Over the last 10 years, Canadian artists have been storming the world stage like never before — in music, film and TV, literature, visual art, dance, theatre and everything in between.
From Monkman to Margaret (Atwood), Bieber to ballet, Keanu to Come from Away, CBC Arts presents an unapologetic celebration of a decade of outsized achievement. This timeline is loaded with essays, lists, videos and infographics (plus 70-odd reflections on moments big and small from our Anne-iversaries columnist Anne T. Donahue). We invite you to close out your own decade by taking a little pride in what your fellow Canadians have accomplished in the 2010s. You won’t be sorry.
Where were you when you first heard “Baby” — when, despite your better judgment and years of ingrained cynicism, it oozed into your psyche and began redefining your relationship with pop as you knew it? When did Justin Bieber, a wee baby maestro, evolve into a national treasure? When did he graduate to being a force to be reckoned with, a young artist whom you wanted to cradle and dance with and ultimately protect? When did you, dear reader, learn that finally (finally!) Canadian pop no longer necessitated anybody saying “Sorry”? (Sorry.) When did you finally accept that our homegrown pop music could be synonymous with having fun?
This is the lasting legacy of the 2010s in Canadian pop. Because while so many hits hinged on at least a little navel-gazing (here’s looking at you, Drake), the decade was still largely defined by abandoning traditional Canadian humility — by jams about love, lust and not being able to feel one’s face, set to beats even more addictive than the hooks they’re anchored to. And it all began with Justin Bieber’s “Baby.”
Are we human, or are we Na’vi? This is the question audiences asked so much that Avatar surpassed Titanic’s box office record in 41 days to become the highest grossing film of all time (earning roughly $2.79 billion US) — at least until Avengers: Endgame stole the crown this summer. Fortunately, for fans of the blue people (who are not to be confused with the Blue Man Group), James Cameron has been talking about plans for multiple Avatar followups since 2010 and has four sequels in the works because why wouldn’t he.
Meanwhile, some of us will be awaiting that Titanic sequel about Rose Dawson’s acting career in which we find out where Bill Paxton (RIP) bought his sweaters, which is the only James Cameron sequel we really need.
With the help of 5,000 volunteers, the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games opened to much fanfare and only slight technical setbacks — like when one of four pillars failed to rise from the stadium floor to surround the cauldron housing the Olympic flame. (Terrific!) But the show went on: videos depicting Canada’s glorious landscape and flawless performances by k.d. lang and Sarah McLachlan were heralded as ceremonial triumphs. But less so? A lack of Asian-Canadian representation, as well as the ceremony’s emphasis on First Nations culture despite, well, the Canadian government failing to prioritize Indigenous communities at any other time.
While he was in the last months of a terminal illness, Will Munro was working on his final exhibition for Paul Petro Contemporary Art. Munro was a celebrated visual artist known not only for his provocative (and endearing) works centered around handmade Y-front briefs but also for his creation of spaces like Vazaleen and Toronto’s The Beaver, which became safe hubs for the LGBTQ+ community. Munro’s 2010 exhibition, “Inside The Solar Temple of the Cosmic Leather Daddy,” referenced the AIDS epidemic, paying homage to those who lost their lives in it while looking to figures from Egyptian history and the leather subculture of the 1970s. One of the show’s epic works featured a sort of “temple” hung with plants and a hammock fashioned from an afghan. I like to picture him in it now, surveying his legacy (this artist was also my dear friend). And while “Inside The Solar Temple” would be his last show, it was emblematic of his incredible energy — and a prophecy of his impact on future artists. (One sure sign that impact will carry on — the National Gallery of Canada recently acquired six of his underwear pieces.)
Even reading the words “Wavin’ Flag” is enough to get K’naan’s 2009 hit — remade by Young Artists for Haiti in 2010 — stuck in your head. (So you’re welcome, and congrats to us all.) Following the benefit single’s release on March 12, the song topped the Canadian charts for seven weeks. By the end of the following month, it had sold more than 160,000 units on iTunes and its accompanying music video had been viewed more than 4.5 million times. And the results were a group effort: 57 artists including Drake, Justin Bieber and Nelly Furtado appeared on the track, with money earned going toward charities in Haiti such as Free the Children, War Child Canada and World Vision. Somewhere, “Do They Know It’s Christmas” weeps.
While she’s now a mainstay on the landscape of Canadian publishing, in 2010, Vivek Shraya self-published her first book, God Loves Hair — a collection of 21 short stories that follow a child who navigates topics like gender, racial politics, sexuality and religion. Shraya’s beautiful words are accompanied by Juliana Neufeld’s illustrations, and the book earned glowing praise from publications lucky enough to review it. Who’d have thought it would be the start of a career equally as prolific and powerful? Well, anybody who read it, obviously. Nearly a decade later, Shraya is still a creative force to be reckoned with.
Where were you when you accepted Drake as your personal saviour? At what point did you realize that he was no longer “that kid from Degrassi” but a legitimate rapper and poet whose talent would go on to challenge any and all existing artists on the 2010 charts? If it was before June 15 — the day Drizzy’s debut album dropped — congratulations, you (for many reasons, I imagine) are better than me and most people. But for the rest of us, it was a banner moment for the cultural landscape. Last name Ever, first name Greatest, his birth name was Aubrey Drake Graham and he was now our 6ix God — even if we didn’t know it yet.
Based on the iconic graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley, director Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a love letter to a city that often plays dress-up. Set in Toronto (so rare!) and starring Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Aubrey Plaza, Brie Larson and Chris Evans, the movie unapologetically pays tribute to city icons like Lee’s Palace, Casa Loma and Honest Ed’s (may it rest in peace). Frankly, Toronto should always be depicted as exactly this cool.
On June 22, 2010, Canada lost a force to be reckoned with when stage and screen icon Tracy Wright passed away from pancreatic cancer. Less than three months later, her final film, Trigger, was the inaugural public screening at the shiny new TIFF Bell Lightbox and earned rave reviews thanks to textured dialogue, director Bruce McDonald’s rich storytelling and Wright’s compelling performance that further emphasized what a loss her death was and how unfair life can be. It’s not too late for you to see it, either: get your hands on a copy before the end of the decade.
In the 2010s, Keanu Reeves graduated from brooding ’90s action movie superstar to beloved cult hero. This was truly the decade of the Reevesaissance, with the Canadian icon starring in a number of action films and three smash John Wick movies — and winning the internet’s heart along the way. But don’t take my word for it. Here are 10 times the internet swooned over the musings and (apparent) misadventures of Keanu Reeves.
Before he was the internet’s darling, Reeves was just a beloved actor in his own right. That all changed in May of 2010 when a photo of The Matrix star morosely biting into a sandwich on a New York park bench went viral. Sympathy for Reeves started pouring in. A Facebook event titled “Cheer Up Keanu Day” even urged fans to send Reeves love letters and gifts on June 15. A meme was born...and “Sad Keanu” lived on for the rest of the decade.
More than a decade after the release of Mordecai Richler’s Giller Prize–winning novel Barney’s Version, the story of a man, his three marriages and the disappearance of his friend Boogie was brought to the big screen on Dec. 24 by director Richard J. Lewis and screenwriter Michael Konyves. Featuring Paul Giamatti in the titular role, the film earned Giamatti a Golden Globe, won several Genie Awards and garnered an Academy Award nomination for best makeup. Take that, The Notebook.
They crazy, stupid love him: In this episode of Stan Wars, host Peter Knegt gives four Ryan Gosling enthusiasts the chance to compete for the title of his ultimate stan.
Playwright Michel Marc Bouchard’s Tom on the Farm (Tom à la ferme) made its debut at the Centre du Théâtre d’Aujourd’hui in Montreal in January, which clearly kicked the year off right. Directed by Claude Poissant, the play revolves around a young man whose companion dies and leaves its titular character to navigate the heartbreaking familial dynamics his late partner was forced to endure. And it struck a chord: Montreal’s Xavier Dolan went on to adapt the play for cinema, premiering the film at the 2013 Venice International Film Festival. It was later nominated for eight Canadian Screen Awards. (But that’s two years from now, so let’s move on.)
After Arcade Fire stunned the masses by winning Album of the Year for The Suburbs, the internet erupted with repeated cries of “Who the hell are Arcade Fire?!” Naturally, this led anybody who prided themselves on being well-versed in Canadian indie (see: me, nine years ago) to bask in a sense of superiority fuelled by the knowledge that they’d been Arcade Fire fans since Funeral came out back in 2004. Which was helped, obviously, by the band’s killer performance of “Ready to Start,” which closed out the show that night.
The dream of the artist’s residency is that it can take you somewhere you’ve never been (while paying you). And that vision is, in many cases, true — I’ve known artists who’ve lived temporarily in Iceland, explored the ocean on freighters or casked whisky at the Glenfiddich distillery in Scotland. But the other treasure these residencies offer is entry into a new community, insight into another place or into the state of our environment. In 2011, Winnipeg-based artist Sarah Anne Johnson showed photographs from a residency she participated in a couple of years before in which she travelled along with scientists and activists as they traversed the Arctic Circle for 21 days. The series of photos, overlaid with her paintings and other manipulations, celebrate the North and make it feel romantic while also pointing to climate change, industrial colonization and the parts of our natural world that are going to disappear. Scientists + artists + activists make good residencies.
