Canada Day is approaching and I thought that this would be a great time to come up with my 10 favourite Canadian films of all time. We are a young country and have already contributed so much to the entertainment world. And even though Grammarly is telling me to lose the ‘u’s as American spelling is more consistent–No way! I’m a proud Canadian and my spelling will alway convey that.
1.The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz–1973
Here begins my crush on Richard Dreyfuss. Fresh off his role in American Graffiti, He lands the title role in this film and does he ever crush it. Those of us who have been watching him for years have seen various versions of this character but make sure to see him here in this Canadian classic by Mordecai Richler ( both book and film) set in post-war Montreal. Duddy is determined to make it even if he has to make morally bankrupt decisions. But you can’t help rooting for him–his chutzpah alone is dazzling.
2. Lies my Father Told Me–1975
This film came out in 1975 and starred Jeff Lynas who was actually the little brother of one of my classmates in high school. The film takes place in Quebec and is about a Jewish family and the relationship between a young boy and his grandfather in the 1920’s. I was 15 when it came out and what a tear jerker. Lynas and Yossi Yadin as the grandfather had great chemistry. I can still remember crying during the film’s pivotal scene. I have a younger brother who was the same age as Lynas way during the film and he even looked like him which got to me even more. An evocative period piece about Jewish life in Montreal and the powerful ties of family. It won best foreign film at the Golden Globes that year as well as best breakout male star for Lynas.
Who doesn’t love a good camp movie! This comedic film launched the career of Canadian director Ivan Reitman. Meatballs takes place at an overnight camp like many of us attended in our youth. It stars a young Bill Murray in his first major film role and I actually know someone who acted in it–shout out to Allan Levson as the angry kid at the bus. Yes, it is from 1979 and I was a teenager when I first saw it, which is part of the nostalgia that comes over me when I see this movie on late night tv. It is funny, romantic and irreverent. It was actually filmed at Camp White Pine in Haliburton and many of the real campers ended up in the movie. Check it out Millennials!
4. Atlantic City–1980
I well remember the 1980 Academy Awards because a Canadian film was actually nominated. Not only that but this film, directed by Louis Malle and starring Susan Sarandon and Burt Lancaster is among the 41 films to be nominated for all of the “Big Five” Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay, and one of only eight among this group to not take home a single award. How frustrating. It starts with Sarandon applying lemons to her lovely breasts for which she is still famous. Seriously, it is a film about the struggles of dreamers who are lured to Atlantic City, where they turn to crime while looking for love.
5. The Fly–1986
It is pretty horrific but you can’t take your eyes off this film starring Jeff Goldblum as a scientist who develops fly like characteristics after a terrible mistake that occurs during one of his experiments. Geena Davis stars as his love interest and the film is a parallel exploration of a doomed love triangle. David Cronenberg leads the way for his ability to combine horror and modern day life is such a complex manner. He never shies away from his unique vision and his take on the intersection of life, love, sex, disease, and death has lead to a subgenre of film–the biological horror film. A vivid and detailed tale on how science and progress can go wildly wrong.
6. Dead Ringers–1988
Prolific director David Cronenberg has made a lot of good films in his trademark horror genre but I have to say this is my favourite. It involves twins, gynecology and love obsession. Jeremy Irons does a great job playing both twins and I still remember being riveted when I first saw it. I’m really getting in the mood to hunt these movies down and see them again.
7. Double Happiness–1994
Way before Gray’s Anatomy the dynamic Sandra Oh starred in this film about a young Chinese-Canadian woman at odds with her family’s cultural ways. This is a very common Canadian story: a child of immigrants trying to please her parents but also to pursue her own dreams–thus looking for double happiness. Oh won the Genie for best performance by a leading actress and went on to star in many high-profile projects. This low-budget film is worth a watch.
Though technically an American film, the fact that it has a Canadian Director ( Jason Reitman who has gloriously followed in his father’s footsteps), two break-out young Canadian stars and was filled in Vancouver makes this film Canadian enough for my list. This engaging film is about an outspoken quirky young woman who gets pregnant the first time she has sex. She has to figure out what is best for her and the baby. Wonderfully acted by Ellen Page and Michael Cena as the teenaged couple and a great supporting cast, this movie is a must see. Entertaining, original and just plain fun to take in, Juno resulted in an Academy Award win for its screenplay written by Diablo Cody.
9. A History of Violence–2005
Viggo Mortensen is astounding as the lead in this film. A History of Violence was so different from the typical Cronenberg film–I didn’t realize that he was the director until years later. It was a departure from the out-and-out horror as it is more of crime thriller. I was mesmerized from the first scene. Without giving too much away, it is one of those double life films–where a character literally becomes someone else before your eyes. Most of the film was shot in Millbrook Ontario, with the climatic scene taking place at the historic Eaton Hall in King City. The film explores the idea that there is good and evil in all of us and leaves you wondering whether or not someone can really change.
10. Barney’s Version–2010
Boy do I love watching Paul Giamatti. It is fitting to end this list with a film based on another Mordecai Richler book. This one stars the dynamic Giamatti in the lead role. This film is based on one of Richler’s most popular books and looks at the life of a man who is unlucky in love but keeps trying anyway. With an all-star cast including Dustin Hoffman, Minnie Driver and Rosemund Pike, Barney’s Version was filmed in Montreal, New York and Rome. Look for cameos from Canadian directors– Denys Arcand, Atom Egoyon and Paul Gross.
Eastern Promises–“Oh those Russians”–another star turn by Viggo Mortenson
Room–High grossing and filled with Canadian connections
Exotica— Slow paced and interesting by the prolific Atom Agoyan.