Great Canadian films you need to see and the best ways to experience them
Who and what to watch these not-to-be missed homegrown flicks with.
Today is National Canadian Film Day, which means you probably didn't even know about it. So often, Canadian culture and cinema can become awash in the ocean of American movie mass production. But beyond reflecting our nation and honing our talent, Canada makes some damn good movies and you shouldn't consider yourself a true patriot unless you have binged some classic (and current) Canadian cinema. And if you need more incentive, here's how to plan your evenings around some great Canadian movies, so you can have your own Canadian Film Week.
Goon (2012) & Goon: Last Of The Enforcers (2017)
While Slapshot will always have a beloved place in our hearts, the Goon series has taken a modern shot at the ins and outs of hockey (and our nation's obsession) at the oft-ridiculous minor league level. Both written (and the sequel directed) by Jay Baruchel and adapted from a true story, the films follow the unlikely journey of a bouncer (played by Sean William Scott) as he stumbles into the role of "enforcer" for a hockey team and his life is never the same. Keep an eye out for past and present NHL player cameos and Canadian locations like Portage la Prairie, Winnipeg, Hamilton and Barrie.
Best way to watch: These films are a perfect place holder in between Stanley Cup Playoff games, or a pick-me-up when your team is eliminated. Pair them with classic game night dishes like wings, ribs and nachos while washing them all down with your cheap Canadian beer of choice.
Speaking of Winnipeg, you might want to bundle up for this. Written and directed by Terrance Odette, the film stars veteran Canadian actors Gary Farmer and Stephen Quimette as two homeless men brave a Winnipeg winter (and their begrudging friendship) and decide to part with their sole possession — an electric space heater — for a cash refund. A bare-bones drama with some dark comedy thrown in, Heater is an honest look at human struggle and companionship, on an appropriately harsh backdrop.
Best way to watch: This film is perfect for those inexplicable spring days when there is snow on the ground — it's therapeutic to watch someone more cold than you. Brave your 24-hour winter with classic warm ups like chili, hot chocolate and a person or pet to snuggle with.
Black Christmas (1974)
If any of your friends have dismissed Canadian cinema as being too tame and overly-polite, sit them down and watch one of the earliest, best and most influential slasher movies of all time. The picture follows a sorority house during an unsettling Christmas season as they are stalked, tormented and murdered by a creepy killer. The film has pre-fame roles for a young Margot Kidder and Andrea Martin, paving the way for more female-centred movies of this genre, in a way that pulls no punches and does away with the typical damsel-in-distress tropes, proving Canada can do low-budget horror better than almost anyone.
Best way to watch: Have an early Christmas party, reusing those decorations, sweaters, music and holiday snacks (candy canes, eggnog and bake some Christmas cookies). But when you put this movie on, watch it completely in the dark.
In the horror vein, the zombie genre can often be overplayed, but this Québécois flick manages to inject the right mix of social commentary, humour and genuine scares to keep the concept fresh and engaging. Cinematically using rural Quebec to its full effect (especially if you think of Quebec as only Montreal), the plot follows the waning survivors of a zombie outbreak to shed light on concepts of radical politics and religion in a way that will impact you beyond the fright, which is why this film is already so critically acclaimed.
Best way to watch: Sometimes, good horror films can be paired like wine, which is why you should open your evening by watching the Indigenous zombie short REZilience. Centring on an Indigenous community, forgotten by the Canadian government, as it deals with an undead threat, the themes are clear and effectively told through this common lens. Pairing these two films together allows for both pride in our nation's diverse (and entertaining) storytelling as well as an important reminder that our country has much work left to do.