It’s early 2011, and Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies is up for the Academy Award for best foreign language film. Xavier Dolan is hot off of proving he’s no one-hit wonder with his sophomore feature Les amours imaginaires (Heartbeats), the stylish followup to his sensational debut J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother). Philippe Falardeau is finishing up Monsieur Lazhar, which would go on to get its own Oscar nod, Louise Archambault is writing Gabrielle and Jean-Marc Vallée is preparing to release Café de Flore. The decade begins auspiciously for French-language cinema — and it’s only le tip de l’iceberg.
The 2010s saw screen industries worldwide experience a fundamental metamorphosis: streaming services changed the game in terms of the ways audiences watch content and how creators compete in the marketplace. But parallel to this momentous business-model transformation, Canadian films were busy solidifying their indisputable place in the arthouse world. Indigenous filmmakers also brought some of the most affecting stories to our screens; a new wave of filmmakers revitalized the indie scene while veterans got called to work on some of the biggest series on Earth; and gender parity became a serious priority with the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements. And on the world stage, after decades of sporadic success outside the province, Québécois filmmakers embarked on a stratospheric upward trajectory with a wild combo of arthouse and blockbuster gold.
It’s fitting that one of Céline Dion’s biggest songs is called “A New Day Has Come” because upon the debut of her second Las Vegas residency (called Celine) in 2011, she sparked the Dion renaissance that only seems to be getting stronger even now. After wrapping her 16-year on/off Vegas gig this past June (a fact: the residency was only supposed to last three years), she’s gone on to embark on a 50-plus city tour across North America in support of her new album, Courage, and win the affections of anyone with an affinity for couture fashion, eccentricity and stirring renditions of “My Heart Will Go On” (in other words, anybody with a pulse).
Back in 2011, The Weeknd was an enigma. (As a wee baby music journo, I remember the scramble that year to snag tickets to his show at the Mod Club and my inability to do so because I had no idea who represented him or how to find out.) (Related: I was also largely incompetent.) Of course, what stoked the fires of obsession even more was the release of House of Balloons, the first mixtape from Toronto’s Abel Tesfaye — a release that wowed listeners with its nearly seven-minute title track (co-produced by Doc McKinney) and made listeners even thirstier for The Weeknd’s urgent vocals, poetic lyrics and incredible beats. And of course, we were in luck: two more mixtapes followed the same year, which completed a trilogy. Alas, a star was born.
Before it was a critically acclaimed 2018 western film starring John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix, The Sisters Brothers was a critically acclaimed 2011 novel written by author Patrick deWitt, whose dark comedy takes readers on an adventure alongside Eli Sisters and his brother Charlie in Oregon and California. In Canada, however, it won the Governor’s General Literary Award, as well as the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Add to this the Leacock Medal, the Giller Prize and the Walter Scott Prize, and it’s no wonder deWitt continues to earn accolades for his dark humour and fiction work. Like, say, his Giller Prize nomination for last year’s French Exit, which included a cat inhabited by the spirit of a woman’s late husband — a character every book should have, IMHO.
There are two ways to divide history: life before Carly Rae Jepsen released “Call Me Maybe” and life after. Obviously, anyone with a beating heart prefers the latter, especially since with the release of her debut single in September, we were introduced to Mission, B.C.’s pop heroine, who quickly rose to international stardom following the U.S. release of “Call Me Maybe” in 2012 — thanks, blessedly, to the help of Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez, who stumbled upon the track and made their own lip dub video. (Remember lip dubs?!) Carly followed that by releasing her own video for the song, and it has since been viewed over one billion times. And one million of those were me.
Superheroes, reboots, blockbuster franchises: that was the 2000s. And in the 2010s, it was more of the same — gone supernova.
Comic book movies were getting cranked out faster than the Flash on Adderall, the reboots kept rebooting, and at the same time, a resurgence of cerebral sci-fi and horror was getting love from audiences and critics alike.
And, more often than you might realize, those fantasy worlds on screen...were actually somewhere in Canada. Here are 10 examples.
In the late aughts, there was nothing hotter than vampire romance, and by 2010, it was like someone had slashed an artery on the whole trend. True Blood, The Vampire Diaries: softbois with fangs were bloody everywhere — and The Twilight Saga started the frenzy. Starring (then) real-life couple Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, the franchise spun four books into five movies. Three of the five premiered in the 2010s: Eclipse and Breaking Dawn – Part 1 and 2. And all three of those were shot in B.C. — largely in the Vancouver area, where fans were known to mob sets (and sign up for location tours). Each annual instalment generated more international bank than the last. Never a critical hit, the series was a pop culture titan, bolstered by legions of “Twihards.” Stan culture came to dominate the decade, and the acolytes of this schlocky supernatural romance more or less signalled the first wave.
Considering the vastness of YouTube, it was a small miracle that the Ben Shirinian–directed short film “Lost In Motion” earned millions of views and went on to spark hope in anyone working in the arts that there’s life in digital distribution. Admittedly, despite the attention given to Guillaume Côté — the choreographer and principal dancer of the National Ballet of Canada who also starred in the film — “Lost in Motion” didn’t change the distribution game. But it’s exciting that even in the era of viral videos, the audience went wild for dance, for classical music and for a corner of the arts world that, unfairly, gets so overlooked.
The sixth novel written by the late Ojibway writer Richard Wagamese, Indian Horse was released in January and garnered overwhelming acclaim for its heart-wrenching depiction of Canada’s residential school system and the egregious abuses suffered by students. Taking place over the course of 30 years, the story follows a young man named Saul Indian Horse who makes his way into the hockey world and, after a series of racist attacks, confronts his traumatizing history. The book earned Wagamese the inaugural Burt Award for First Nations, Inuit and Métis Young Adult Literature (then known as the Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature), and in 2017, the film adaptation premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Crushingly, Richard Wagamese passed away in March of that year.
Four years after first forming, the Ottawa-based A Tribe Called Red made their full-length debut with the release of their self-titled album, which went on to be longlisted for the Polaris Music Prize. Originally consisting of DJs Ehren “Bear Witness” Thomas of the Cayuga First Nation, Ian “DJ NDN” Campeau of the Nippising First Nation and Dan “DJ Shub” General, Mohawk of the Six Nations Grand River (though General was replaced by Tim “2oolman” Hill, Mohawk of the Six Nations Grand River, in 2014 and Campeau left in 2017), the electronic music group drew much-deserved attention for their mix of hip hop, dance and reggae alongside remixes of traditional powwow songs. Following this, they launched their first world tour, released two more albums and three EPs, and took home the award for group of the year at the 2018 Juno Awards. (So don’t ever let anyone tell you Canadian music is exclusively indie rock or dudes in plaid.)
On April 16 — just weeks after his 17th birthday — Calgary-bred pianist Jan Lisiecki released his album of Mozart concertos as a debut for the label Deutsche Grammophon. It featured Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 and No. 21, and was quickly declared a “triumph.” It was (and is) also a further testament to why none of us should’ve been allowed to quit piano lessons as a kid.
In a moment that was highly deserved and long overdue, Obsidian Theatre — Canada’s leading Black theatre company — stunned at the Dora Mavor Moore Awards in June when it conquered the play and musical theatre categories simultaneously. Suzan-Lori Parks’s Topdog/Underdog even beat out War Horse (remember War Horse?!) when it was named the year’s outstanding production of a play, while Caroline, or Change earned the prize for outstanding production of a musical. Originally founded in 2000, the Obsidian Theatre continues to elevate Black artists in Canada. (If you’re in Toronto, be sure to take in something from their current program).
In July of 2012, we all set out on a journey: after four seasons of action, adventure, the Albuquerque underworld and Heisenberg, Breaking Bad’s fifth and last season premiered — and brought with it an intensity I can’t possibly describe in a simple paragraph. (It was so intense, as you remember, that it was split into two sub-seasons and officially wrapped in the fall of 2013.) But of course, the series’s rare brand of genius and grit was thanks in part to Canadians Michelle MacLaren, who directed 11 episodes and served as an executive producer, and Moira Walley-Beckett, who worked on the show as both a writer and producer and earned an Emmy for outstanding writing after she penned the episode “Ozymandias.” They are the danger.
I like sci-fi — mostly the quiet kind, where people are stuck in space alone with maybe one book or maybe zero books. Silence that ranges from contemplative to evoking sheer terror is kind of my jam. So the work of Vancouver-based artist Kelly Richardson has always spoken to me. In particular, her Mariner 9 of 2012 — a panoramic video installation that imagines a Mars of the future explored by an unmanned vehicle — feeds my desire for bleak visions of faraway planets. Richardson sets her video on Mars during a dust storm among detritus from previous explorations of the planet. It suggests a future where the probes have outlived us — as the artist puts it, where “several of the spacecraft continue to partially function, to do their intended jobs, to ultimately find signs of life whilst transmitting the data back to a planet where no one is left to receive it.” But there’s also hope in Richardson’s installations, most recently her Embers and the Giants, which memorializes an endangered old-growth forest in British Columbia and invites us to protect our landscape.
