10. Monsieur Lazhar (2011)
Philippe Falardeau’s Monsieur Lazhar opens with two elementary school students witnessing a tragic and a traumatic scene – their form teacher hanging in their classroom after committing suicide. Once Montreal papers run the story no other teacher seems eager to fill the suddenly vacant post. That is until Bachir Lazhar, a middle aged immigrant from Algiers, offers to take the job.
Despite an obvious cultural gap, Monsieur Lazhar starts connecting with his students in unexpected ways while he himself is dealing with the sorrow incurred by the tragic events of his own past. A warm and touching tale of deep human connections, Monsieur Lazhar is also a story of the intricacies of overcoming the obstacles of grief.
9. Les Invasions Barbares/The Barbarian Invasions (2003)
Denys Arcand’s The Barbarian Invasions is a follow up to his must-see feature The Decline of the American Empire. Written by Arcand, this French Canadian film is a surprisingly joyous celebration of living and dying on one’s own terms. Remy has lived his life in just such a way. Divorced and at odds with his only child, in large part due to their extremely different world views, Remy is now facing his terminal cancer diagnosis.
Once he finds out about his father’s diagnosis from his mother, Sebastien reluctantly reunites with his father and takes charge of both his medical care, as well as gathering together important people from his father’s past. The reunion brings together a group of colorful characters, whose stories, secrets and connections to each other make this film equal parts an entertaining drama and a touching comedy.
8. Incendies (2010)
In the wake of their mother’s death, two Montreal twins are left with two letters that will lead them on a voyage of discovery about their mother and their heritage. Jeanne and Simon’s search leads them halfway across the world to a foreign unnamed land in the Middle East.
Part mystery, part drama, Denis Villeneuve’s Oscar nominated Incendies, simultaneously offers two deep, insightful stories, that of the twins’ search for their father and a brother they never knew they had, and the story of their mother’s youth amidst the senseless violence of the Middle East in the 70s.
7. Mommy (2014)
At the age of 25, Mommy is already the fifth feature film Xavier Dolan, the golden child of Canada’s film world, directed. Diana “Die” Despres is a widow and single mom of troubled 15 year-old Steve. As angelic faced Steve keeps pushing Die closer to the edge, their quiet, mousy neighbour Kyla steps in and offers her assistance.
Once again Dolan stepped outside of the box stylistically and filmed Mommy in an atypical 1:1 aspect ratio, making for an unusual viewing experience. Dolan’s originality once again encountered warm reception by both the cinema audiences and the film festival circuit, snapping the Cannes Film Festival 2014 Jury Prize among other awards.
6. Le déclin de l’empire américain/The Decline of the American Empire (1986)
Denys Arcand started his trilogy in 1986 with The Decline of the American Empire, a film about conversations and intricacies of human relationships, driven by characters more so than the plot. The story brings together eight friends, Quebecois academics, who decide to spend an evening having dinner together.
As four men prepare the meal, the women are together at the gym. Both groups are wrapped up in engaging conversations that keep circling back to their past sexual experiences. Borrowing material from the real life anecdotes of his friends, Arcand manages to create a captivating cinematic experience using the simplest of elements. The trilogy was nicely rounded off by the release of Days of Darkness in 2007.
5. Videodrome (1983)
David Cronenberg’s sixth feature, a timeless sci-fi postmodernist horror Videodrome is one of the most significant films in the subgenre of body horror. James Woods stars as Max Renn, owner of Civic-TV, a cable channel specializing in sleazy and sensational.
When Max comes across Videodrome, a Malaysian TV program that revolves around torture, mutilation and murder, he is set on broadcasting it unaware of the consequences of that decision. His obsessive journey to uncover the mystery behind this program has him crossing paths with an alluring radio personality/therapist played by Debbie Harry (fantastic in the role Nicki Brand).
As the truth about Videodrome starts becoming obvious, Max finds himself changed in unexpected ways. Though this film is most definitely not for the faint of heart, Cronenberg’s Videodrome is much more than just a horror film. It is a philosophical study of the power and influence of media over minds and bodies of its viewers.
4. My Winnipeg (2007)
Often referred to as “the Canadian David Lynch”, Guy Maddin’s cinematic style is simultaneously distinct and recognizable, as well as visually beautiful in its experimentation. Even when asked by the Documentary Channel to make a film about his hometown Winnipeg, Maddin showcases a different side of Canadian cinematography, the one not afraid to push the envelope in every way possible.
Successfully merging fictional elements with the documentary ones into what he himself describes as “docu-fantasia”, Maddin takes the viewer on a cinematic voyage through his Winnipeg (and his life) that is unlike any other. With its black and white images, camera angles and the music score, My Winnipeg evokes the feelings of watching cinema of days long gone by.
3. The Sweet Hereafter (1997)
Written and directed by Atom Egoyan and based on a novel written by Russell Banks, The Sweet Hereafter takes a closer look at a life in a small B.C. town in an aftermath of a tragic school bus accident. As the community and the parents of the 14 school children killed try to wade their way through grief, a lawyer Mitchell Stephens arrives in town looking to start a class action suit.
Not motivated by either money or fame, his presence seems more driven by the ghosts of his own damaged relationship with his daughter. As the trial unfolds, the case hangs on the testimony of one of the surviving witness, a 15 year old girl (Sarah Polley) left paralyzed by the accident.
Besides brilliant performances by both Holm and Polley, the film also features a great soundtrack, including music by Canadian artists The Tragically Hip and Jane Siberry.
2. Mon Oncle Antoine (1971)
Considered one of the classics of the Canadian cinema, Mon Oncle Antoine is a cinematic exploration of the life in rural Quebec in the late 1940s. Set in a small mining town, most of the story takes place over the period of 24 hours and is told through the eyes of an orphaned teenage boy Benoit.
His life mainly revolving around his uncle’s store where he works, a change in his routine comes along when he is asked to accompany his uncle, who is also an undertaker, to pick up the dead body of a boy of Benoit’s age.
Amidst the quiet, snow-covered landscape, unexpected events force Benoit into embracing his first tentative steps into adulthood. Claude Jutra’s film unassumingly seduces its viewer with its depiction of the quiet beauty of ordinary rural life, and of a young boy’s budding sexuality and facing of mortality.
1. Jesus de Montreal (1989)
Montreal Catholic priest hires a dedicated unconventional young actor Daniel (Lothaire Bluteau) with the task to breathe new life into the church’s annual Easter Passion Play. Daniel in turn gathers around him a group of colleagues and as they start creating a fresher, more modern version of the play, the actors forge an incredibly strong bond.
The play is an instant success with the audiences but the higher ups in the Church end up cancelling it. The work the group has done starts to take on a life of its own, as their private lives begin to resemble the events of the play more and more. Daniel’s life, in particular, becomes a resounding echo of the role he had in the play.
With this film Denys Arcand created a stimulating, visceral cinematic experience, full of obvious and not-so obvious layers and ample symbolism.
Author Bio: Sanda Kazazic is finally putting her Cinema studies degree from University of Toronto to good use – by writing about film, one of her great loves. She tries her best not to neglect her other two big loves, books and music, and shares her thoughts on all three on her blog.