The Elements Trilogy (Fire, 1996, Earth, 1998, Water, 2005)
While some films can be paired, these three are meant to be. While not a continuation of the same story, controversial Indian filmmaker Deepa Mehta's lens on a variety of issues and stories are essentially one and the same. The first film, Fire, centres on a lesbian relationship in contemporary India, one of the first Bollywood films to do so while being met with cultural backlash. The second, Earth, examines India's partition in 1947 through the eyes of a young girl and the third, Water, depicts the ashram lives of widows in the 1930s, becoming Canada's first non-French-language film to be nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Academy Awards. The trilogy is a brilliant clash of Indian and Canadian filmmaking, pushing the cultural envelope and giving an unfiltered lens to issues that should be considered by us all.
Best way to watch: These films require an all-day binge, allowing the perfect opportunity to stay on theme and dabble in some Indian cuisine. Since the series deals with both contemporary and traditional India, modern upgrades to classic dishes like Vikram Vij's one pot Indian dinner or curry in a hurry are quick and simple ways to keep your stomach satisfied through a whole day on the couch.
The Apprenticeship Of Duddy Kravitz (1974)
This film is required viewing not only for quality but for historical significance; it was the highest-grossing Canadian film at the time and broke new ground and exposure for the Canadian film industry (despite having very few Canadians in on-screen roles, naturally). Based on the same-named novel by Mordecai Richler, Richard Dreyfuss stars as the titular character, a Montreal native, maligned by his family, determined to make something of himself. The comedic drama goes deep in questioning what is important in life, commerce versus compassion and how family dynamics can force your destiny.
Best way to watch: This film is definitely best digested alongside your intellectual film buff friends, followed by a hearty, philosophical discussion on the themes that were touched upon. Luckily, Montreal-ish food is perfect for dishing and dining. Put out some deli staples like coffee, bagels, cream cheese, lox, smoked-meat and poutine.
The Grand Seduction (2013)
As much as we can take our films to the fringe, Canadian cinema is always capable of making mainstream movies that still pack a quirky charm. The Grand Seduction is based on a 2003 French Canadian film, which was also remade in France and Italy. It stars Taylor Kitsch as a shady doctor reluctantly courted to live in the fictitious town of Tickle Head, Newfoundland, whose townspeople need a resident medical professional in order to open a new factory and hopefully turn their lives around. While the town is fictitious, the locations around Newfoundland and Labrador are beautifully real and the classic comedic premise is accented by the 22 Minutes crew in Mark Critch, Mary Walsh and Cathy Jones.
Best way to watch: Whether you have friends who love the East Coast, miss the East Coast or have never been there before, invite them over for this flick as you show them what East Coast cuisine is all about. Hearty dishes like cheesy potato casserole, seafood chowder and lobster rolls are perfectly followed by some maple syrup cookies and (of course) a donair.
Beyond The Black Rainbow (2010)
But if you would like to return to the fringe, this sci-fi horror flick can definitely do the trick. This retro-futuristic kitsch piece combines '80s-inspired scores with creepy techno visuals that will make Black Mirror look tame. On a quest to combine the scientific and spiritual worlds, a transcendent doctor imprisons a woman with telekinetic powers and subjects her to cruel and unusual treatments. If that doesn't sound strange enough, it only gets weirder.
Best way to watch: This movie screams '80s rave dance party. Get your most outlandish friends, those creepy and crazy songs you used to listen to, a bunch of chic candy. some purple strobe lights and prepare to boldly dance into the unknown.
The F Word (2013)
This romantic comedy stars Daniel Radcliffe along with his best friend (Adam Driver) as he navigates the waters of modern romance, distance and commitment. While it's a critically acclaimed picture in it's own right (especially as a contemporary take on an often mediocre genre), it is most interestingly explicitly filmed in and around Toronto and it's refreshing to see the city not be dressed as Chicago or New York for a change.
Best way to watch: This is a quintessential date night movie, whether you're with someone new or want to rev up some romance in an existing relationship. And if you really want to take it to the next level, watch it in the morning and spend the rest of the day hitting those GTA locations in the film, like Chinatown, Leslieville and the Scarborough Bluffs.