The 2010s have been all about fame — often vapid, toxic, shallow and undeserved fame, a new kind of parasitic stardom that almost anyone can attain just as long as they’re desperate enough. The decade started with the birth of Instagram and the rise of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, and it has ended with the word “influencer” worming its way into the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
Isn’t it ironic, then, that one of Canada’s biggest superstars has spent this fame-monster decade being mostly invisible? Alanis Nadine Morissette, where have you been?
So how can I argue that Alanis matters as much now, at the end of this decade, as she did in the ’90s? Here’s one reason: her silence is golden. In a decade defined by the relentless noise of “content creation” and everyone doing everything they can to get likes and followers, silence is rare and precious.
Looking back on the 2010s, I'm struck by the sweeping changes that impacted me, a Canadian female filmmaker, and my people. Women in the film industry went from being “a thing? Possibly!” to “a serious issue we should definitely have approximately 8,000 panels about” until, finally, we were given the resources we deserved to thrive and succeed (thanks in part to gender parity initiatives set by the CBC and Telefilm Canada). Like the hungry overachievers we are, we then succeeded wildly, all over your face.
This year alone, Canadian female filmmakers Alexandra Lazarowich and Grace Glowicki won top prizes at Sundance and SXSW respectively. At the Canadian Screen Awards, we were awarded everything, including best motion picture, best feature-length documentary, best art direction/production design, best cinematography, achievement in direction, achievement in editing, best original screenplay and best original score. (Said filmmaker Jasmin Mozaffari, while accepting her award for direction for her first feature Firecrackers: “I think I’m one of the few women to win this award; I don’t think I’ll be the last — just watch.”) Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Májiá Tailfeathers’s staggeringly beautiful feature The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival, then TIFF, where Ava DuVernay’s company Array acquired worldwide rights to the film. Sophie Deraspe’s Antigone — a modern update of Sophocles’ Greek tragedy that’s centered on an immigrant family living in Montreal — became Canada’s official entry for best international feature film at the 2020 Academy Awards.
Dancer Greta Hodgkinson reflects on the rise and achievements of National Ballet of Canada artistic director Karen Kain over the 2010s.
Following the decade-long obsession with Yann Martel’s 2001 novel Life of Pi, the story was finally released in film form in November 2012. Adapted for the screen by David Magee and directed by Ang Lee, it went on to win four Oscars, including the awards for best director and best cinematography. Martel himself was pleased with the adaptation; in an interview, he said that he’d opted to trust Lee’s ability to tell the story and felt the result was “brilliant.” He also revealed that Richard Parker is more than just a tiger, but that’s a conversation I hope you all had circa 2001.
Tegan and Sara used Heartthrob, their (quite amazing) seventh album, to wade further into the waters of pop — and earned the praise of fans, critics and anyone lucky enough to hear it as a result. Of course, the sisters had already broken into the mainstream thanks to an abundance of So Jealous tracks being featured on Grey’s Anatomy. But this album — their leap into top 40 — was proudly and publicly inspired by Taylor Swift (the genre-crossover queen who they’d perform with later the same year) and Rihanna, and their debut single, “Closer,” earned platinum status in Canada for the first time in their career. Turns out, Tegan and Sara can do anything — but true blue fans already knew that. (Hi!)
Before 2013, Canada’s primary film and television awards worked much like their American counterparts: the film-honouring Genies were our Oscars, while the television-centric Geminis were like the Canadian Emmys. But in March 2013, two became one. Hosted by Martin Short, the inaugural Canadian Screen Awards offered prizes for film, television and digital storytelling (which hadn’t been covered by the Geminis or the Genies), and raked in 756,000 viewers, which is around double the number of people who watched the Geminis or Genies the previous year. Since then, it’s become something to look forward to come (early, early) springtime (or late, late winter) in Canada, and it’s gotten even bigger thanks to the introduction of Canadian Screen Week, which allows for even more time and attention for well-deserved Canadian productions.
In 2019 — two years after it dropped on Netflix, four years after it premiered on CBC and with 18 Canadian Screen Awards to its name — Schitt’s Creek was finally recognized by the Emmys with four nominations, including an outstanding comedy series nod. It was a triumphant moment of international recognition for Canadian television — so triumphant that it’s easy to forget that at the same awards show only five years prior, Billy Eichner was screaming “TATIANA MASLANY WAS SNUBBED!!!” in the faces of unsuspecting strangers. He was, of course, referring to the global uproar over the Television Academy’s failure to nominate her for her breakout role(s) in the first season of Orphan Black.
Like Schitt’s Creek, Orphan Black was a Canadian critical darling-turned-social media phenomenon-turned-international awards contender. But before it even premiered in 2013, Tatiana was already a veteran of Canadian film and TV, having started her career at age nine in her hometown of Regina. It only took 19 years and a show in which she played 11 different characters (that’s the number she gave me, so don’t @ me, Clone Club) to effectively showcase the depth and breadth of her talent.
There’s only one instance where it’s OK to bust out an acoustic guitar to sing the cover of a world-renowned song, and that’s if your name is Chris Hadfield and you are aboard the International Space Station, floating in zero gravity. After posting his efforts on YouTube, the astronaut’s version of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” became the first music video ever performed in space and has since earned over 44.6 million views. Despite some legal issues stemming from the track’s publishing rights, it even earned the love of David Bowie himself, who took to Facebook and said it was “possibly the most poignant version of the song ever created.” In related news, I miss David Bowie. (In unrelated news, space seems terrifying.)
Canada’s institutions tokenized, ignored or exoticized Indigenous art for a really long time. That’s an old story. What is more heartening is their relatively recent acknowledgment of the role Indigenous art has played and continues to play in historical and contemporary culture. When it opened at the National Gallery of Canada in 2013, Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art was billed as offering the “largest-ever global survey of contemporary Indigenous art” and included work from Rebecca Belmore, Brian Jungen and the now late Annie Pootoogook, as well as artists from other regions like Finland, India and New Zealand. The exhibition was a moment to talk about identity and the impact and trauma of colonialism while celebrating the artists featured, a number of whom made work specifically for the show. (Six years later, the National Gallery saw its largest-ever opening crowd for Sakahàn's followup, Àbadakone.)
Starring Canadian besties Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel, This Is the End — a Rogen/Evan Goldberg–written/directed/produced joint — took the terror and hilarity of the apocalypse to new heights with their version of what might happen when the world finally ends. Spoiler? Those who are worthy are scooped up to heaven, while unworthy souls are doomed to spend an eternity in hell. And while this might not seem particularly original, or even like decent joke fodder, surprising celebrity cameos (here’s looking at you, Rihanna and Emma Watson) and wild performances by Rogen, Baruchel and Brampton, Ont.’s Michael Cera earned the comedy over $120 million US while delivering a surprising tale about the importance of friendship and not being the absolute worst.
Schitt’s Creek actress Annie Murphy shares her admiration for author Margaret Atwood and how her books have been turned into successful TV projects over the last decade.
You might have noticed a little trend on your TV screens (or laptops or phones) in the past 10 years: our neighbours to the south seem really into us. And I’m not just talking about their infatuation with Schitt’s Creek. Their own shows seemed to incorporate Canadian references and plotlines with strange regularity in the 2010s, suggesting a lot of U.S. writers’ rooms have a bit of a crush on us (or maybe that those writers’ rooms just have a lot of Canadians working in them). Here are a few of the many, many examples.
The most obvious case of this Canadaphilia was when America decided they didn’t have enough of their own classic books to adapt into TV series, so they went and took one of ours. In 2017, Hulu debuted the first season of its adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. In the show’s dystopian version of America — a totalitarian society where fertile women are child-bearing slaves — Canada does get to play a supporting role in the narrative: like in Atwood’s novel, our country is a safe haven for the characters to escape to (though only some are lucky enough to get here). Turns out, we’re also a haven in real life for American TV producers looking for literature they can adapt into Emmy Award machines!
In October 2013, Clinton, Ont.’s Alice Munro earned the Nobel Prize in Literature, making her the first Canadian and 13th woman to do so. The win came on the heels of her 2012 short story collection, Dear Life, and the news was initially met with silence since the Swedish Academy was unable to locate the author and was forced to make its announcement public after leaving her a message on her answering machine. (A hero, a legend, a woman of the people.) Turns out, the then-82-year-old was away staying with her daughter in Victoria at the time of the revelation. Munro has written 14 collections of short stories, which I suggest we all read out loud together this holiday season.
Because sometimes life actually is beautiful, Owen Pallett joined forces with Arcade Fire’s Win Butler to compose the score for Her, the Spike Jonze futuristic drama about love and loneliness. The score accompanied the story of Joaquin Phoenix’s character’s evolution from heartbroken man to even more of a heartbroken man after he falls in love with his operating system’s virtual assistant (Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson) — which, in 2019, doesn’t seem like a stretch. Pallett and Butler ended up earning an Academy Award nomination for best original score, and while they lost out to Gravity, not even Sandra Bullock’s hair in that movie can make us cry the way Pallett’s music still can.
