Canada is a country known for its generous immigration policies, its excellent schools, and its friendly culture. However, the country is not known for its cinema, which is unfortunate, but much of our talent is exported to the states. Much of the starting line up of Saturday Night Live in 1975 were born and bred in Toronto, and to this day the cast is populated by Canadians. Judd Apatow recruited Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel to head up many of the comedies he produces. We’re naturally funny people, but rarely are we recognized for it.
One of the major problems with Canadian movies is the ratings board, which often butchers director’s cuts of films and threatens imprisonment if an unauthorized cut is shown. There are, however, a few great Canadian films that transcend borders. Some offer a uniquely Canadian point of view, others are just great films overall. The following list contains the eight best Canadian movies in modern cinema:
1. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
Apparently, Richard Dreyfuss was mortified at his portrayal of the lead character in this classic – so much so that he frantically accepted his role in Jaws for fear he’d killed his career. It’s hard to understand why, as his performance is one of the best of his career.
He’s the neurotic Duddy Kravitz, growing up in Montreal’s Mile End borrough and eager to climb the economic ladder. It’s a difficult journey, one that results in him resorting the theft and using those around him. The director, Ted Kotcheff, would go on to make First Blood and executive produce Law and Order. Just this year, he was honoured by the Fantasia film Festival.
2. Away From Her
Sarah Polley is one Canada’s greatest actresses, starring in everything from Dawn of the Dead to Go. But she made her mark as a filmmaker with her debut about the tragedy of Alzheimer’s. Gordon Pinsent plays a man struggilng to cope with his wife’s descent into the illness, and the fear of losing what memories she has. Julie Christie plays the afflicted in a heartbreaking role. This is one of the best Canadian movies, having been nominated for two Oscars. It’s a hard watch, but truly a gorgeous film.
3. Dead Ringers
David Cronenberg has made some of the best horror films in recent years, but his dramatic masterpiece Dead Ringers is one of the most eerie films of his ouvre. Jeremy Irons plays a dual role as twin gynecologists who engage in a mutual affair with a patient (Genevieve Bujold). The creepy factor is only multiplied by the frightening surgery equipment the brothers designed. Never has Cronenberg made audiences squirm more, and it is one of the best Canadian movies in the horror genre.
And we return to Cronenberg with this terrifying film about James Woods having BDSM sex with Blondie, torture porn, guns made out of flesh and VHS cassettes that enter through the stomach. It’s an exceptionally bizzare film about the dangers of cable. To go into detail would be as obscene as the film itself, but it’s a fascinating, landmark for Canadian cinema.
Vincenzo Natali’s mystery opens with one of the goriest deaths in Canadian cinema – a man is literally sliced into tiny cubes and begins to fall apart. From there, it just gets weirder as several strangers find themselves stuck in cube-shaped rooms from which they must escape. The whys and hows are never explained until the weaker sequels. It’s more about what we would stoop to in a fight for survival. The answers are scarier than you’d imagine.
6. Black Christmas
The story goes that Steve Martin met Olivia Hussey and told her she was in one of his favourite films. She automatically assumed that an intellectual like Martin was referring to a Shakespeare adaptation, but he told her it was Black Christmas. Bob Clark’s masterpiece is considered the first slasher flick, as a group of sorrority sisters get picked off one by one by an escaped mental patient who makes menacing phone calls.
One of the most thrilling scenes involves a telephone operator trying to trace the call by running through cabinet-sized circuit breakers to find the corresponding number. Of course, the calls are coming from inside the house.
7. Ginger Snaps
After being attacked by a werewolf, an exceptionally dark-minded teenager begins her transformation, but how much of it is her curse and how much of it is just puberty is a question better left to the imagination. One of the most poignant high school stories, Ginger Snaps manages to be scary, funny and downright disturbing all at once. It spawned two sequels, shot back to back, but nothing tops the original.
8. Strange Brew
Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas took their Canadian yokels to the big screen with Strange Brew – one of the few Canadian satires that manages to be funny, intelligent and downright goofy. Moranis has become a bit of a recluse in recent years, but he and Thomas are firing on all cyllinders here.