2017)
In writer/director, Ian Lagarde’s first feature ALL YOU CAN EAT BUDDHA, he tells the low-key comedic tale of a man (Ludovic Berthillot ) who performs a few miracles during his Cuban vacation and ends up becoming a god-like figure in the process. Lagarde strikes a similar tone to the work of Yorgos Lanthimos (DOGTOOTH) as he lets things move at their own beautifully shot pace, with odd details like talking octopuses, death by coconut, and magical resurrection, being played for sly laughs, before decaying into pure dread.
Availability: The film is currently set for theatrical distribution in Canada.
AVAILABLE NOW: 88’88 (2015)
Named after the numbers that flash on an alarm clock after it’s unplugged, Isiah Medina experimental feature is a whirlwind ride through the life of half a dozen poor young people struggling to make it through life, constructed as a series of seemingly random images, clipped exchanges of dialogue, and briefly shown incidents. It’s a dense work that is extremely awarding and affecting if the viewer doesn’t try to ‘defeat’ or ‘solve it’, but allow themselves to be immersed in its existence.
Availablity: Watch it for free on Youtube
1. DIM THE FLUORESCENTS (2017)
Small, intimate and gleefully overblown in its style, Writer/Director’s Daniel Warth’s DIM THE FLUORESCENTS is the tale of two women struggling to find creative satisfaction in their jobs, which happen to be acting out mandated how-to seminars for bored office employees. It’s a fun “What is the point of my life?” millennial coming-of-age tale elevated by the two lead performances of Claire Armstrong and Naomi Skwarna, which are gleefully paired with Director Warth’s breathless Scorsese-like cinematic energy. He captures banal Toronto landscapes as if they were the most exciting places in the world.
Availablity: Soon? It’s played a bunch of festivals and has opened theatrically in Toronto.
AVAILABLE NOW: OPERATION AVALANCHE (2016)
Matt Johnson’s follow-up to his impressive school-shooting debut THE DIRTIES, is one hell of an ambitious undertaking as it sets out to document the faking of the first moon-landing by two goofy NSA employees. The Mockumentary has been driven into the ground over the years, but Johnson brings a freshness and surprising dramatic undercurrent to what could have been played as straight up farce. While AVALANCHE is sometimes overwhelmed by the scope of its story, the sheer bravura filmmaking on display is still jaw dropping – from the pitch perfect period-detail captured in (fake) 16mm to a car chase scene shot in one (artificially) unbroken take. It’s a film crying out for a bigger audience.
Availability: After being hyped up for a year, it was quietly dumped to DVD/Blu-Ray in a super loaded special edition. Pick it up!