Before the Hulu series premiered (and before this year’s sequel novel The Testaments was released, for that matter), the Royal Winnipeg Ballet debuted a rendition of The Handmaid’s Tale that saw the story depicted in a truly unique way. The project was dreamed up by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s artistic director André Lewis and American choreographer Lila York. And what’s even cooler (to me) is that it was eventually used as a Jeopardy! clue in October 2019.
Photographer Norman Wong talks about the impact music producer Noah “40” Shebib has had on “crafting the Toronto sound.”
Over four seasons, the greatest and most elaborate stunt Nathan for You ever produced was the series itself. Airing on Comedy Central between 2013 and ’17, it’s a prank show on its surface — a spoof of reality makeover series in the vein of, say, The Profit (or because this is CBC, Under New Management). And to essentially copy/paste the spiel from the opening credits, here’s the premise:
Nathan Fielder (the show’s star and co-creator) graduated from one of Canada’s top business schools (University of Victoria) with really good grades (B average). Now, he’s using his knowledge to help struggling small-business owners make it in this competitive world.
And that’s what he does, minus the bit about actually helping.
Fielder is a comedian — a dry one. If there’s a Platonic ideal of a TV host, he is its opposite, and while I’m enough of a weirdo to find the notion of an anti-Seacrest appealing, the effect is discomfiting to most.
Nathan visits real entrepreneurs. He pitches them a custom marketing strategy, something so original that it rockets a few solar systems beyond the realm of common decency: maybe poo-flavoured fro-yo to court publicity (Episode 1), or a scheme to sell liquor to minors (booze is stashed on premises ’til they’re legal). In every episode, clients react with a moment or two of slack-jawed silence — and then, they invariably let him at it.
That’s just the basic formula, but from the first episode, NFY was engineering something grander than a five-year troll. It’s a parody of reality TV, a docu-drama about seeking human connection, a satire of capitalism and the inherent moral relativism it brews. And yeah, it’s also why you LOL’d at a tweet about “Dumb Starbucks” at some point in 2014.
On Valentine's Day 2014, Ellen Page put her heart out there for all of us to see when she gave a thoughtful, deeply moving speech at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s inaugural Time to Thrive conference.
“I am here today because I am gay,” she announced. “Maybe I can make a difference — to help others have an easier and more hopeful time. I feel a personal obligation and a social responsibility.”
Just 26 years old at the time, Halifax-born Page became one of only a handful of folks at her level of celebrity to make the decision to come out publicly. (Though Jodie Foster sort of counts thanks to her much less inspiring sort of coming out speech at the Golden Globes in 2013, Page is really the only proudly open lesbian to ever have been nominated for a best actress Oscar.) And she didn’t just come out: making good on the promise of that speech, she spent the rest of the decade using her celebrity to amplify LGBTQ stories and other LGBTQ artists.
One year before cleaning up at the Canadian Screen Awards (where his work picked up nine awards, thank you very much), Xavier Dolan earned the Jury Prize at the 67th Cannes Film Festival for Mommy, the Montrealer’s fifth full-length feature. The story about a single mother (played powerfully by Anne Dorval) trying to raise her troubled son (Antoine Olivier Pilon) was praised as a cinematic tour de force, or even better: “a gale-force blast of raw, unrelenting emotion.” As a result, Mommy went on to become Dolan’s highest grossing feature, and the following year, the writer/director/producer directed Adele’s video for “Hello” (which would go on to get over 2.5 billion views on YouTube).
Few artists can draw out emotions like Inuk musician Tanya Tagaq, and even fewer can bring those emotions out simultaneously. The success of Animism — Tagaq’s third album — shed some long overdue light on both the artist and her often political subject matter, as Tagaq used throat singing, grunting, gasping and wailing as a means to convey the urgency with which we must respond to the crises we’ve inflicted on the world. Unsurprisingly, it resonated: in September, Tagaq took home the Polaris Music Prize (where she also performed in front of a backdrop listing the names of missing and murdered Indigenous women, which was incredible, heartbreaking and rage-inducing since this crisis continues). She also went on to win the Juno Award for Aboriginal album of the year.
Before he was linked to Camila Cabello, before he collaborated with Taylor Swift and before he was anointed the face of Tim Hortons (the biggest achievement of all three), Shawn Mendes was just a Canadian boy, standing in front of the internet, asking all of us to like him. And it worked. After earning popularity on Vine (RIP) in 2013, the 15-year-old Pickering, Ont., native went on to release his debut single “Life of the Party” in June, which became a record-breaker when it debuted on the Billboard Hot 100, making him the youngest artist in history to chart in the Top 25 with a debut single. The rest, as they say, is history. (And if I may add: bring back Vine.)
It’s rare for a TV series to successfully depict what it’s like to feel hopeless, depressed, anxious or overwhelmed, sometimes all at once. But BoJack Horseman, an animated show about a famous actor/horse and his peers, managed to evolve into a touchstone for anyone acquainted with unhappiness. After premiering on Netflix in August, the dark comedy drew attention for its biting humour and social commentary on the ways we frame success and community. What made it even better was that BoJack himself was voiced by Toronto native Will Arnett, who brought serious weight to a role that necessitated it.
Prisons are terrifying — it’s hard for me to even watch the caricatured version you see in Orange is the New Black. So I encountered Inside Kingston Penitentiary, a series of photographs by Geoffrey James, with some trepidation. James took six months to complete the series, shot inside the mysterious and foreboding walls of Kingston Pen, and he did it in the company of the guards and inmates of the institution. Some of the photographs feature guards, like “Armed guard outside Tower 3,” while others document the more harrowing spaces of the facility, where prisoners like Paul Bernardo were kept 23 hours a day. I’m not sure whether the series quite takes a position on issues like solitary confinement or the death penalty, or whether it functions as an investigation into a real part of this country that many of us are lucky enough to never see — but either way, it’s chilling.
Live from New York, it’s Saturday night! (And other iconic phrases you have burned into your brain thanks to Saturday Night Live, a show that will outlive us all.) Created by Canada’s Lorne Michaels in 1975, the sketch comedy series wove its way into the fabric of our cultural discourse and went on to tackle everything from political headlines to scandals and gossip to the risk of being eaten by a shark as you answer your front door. As a result, the 2014–2015 season proved joyous as it shone a spotlight on the past, bringing back beloved characters and guests, and culminating in a 40th-anniversary spectacular in February 2015.
In November of 2014, Brampton, Ont.’s Rupi Kaur released Milk and Honey, a collection of poems and prose that tackle subjects like sexual assault, violence, love and loss. Kaur’s vulnerability, honesty and seamless ability to convey feelings that so many struggle to articulate helped Milk and Honey find its way onto the New York Times Bestseller list (for more than 77 weeks) and sell approximately 2.5 million copies in 25 languages. It also led to the release of her followup, The Sun and Her Flowers, but we’re not talking about 2017 (yet).
Who among us really thought that Schitt’s Creek — a 30-minute comedy series created by and starring Canadian treasures Dan and Eugene Levy (and co-starring the equally treasured likes of Catherine O’Hara and Annie Murphy) — would go on to earn a (still) growing international fanbase, a slew of Emmy nominations and praise for its inclusive and heartwarming storylines? Well, anyone who tuned into the pilot on Jan. 13, 2015, TBH. Because from the very first frame, CBC’s Schitt’s Creek established itself as a series rooted in family, in friendship and even in kindness, particularly since each character was painted as flawed and real but still inherently good. It soon became exactly the TV show we needed to survive the rest of the decade.
Behold, introverts, for here is your queen! Alessia Cara’s debut single, released on both her debut EP Four Pink Walls and debut full-length Know-It-All, “Here” is a song about wanting to leave parties and the splendour of doing just that. Understandably, it made a mark. And after debuting at 95 on the Billboard Hot 100, it found its way to the top of the charts and became Cara’s first top-five single (marking the beginning of her ascension through the pop ranks). She also got a jump-start on 2016’s “mannequin challenge” via the corresponding video, where she worked her way through a party chock-full of attendees standing completely still — or, as I like to call it, an ideal party if I have to stay past nine.
Written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, the musical Come From Away is set in Gander, N.L., in the days following the Sept. 11 attacks, when 38 planes containing nearly 7,000 passengers were forced to land as part of Operation Yellow Ribbon (in which Canada helped ensure air traffic was cleared from U.S. airspace). The true story has been heralded as a reminder of human kindness and the way we tend to rally together even in times of fear, anger and tragedy. Workshopped in Oakville, Ont., Come From Away made its official premiere in San Diego before eventually taking over the world (and providing an opportunity for Justin Trudeau to spend an evening with Ivanka Trump, but let’s forget about that). Seven Tony Award nominations later, it’s still playing in Toronto, New York City and London, and notably surpassed The Drowsy Chaperone’s record to become the longest-running Canadian musical on Broadway in October 2018.
Clearly to be filed under “this should happen all the time,” 2015 saw Canadian Métis artist Christi Belcourt collaborate with Valentino for the fashion house’s 2016 Resort collection. Nine pieces drew inspiration from Belcourt’s painting Water Song (which can be found in the National Gallery of Canada), and all nine were a true testament to the vivacity and beauty that define the artist’s work. And speaking of her work, this year marked the close of a seven-year tour across Canada and the U.S., where Belcourt’s Walking With Our Sisters Project served as a memorial to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women and their families.
I like David Altmejd but I don’t want to meet him, like, ever? His work is ambitious and uncanny, and I find it terrifying and sort of brittle, like the first time you see one of those anatomy books in your uncle’s basement that has the layered pages that show you an increasingly flayed version of the human body. I say that like it’s a bad thing, but it’s really not. Altmejd’s The Flux and The Puddle, which appeared as part of his 2015 retrospective, reads like the lab of a madman, or maybe some sort of future version of an island Dr. Moreau lived on, or a cabinet of curiosities I never want to see again — but also can’t help but really want to see again. It’s just bananas.
They really, really, really, really, really, really like her: In this episode of Stan Wars, host Peter Knegt gives four Carly Rae Jepsen diehards the chance to compete for the title of her ultimate stan.
This decade, Canada established itself as a gold mine for internationally renowned music. Drake, Justin Bieber, The Weeknd, Alessia Cara and Shawn Mendes all became global superstars over the course of the last 10 years, producing a slew of hits. But some Canadian-made songs didn’t quite make the same splash outside of the country, even though they deserved that same worldwide recognition. These songs exemplify the power of Canadian artists — even if their success was limited to Canada’s borders.
“Stompa,” a storm of a song, catapulted Millbrook, Ont., singer-songwriter Serena Ryder to national and, to a certain extent, international stardom. But its followup single, the wholesome “What I Wouldn’t Do,” only enjoyed real success in Canada. The song is folk-pop perfection — a gorgeous declaration of love with a percussive guitar backtrack and a soaring chorus. It’s a shame it didn’t get the international recognition of its sister single, but at least we Canadians get to enjoy this gem ourselves.
Based on Emma Donoghue’s gripping 2010 novel — which follows a kidnapping and assault victim, and the escape she and her son must make from their captor — the film adaptation of Room hit Canadian theatres on Oct. 23, just over a month after screening at TIFF. Shot in Toronto, the film racked up a slew of accolades — including the award for best motion picture at the Canadian Screen Awards and a best actress Oscar for star Brie Larson — and anointed Vancouver’s young Jacob Tremblay as a wee star to watch.
Imagine having to follow up Visions, a record so obsessed over that surpassing it creatively must’ve been, to say the least, daunting. And yet, then came Art Angels. Grimes’s fourth full-length studio album blasted her previous incarnations away to create a space so uninhabitable, so comfortable, so off-putting and so compelling that Claire Boucher’s reputation as an artist fixated on her/the future felt permanent. The record took risks, aligned itself with strange, unique visuals and featured lyrics that were introspective, angry and unafraid of what anybody might think. No wonder she was exalted accordingly.
2015 ended on a cultural high note after Justin Bieber, The Weeknd and Drake had banner years, dominating the Billboard charts. For four straight weeks starting December 5th, they joined Shawn Mendes and Alessia Cara to occupy seven of the top 10 spots. Which, like, obviously: on top of Canada’s always-uncanny ability to produce larger-than-life pop stars (need I remind any of us of Céline Dion, especially circa 1997?), 2015 saw an influx of younger talent who learned to utilize the internet to build momentum, communities and connections — all while creating catchy, unique sounds that have come to define several genres.
“You are in the midst of an Indigenous renaissance. Are you ready to hear the truth that needs to be told?”
These words became iconic the moment they were spoken by Wolastoqiyik musicologist, vocalist and composer Jeremy Dutcher. He was accepting the 2018 Polaris Music Prize for his debut album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, sung entirely in the Wolastoq language — a language that is severely endangered due to Canada’s policies of Indigenous assimilation and cultural genocide. His win marked the fourth Polaris Prize win by an Indigenous artist in five years, following Lido Pimienta, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Tanya Tagaq. This coincided with Indigenous artists dominating both literature and visual art awards: the Sobey Art Award has been awarded to three Indigenous artists since 2013, and the Griffin Poetry Prize had three consecutive Indigenous winners from 2016 to 2018. This year, Gwen Benaway became not only the first trans woman but also the first Indigenous trans woman to win a Governor General’s Literary Award. Since I wrote a piece examining the Indigenous renaissance Dutcher identified, even more Indigenous artists have been given the national attention they deserve.
While it would be romantic to say that all of these brilliant Indigenous artists coincidentally emerged in the art scene at the same time — and that Canadians and Canadian arts institutions just so happened to recognize that brilliance at the same time — it wouldn’t exactly be accurate. The reality is that, despite the success of Indigenous artists prior to 2015, there wasn’t a national push to both recognize and, more importantly, fund Indigenous artists until the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) released its final report in December of that year. The TRC’s final report — titled “Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future” — marked not only the birth of “reconciliation” as a political catchphrase, but also a cultural shift in how Indigenous art and artists were perceived and engaged with.
From Monkman to Margaret (Atwood), Bieber to ballet, Keanu to Come from Away, CBC Arts presents an unapologetic celebration of a decade of outsized achievements by Canadian artists.
By my count, Canadians were nominated for 72 Academy Awards in the 2010s, which is nothing to be sorry about. That’s nearly double the 38 we managed in the previous decade (though in terms of wins, it’s even, at 11 each) and representative of some incredible work both in front of the camera (including Christopher Plummer, who became the first Canadian male to win an acting Oscar in 64 years when he won for Beginners) and behind it (10 of those nominations came from the best production design category). But was it enough?
We don't want to seem greedy (that'd go against the Canadian stereotype, right?), but there were a few clear oversights on the Academy’s part when it came to nominating Canuck excellence in the 2010s. Par exemple:
Regina King deservedly won an Oscar for her work in Barry Jenkins’s If Beale Street Could Talk, an adaptation of the 1974 novel by James Baldwin, but somehow she was the film’s only acting nominee. Beale Street’s entire cast is exceptional, not least of all Toronto’s very own Stephan James. As Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt, a man sent to prison for a rape he didn’t commit, James is deeply captivating in a very challenging role. And yet voters overlooked this, oh-so-questionably deciding to nominate the vastly inferior performance Rami Malek gave in Bohemian Rhapsody instead — and hand him the trophy.
Over the course of the 2010s, Seth Rogen has written, directed, produced and/or acted in some of the decade’s legitimate comedic masterpieces, and he does not get the credit he deserves. Though there are many, many examples I’d be happy to vouch for (justice for the criminally underrated Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising and The Night Before, please), the pinnacle of Rogen’s decade is his greatest collaboration with childhood BFF Evan Goldberg: 2013’s This Is the End, which they wrote, directed, produced and acted in (though Goldberg just made a cameo). Featuring half of Hollywood — including their fellow Canadians Jay Baruchel and Michael Cera — the apocalypse-themed film is audacious, fearless and endlessly hilarious. And anyone who thinks its screenplay is less worthy of an Oscar nomination than Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack’s dangerously problematic script for another Canadian-directed film that doesn’t need to be named deserves a big slap from Rihanna.
When she was putting together the decade’s inarguably perfect pop album E • MO • TION, Carly Rae Jepsen decided one of the tracks she’d recorded shouldn’t make the cut because it felt too “cinematic.” That track was the equally inarguably perfect pop song “Cut to the Feeling,” and Jepsen decided to offer it to the soundtrack of animated film Ballerina (or Leap!, as it was titled in the U.S.). Following an orphan named Félicie who dreams of becoming a ballerina (Jepsen herself voices the girl’s mentor, Odette), Ballerina puts “Cut to the Feeling” centre stage in the film’s climax — and it’s basically the best thing about the film. This is exactly what you’d think Oscar voters would be looking for in their best original song category — except “Cut to the Feeling” was deemed ineligible because Jepsen didn’t record it specifically for the film, denying us what would have surely been an epic performance at the Oscars and leading my former employer Indiewire to demand the Academy reconsider its rules.
Canada kicked off the 2010s with three straight nominations for best foreign language film (Incendies, Monsieur Lazhar and War Witch), but it very much deserved one more in 2014 when it submitted Xavier Dolan’s Mommy. Starring Dolan’s muses Anne Dorval and Suzanne Clément as the mother and tutor of a troubled teen with violent tendencies (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), it’s Dolan’s magnum opus: hilarious, heartbreaking and extremely well acted. I fantasize regularly about the Oscars not just retrospectively giving Mommy a best foreign language film nomination, but Dorval and Clément acting nominations as well. Both actors have been exceptional across Dolan’s filmography (in particular, Dorval in I Killed My Mother and Clément in Laurence, Anyways), but Mommy was everybody’s finest hour (or two and a half hours, as it were).
Though most identify her as a New Zealander, Anna Paquin was born in Winnipeg and spent the first four years of her life there, so it’s more than fair that we claim her as our own — especially since it allows us to take pride in one of the greatest cinematic performances of the decade: Paquin’s in Kenneth Lonergan’s 2011 masterpiece Margaret. The film was actually shot in the middle of the previous decade and was supposed to come out in 2005, but a brutal legal battle between Lonergan and the film’s distributor delayed things and ultimately led to a very limited release. Still, it’s rightfully grown to be considered a classic by film critics, with Paquin’s devastating performance as a 17-year-old struggling in the wake of a deadly traffic accident being one of the reasons why.
Peter Knegt is a writer and producer at CBC Arts, writing the award-winning weekly column Queeries and spearheading projects like Canada’s a Drag, Super Queeroes and what you’re reading right now.
Starting the year off on what seemed like a hopeful note (oh, how wrong we were), Samantha Bee debuted her often-satirical late-night talk show, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, in February. After establishing herself as a queen of quick wit and cutting observations during her 12 years as a correspondent on The Daily Show, Bee drew even more cultural clout as the American election came to a close and attracted her ire. The Toronto comedian seemed to fear no one, brought receipts to every argument and created a safe place for like minds who were as angry, confused and scared as she appeared to be. And fortunately, she’s still thriving: in November 2019, Full Frontal was renewed for a fifth season — but it’s up to all of us to ensure it continues well past the term of the next U.S. president.
By 2016, we were truly lacking movies based on comic book characters. Just kidding — I’m not delusional. But it was still a joy when Vancouver’s Ryan Reynolds tossed on some Spandex to play Deadpool, the Marvel superhero defined by his DGAF attitude, comedic timing and lust for revenge in the wake of an experiment gone wrong. The film went on to become a box office triumph and, notably, the first comic book movie ever to score a nomination for best picture at the Golden Globes. But what both Deadpool and its sequel are probably most regarded for is the thing that differentiated them from Marvel and DC’s usual onslaught of cinematic offerings: they both ended up earning R-ratings for language and violence — something The Avengers would never dare.
For anyone who doubted whether the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge (or Uncle Peter, as he deserves to be called) would find his way into the Disney canon: how dare you/I won’t forget it. In March of 2016, the veteran news anchor morphed into the iconic Peter Moosebridge, Zootopia’s beloved newscaster, at the behest of Chris Williams, the Waterloo, Ont., native who worked on the film alongside co-director Byron Howard and convinced him that Mansbridge was (is) “the Canadian Walter Cronkite.” In related news, I would trust Peter Moosebridge with my life.
It was a sad day when founders (and former romantic and artistic partners) William Ellis and Jordan Tannahill opted to close Videofag, the beloved performance space in Kensington Market that had thrived since opening four years prior. Having hosted several hundred performances and built an incredible artistic community, the duo used their announcement to remind fans and the media that their intention was never to be a permanent institution but a “transient” space that reflected their romantic relationship (which had since come to an end). However, their legacy in the city remains: in 2017, the two released The Videofag Book, which chronicles the four years and the genius bred from them with contributions by members of Toronto’s arts community who rightfully valued the fruits of Ellis and Tannahill’s labour. Absolutely check it out.
It’s humbling to think that on a beautiful, balmy August night, anyone even slightly acquainted with the Tragically Hip — arguably one of the most important bands in Canadian music, whose ability to blend poetry, politics and incredible hooks have left them untouchable — wept openly as lead singer Gord Downie performed for the last time following a terminal cancer diagnosis. The group had spent most of the summer on their Man Machine Poem tour, which kicked off in Victoria in July and ended in their hometown of Kingston, Ont., where the sold-out crowd was joined by more than 11 million fans who tuned in to join them. The show was powerful, touching, heartbreaking and beautiful, as Downie’s gifts as a showman and speaker were put on display, and united everyone paying witness. Frankly, few of us will ever see anything like it again.
Everything I know about La La Land, I learned in a crash course of a few hours: 1) it did not win best picture at the Oscars (even though Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announced it had) and 2) Canada’s boyfriend, Ryan Gosling, lost best actor to Casey Affleck (which Brie Larson reacted appropriately to, IMHO). Of course, the Damien Chazelle romantic musical was destined to be a hit after opening to almost unanimous praise at the Venice Film Festival (spoiler: it did go on to earn over $400 million US worldwide). But between you and I, I’ve never seen it, because I refuse to believe Ryan Gosling saved jazz.
Within the last decade, the entertainment industry has made wonderful yet long overdue strides in bringing attention to and representing Asian voices (thank you #OscarsSoWhite and Crazy Rich Asians). And among those strides, Canada created its own spot for Asian representation in ways that the country had never witnessed before, allowing us to claim our place on the world stage as an example of what representation can look like and do. With highlights like the premiere of the sitcom Kim’s Convenience, Manny Jacinto’s stereotype-breaking role on The Good Place, Sandra Oh becoming the first Asian person to host the Golden Globes, and the announcement of Simu Liu as Marvel’s first Asian superhero, the last decade was full of watershed moments. And these moments contributed to a larger fight for a more inclusive TV and film industry by breaking boundaries and showcasing nuanced Asian identities playing against stereotypes. To channel a bit of Umma and Appa from Kim’s Convenience, all of this was a “very big deal!”
Since premiering in the fall of 2016, Kim’s Convenience has proven that writing Asian characters can be funny without relying on clichés. Take, for example, Liu’s character Jung — the furthest thing from a stereotypically academically-inclined and parent-pleasing Asian son. Instead, he’s the cool, confident, hot one, and kind of a rebel — and it is everything to see an Asian actor cast this way on a comedy show, unabashedly making mistakes and fumbling through life. It’s one of the finest things Kim’s Convenience has given us. (That, and the many GIFs circulating on Twitter of Jung either being adorable or taking his shirt off. You’re welcome, world. Love, Canada.) In the last decade, Jung has been one of the best examples of how to have Asian-Canadian representation on TV without resorting to stereotypes for entertainment.
In the weeks before his death, Leonard Cohen gave us You Want It Darker, his 14th studio album. And it reflected not only his own headspace, but the dark, sad feelings that became synonymous with a year that ended with the election of U.S. President Trump and all that he stood for. You Want It Darker was a game-changing exercise in listening as Cohen reconciles who he’s become with who he once was, and reflects on the peace that’s necessary in navigating even the final chapter of one’s life — a brave, insightful gift to us all.
Sooner or later, a Lawren Harris painting had to sell for $9.5 million. It was inevitable. This is the year it happened. I like the Group of Seven as much as the next guy, and this is an affirmation of Canadian history blah blah blah and lakes and mountains blah blah good for Lawren Harris! Lest I sound less than impressed, I’m not. Before the Group of Seven (and others of their ilk) started trying to make visual sense of our forests and waters, too many Canadian artists’ vision of our landscape was borrowed from European painting tradition and idealized our surroundings while making colonialism look romantic. So Harris et al. (while they themselves borrowed from Scandinavian landscapes) gave us a truly modern language for the Canadian wild that has become a signature of our own art history. Plus $9.5 million is a lot of money — the most a Canadian painting has ever commanded — and this is a really good painting. I’m pretty sure I wrote an essay about it in university.
Artist and educator Jason Baerg discusses the impact abstract artist Alex Janvier has had on the art world in the past 10 years.
Despite the feelings of sorrow many felt as then-U.S. President Barack Obama gave his farewell address, one bright silver lining emerged (at least for Canadians tuning in): Michelle Obama wore a dress by Vancouver-raised Jason Wu, who had also designed the first lady’s dresses for the inaugural balls in 2009 and 2013. The piece not only brought the pair’s relationship full circle but showcased Wu’s range as a designer. As for the colour, the dress’s near-black/navy shade reflected the occasion’s sombre tone. (Evidently, Jason Wu is your go-to for moments of celebration and mourning.)
Psyched as many of us may have been to ring in Canada’s 150th, we also know that the land that makes up Canada is much older than that and belongs to Indigenous communities that our government has repeatedly tried to annihilate. That’s why Cree artist Kent Monkman’s Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience art exhibit was so crucial. Through vivid storytelling at the hands of his gender-fluid, time-travelling alter ego Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, Monkman’s work used historical events to celebrate the resilience of Indigenous people despite the onslaught of colonialism. And it reminded anybody who saw it of the cruelty inflicted by the Canadian government over the course of the last 150 years. The exhibit opened at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto in January and then toured across Canada. In fact, if you live in Winnipeg, you can catch it at the Winnipeg Art Gallery until Feb. 22, 2020.
Only two years after directing Laura Dern and Reese Witherspoon in Wild, Jean-Marc Vallée became an even bigger mainstream sensation after the premiere — and success — of Big Little Lies, the HBO adaptation of the 2014 novel by Liane Moriarty. Revolving around the women of Monterey, Calif.'s upper crust, the show uncovers the backstories and hidden truths of each character, ending its first season in a culmination of events that creates an impenetrable bond (not that I’m about to spoil it). The series took home the Golden Globe for best television limited series and led to individual wins for stars Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern and Alexander Skarsgård, as well as a plethora of Emmys. Afterward, Vallée went on to direct Amy Adams in the 2018 miniseries Sharp Objects, based on the book by Gillian Flynn, which somehow did not earn Amy Adams a Golden Globe or Emmy (a disgrace I’d be happy to write at least 6,000 words about).
The fact that we’re not still celebrating the majesty of “Despacito” is an egregious oversight — one I hope we can right at the close of this blurb. So here goes: heralded as the No. 1 song of the summer, the collaboration between Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber morphed from an earworm into a straight-up sensation, warming the hearts of even the most jaded and lapsed Belieber (even if Justin did forget the Spanish lyrics to his own song while attempting to sing it live).
The Venice Biennale is important (as I argued in a recent episode of Art 101). And I have a ton of affection for the Canada Pavilion there, which reminds me a lot of what it’s like to find a really nice bathroom in any Canadian park. In 2017, while the building was being refurbished for the masses, Geoffrey Farmer was Canada’s representative at the Biennale. And his exhibit took full advantage of the interstitial state of the pavilion — there was no roof, few walls and a definite feeling that the structure was about to take a new shape. Farmer’s work A way out of the mirror was an ode to fountains and their monumentalizing and memorializing qualities. It ruminated on histories, ruins and water itself, and it was a moving tribute to the site.
When Everything, Everything was released on May 19, 2017, it made Canadian director Stella Meghie the only Black woman to have a wide release studio-backed feature film for the year. A lesser-known but perhaps even more important fact is that on this date, Meghie also became the first Black Canadian female filmmaker to ever have a wide release studio feature film. It’s a dubious honour on both accounts and points to the wide array of work that needs to be done not only in Hollywood but also here at home. The teen romance starring Amandla Stenberg and Nick Robinson was only Meghie’s second feature film, but it made Hollywood — and the rest of the world — sit up and pay attention to this visionary from the north as she broke barriers for Black Canadian female filmmakers.
Born in Toronto to Jamaican parents, Meghie always had a love for writing, but after graduating from Waterloo University, she couldn’t find a direct way into the industry and ended up working as a fashion publicist in New York. Ten years ago she made the decision that so many of us dream about: she quit her day job and decided to pursue her passion. When I spoke to Meghie about that decision on The Filmmakers in 2018, she wisely noted, “It’s better to be scared than unhappy.”
As a current resident of Cambridge, Ont., it’s important for me to inform all of you that parts of The Handmaid’s Tale were filmed a stone’s throw from my apartment, and for a small fee I would be delighted to show you around or sneak us on set. (Editor’s note: Anne’s suggestion is unethical and also impossible — please do not pay her.) But I digress. Furthering the lasting mark of Offred’s dystopian nightmare, the TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel cleaned up at the 2017 Emmys, earning trophies for outstanding drama series, supporting actress (drama), lead actress (drama) and writing (drama). I have yet to be asked to guest star.
Anyone with even the most miniscule knowledge of Canadian pop respects and worships at the altar of Shania Twain, one of the biggest country-turned-pop (and yet still country) stars, well, ever. So imagine the delight of the nation when Now, Twain’s first studio album in 15 years, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart. Even better (and more relevant to 2019), two years after the record’s release, Shania announced plans for a 23-date Las Vegas residency, where she’ll be playing well into 2020. So, if you’re a Ms. Twain fan: life’s about to get good. (I’ve been waiting my whole life/the last two years to say that.)
Ten years ago, none of these places existed and neither did Instagram — an app that would go on to invent an extremely 2010s activity: liking pics of the world’s coolest-looking cool stuff. Today, Canadian libraries and museums — even a pedestrian bridge — are earning international attention. Maybe they’re just that spectacular. But beyond the architectural acclaim, the sheer wanderlust-stoking beauty of these 10 places has made them major destinations.
It looks like something out of an Avengers flick: a steel double helix-like structure — painted firetruck red. Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava (who does not, to my knowledge, work for Stark Industries), both Azure and Designboom praised this downtown pedestrian/cyclist bridge as one of the world’s top architectural moments of 2012. As for local opinion, at least one thing is clear: Calgarians can’t stop Instagramming the thing. But photogenic as it is, the bridge has had some issues. Its glass walls, for instance, are no match against Calgary vandals (or Calgary weather), and according to the local CBC News outlet, the city’s spent around $300,000 repairing the panes. (What they’ve blown replacing the light fixtures is a whole other matter.)
Prior to earning 14 Tony nominations, Hadestown grew into itself at Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre, where the retelling of the Greek myth (in which Orpheus attempts to regain the favour of his love, Eurydice) was staged for three weeks in November 2017. According to Citadel’s artistic director Daryl Cloran, the set and overall look of the play evolved thanks to its run at the theatre, and Hadestown’s success has been a real boost for the city. It’s a reminder that Edmonton has a thriving theatre community — and is at no loss for artistic talent or creativity. (Let’s all go there.)
Musician Lucas Silveira expresses how seeing Jim Carrey in the 2017 documentary Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond took his admiration for the actor to a whole new level.
Baroness von Sketch Show’s Aurora Browne talks about how Tanya Talaga’s investigative book Seven Fallen Feathers opened her eyes to Thunder Bay’s past and present treatment of Indigenous communities.
Even if the story of a woman falling in love with a water monster/fish-man wasn’t entirely up your alley (full disclosure: I’d be more interested in it if he wore jeans), The Shape of Water became a point of Canadian pride after the crew cleaned up at the Academy Awards. Canadian producer J. Miles Dale shared his best picture win with director and writer (and honorary Torontonian) Guillermo del Toro, and he called it a “watershed moment” for the Canadian film industry. Canadians Paul Austerberry, Jeffrey Melvin and Shane Vieau also nabbed the Oscar for best production design thanks to their work making Ontario stand in for 1960s-era Baltimore. Whether the water monster/fish-man cares about any of this remains a mystery.
Following 15 years of rants, jokes and biting political commentary, the Rick Mercer Report came to a close on April 10 and ended a distinctive era of Canadian television. The St. John’s native had, of course, come to prominence thanks to his work on This Hour Has 22 Minutes and subsequent Rick’s Rants, the segment in which he’d walk through graffitied alleys and, well, rant about whatever nonsense our prime minister — and any other relevant soul — was up to. Not surprisingly, the comic/writer’s last show earned big ratings, and in the two-ish years since signing off, he’s released a book, Rick Mercer Final Report, and still weighs in on Canadian politics. (Some of us miss the graffiti.)
As Buddy Cole, the iconic (and infamous) character from The Kids in the Hall, Scott Thompson has earned everything from fans’ praise to critics’ vitriol. And Thompson’s seemingly fine with all of it. Having used the gay lounge lizard-slash-socialite persona as a means of speaking his own truth or offering pure satirical commentary, Thompson has been a mainstay of Canadian comedy, and his return to the stage over the course of 2018 was highly celebrated. Was he still controversial? Well, duh, because then he wouldn’t be Buddy. And Buddy, as we know, says what he likes.
A man is sitting hunched in the corner of a bare concrete room, head in his hands, as electrical cables, literal live wires held together by duct tape, unspool themselves around him. A flash goes off, and disembodied voices start to ring out —
“What do we say? What do we tell him?”
“We don’t say anything, we don’t communicate.”
“Is he at fault?”
“We don’t know.
Maybe you don’t really know the man’s story either. Maybe you bought your ticket to the show with the funny-sounding German title on the strength of the cabaret dancers on the poster, expecting a droll night out in Weimar Berlin. But two minutes in, you know the man is in trouble. And you hope to hell that he’ll find his way out of it — for both your sakes.
The 2010s were a huge decade for Broadway. The phenomenal success of productions like Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen launched the continent’s premier stage destination into a bold new era. Canadians played a major role in this critical turning point in Broadway history — both onstage and off. Here are 10 Canadians who couldn’t help but kill it on the Great White Way this decade.
Chilina Kennedy’s Broadway star reached the stratosphere this decade. In 2012, the New Brunswick–born performer made her debut on the Great White Way in fellow Canadian and former Stratford Festival artistic director Des McAnuff’s revival of Jesus Christ Superstar, where she starred as Mary Magdalene. She later took over the lead role in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical from Tony winner Jessie Mueller, and has since played King in more than 1,000 performances between the Broadway and Toronto productions of the show and its U.S. national tour.
Kent Monkman’s The Scoop borrows from the scale and pomp of European (and Canadian) history paintings to viscerally depict the kidnapping of Indigenous children from their parents in the 1960s. In customary Monkman fashion, the figures in this canvas spread through every quadrant — an echo of the desperation of all of the family members trying to keep their children close. The waxy ashen faces of nuns, RCMP officers and priests are in ghastly contrast to the pained expressions of the women and children. A man lies unconscious, or dead, in the most strangely peaceful detail of the scene, as we hope the two teens running away in the distance make it to some kind of safety. The painting is an indictment — and in 2018, a reminder of the truth that’s supposed to precede any reconciliation.
Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre — which bills itself as “the largest and longest-running queer theatre in the world” — rang in its 40th season in September 2018. CBC Arts’s own Peter Knegt honoured the milestone by lending space to 40 folks whose ties with Buddies run deep, while the theatre kicked off its 40th year with a remount of Gertrude and Alice in which Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas are reimagined through the efforts of director Karin Randoja and performers/writers Evalyn Parry and Anna Chatterton. Now in its 41st year, Buddies is gearing up for a collaboration with Theatre Rusticle for their version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, while the community continues to evolve and grow thanks to the theatre’s support of (and consistent call for) new talent.
To try and predict the nominees and winner of the Polaris Prize is tricky; the award is an ever-changing shape-shifter that takes delight in honouring talent the masses have largely undervalued. Enter Jeremy Dutcher, whose win for Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa beat out contemporaries like Alvvays and U.S. Girls. Dutcher’s victory was historic for a few reasons: a member of the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick, he was the first East Coast artist ever to take home the Polaris and he recorded the album using 100-year-old wax cylinder recordings of songs in traditional Wolastoq, which is a language spoken by fewer than 100 people.
Operatic soprano Barbara Hannigan achieved a professional — and life — milestone when she was awarded the 2018 Rolf Schock Prize for Musical Arts at a ceremony in Stockholm in October. It was only the latest of countless accolades for the Grammy-winning Waverley, N.S.-born singer, who has become a singular force in classical music, the rare soprano to also take on the male-dominated world of conducting (and yes, she sometimes does both at the same time). The Rolf Schock jury also praised Hannigan’s work running a mentoring foundation, Equilibrium Young Artists, which focuses on young and newly professional musicians across the world (a.k.a. her “squad of superstars”).
Upon seeing Barry Jenkins’s emotional adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1974 novel If Beale Street Could Talk, a universal truth was known: Stephan James was a gift to cinema as we knew it. It quickly became the job of anyone who had just discovered him to find out everything we could about him. A few facts stood out: the then 24-year-old was from Toronto, Ont., had already appeared in Selma, Race and Homecoming (not to mention Degrassi: The Next Generation, a rite of passage for every Toronto actor), and is the younger brother of Shamier Anderson, whose resume is similarly stacked. In short, James’s star has been rising fast this decade, and it only seems poised to soar further in the 2020s.
In 2017, I met Sandra Oh when I interviewed her at TIFF, and we hugged after I told her that Grey’s Anatomy got me through college. (In my mind, we are best friends.) But then, in January 2019, she did something even better: she teamed up with Andy Samberg to host the Golden Globes and succeeded at making them the absolute best. The thing is, the Globes were Oh’s to own entirely. On top of being the first person of Asian descent to host the awards, she was also the first person of Asian descent to win multiple Globes. Also? For her titular role in Killing Eve, Oh became the first Asian woman in 39 years to win the prize for best actress in a TV drama.
There was a big reason to celebrate Domee Shi’s Oscar win on Feb. 24, and not only because her animated short about an aging Chinese-Canadian woman and a little dumpling that comes to life was the perfect way to spend eight minutes. In addition to being set in Toronto, the writer-director herself is Canadian and delivered an acceptance speech that burgeoning artists need to hear. “To all the nerdy girls out there who hide behind their sketchbooks: don’t be afraid to tell your stories to the world,” she said. “You’re going to freak people out, but you’ll probably connect with them too, and that’s an amazing feeling to have.” I’m ready for a Domee Shi–written and directed full-length feature any time.
Yes, there was controversy surrounding Disney’s live-action Aladdin (see: whether or not Will Smith’s Genie should have been blue) — but regardless of anyone’s feelings about Disney’s approach to remaking animated classics, the casting of Toronto-dwelling Mena Massoud as Aladdin was something to celebrate. The Egyptian-Canadian actor worked with director Guy Ritchie to bring new life to an existing classic, and their efforts paid off: the film went on to surpass $1 billion US at the box office worldwide. Massoud has recently claimed that since portraying Aladdin, he hasn’t been on a single audition, so may casting directors sit up and take notice for 2020. Because honestly, it’s not too often that a brand-new actor ends up fronting a movie that earns a goddamn billion. His talent deserves a platform.
I’ll never forget the night I first saw Brooke Lynn Hytes. At the time, I had been performing drag myself for just over a month, and it was making me feel on top of the world. It was a whole new reality to me — an outlet for an entire bank of repressed queerness. And it led me down a hole of self-discovery and body confidence. As it turns out, it also led me to a friend’s birthday party at the drag bar Crews and Tangos in Toronto’s gay village. I grabbed a drink and within no time was singled out by the tall, gorgeous, smokey-eyed acrobat who had just performed four songs in a row.
“You look like Cher,” she said to me into the microphone from the very front of the stage, the height of which added an easy three to four feet onto an already impressive figure. “I’m going to call you Cher from now on.” This stunning drag queen — who towered over me, teetering over the edge of that platform — was talking to me. And I loved every minute of it...even if I had no idea who the fuck she was.
Over the next six years, that would very much change. I would get to know this person, work with them — sometimes on that very stage. Brooke Lynn Hytes would go on that next year to win Miss Continental, one of the most prestigious pageant titles in the world of drag. And of course, this past year she was the very first Canadian contestant to compete on the ever popular RuPaul’s Drag Race. Cheered on by the entire country, she would even be tweeted about by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
We featured Zadie Xa this past year at CBC Arts, and she sums up one of my favourite things about being part of this team: we get to talk about artists who celebrate their cultural heritage and their Canadian identity, and then watch as they take it all over the world. Xa’s Child of Magohalmi and the Echoes of Creation was performed at London’s Art Night before travelling, in various iterations, to Glasgow and Baku, Azerbaijan. In the work, Xa and her husband and collaborator Benito Mayor Vellayo used masks, costumes and performance to conjure elements of Korean folklore and the orcas that are such an integral part of the Vancouver imaginary. My hope for 2020 is that artists continue to pay homage, show pride and subvert borders to assert their identity — and their history.
All of us are destined to be Taylor Russell superfans, and truly, I am ready. Prior to her Gotham Award–winning (and Spirit Award–nominated) performance in the familial drama Waves (which premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in August and was released theatrically in November), the Vancouver-born 25-year-old starred in the psychological horror film Escape Room. She’ll return to star as Judy Robinson in the second season of the Netflix remake of Lost in Space. Expect to see a lot more of her in the 2020s.
To say there was hype for Margaret Atwood’s followup to The Handmaid’s Tale is an understatement, particularly since The Testaments — set 15 years after its predecessor takes place and published 34 years later — returns readers to Gilead, the terrifying place select U.S. politicians seem to be steamrolling us toward. Still, few could have anticipated how quickly Atwood’s latest instalment would break sales records, selling more print copies in its first week than any other Canadian book has since BookNet Canada began tracking sales in 2005. Released in September, it went on to win the 2019 Man Booker Prize alongside Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other and was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, because of course.
After conquering YouTube and the publishing world, Toronto’s Lilly Singh turned her sights to late-night TV this past September and made her debut with A Little Late with Lilly Singh, NBC’s replacement for Last Call with Carson Daly. This move was also exciting for a couple other reasons: on top of being the first bisexual late-night host, Singh’s also the first woman of colour to host a late-night show on broadcast TV (a fact she made sure to joke about in her first episode). Since her television debut, she’s been praised for her interview style and evolving approach to monologues, and now the only barrier left is for viewers like me to learn how to stay up until 1:35 a.m.
Now this is how you close out a decade. Women dominated at this year’s Governor General’s Literary Awards, with winners including: Joan Thomas for fiction (Five Wives); Gwen Benaway for poetry, the first trans woman to take the prize (Holy Wild); Erin Bow for young people’s literature (Stand on the Sky); and CBC Arts’s very own Amanda Parris for drama (Other Side of the Game), which should incite serious chants of “HELL, YES!” from all of us. Representation matters — and if there’s anything we can do even more in the following decade, it’s ensuring inclusion, equality and the end of old practices that have been holding all of us back.
Once upon a time, Céline Dion had one dream: to become an international star. Fast forward almost 40 years and the Charlemagne, Que., native is on her way to achieving that goal.
I’m kidding, of course. By tailoring her persona to different cultures — America, Quebec, France, Japan — she IS the epitome of an “international star.” But despite her global success, Dion was never cool. Since the ’90s, she has been synonymous with syrupy power ballads, questionable fashion choices and a passion for golfing. Fan theories about the control that her late husband and manager René Angélil had over her career abound. During her rise, her voice was as powerful as her bad taste (or that of her entourage), and she was dismissed as the most bland person on the stage of 1998s VH1 Divas Live concert. But as we bid farewell to the 2010s, that’s all changed: Céline Dion is the new queen of cool.
In the last weeks of 2019, the “My Heart Will Go On” singer is enjoying the peak of a mid-life renaissance fueled by millennials’ nostalgia for less complicated times, her Vogue–approved status as a fashion icon and social media’s appetite for self-deprecating yet wholesome celebrities. On Nov. 15, her new English album, Courage, even debuted at No.1 on the US Billboard 200 chart, a first in 17 years (and an achievement a decade in the making).
How did Dion accomplish this tour de force? Below, 10 moments that have transformed the zeitgeist’s relationship to Canada’s most famous musical export.
Just hold on, three of them are going home: In this episode of Stan Wars, host Amanda Parris gives four members of Team Drizzy the chance to compete for the title of Drake’s ultimate stan.
Produced by: Peter Knegt and Mercedes Grundy | Editing: Eleanor Knowles, Reiko Milley, Peter Knegt and Samantha Edwards | Design: Mercedes Grundy and Jeff Hume | Website: Jeff Hume | Video: Lucius Dechausay, Mercedes Grundy, March Mercanti, Romeo Candido, Jessica Hayes and Kiah Welsh | Graphics: Camille Charbonneau | Research: Peter Knegt and KC Hoard