The Top 10 Canadian Films of the Decade
by Ralph Lucas, Publisher
(December 31, 2009 – Toronto, Ontario) – The first decade of the new millennium was quickly drawing to a close when we first published this article in early December. Northernstars had started life in the late 1990s and we had built an intimate, if not encyclopedic knowledge of the Canadian film industry over that time. We felt we owed it to our readers to look back over the decade and choose just 10 Canadian films that for various reasons stood out from all the rest. And so we announced the Northernstars Top 10 Canadian Films of the Decade.
The process was rather simple. Without consulting any previously published list, I asked our Contributing Editors "Which 10 Canadian titles first come to mind when you think back over the past 10 years?" The results were remarkable, given differences in age, location, and personal preferences. All of the films on our final list were on at least two of the lists submitted. Many of them showed up on all submissions.
Only after the final 10 films were selected did we measure them against their performance following their initial release. This included box office take, length of time in release, and awards history, but those criteria were less important in the final analysis. Some films that were highly popular didn’t make the list largely because although they were well-made, competent films that found an audience, they didn’t quite offer the "something special" the final 10 films brought to the screen.
Following are the Northernstars.ca Top 10 Canadian Films of the Decade:
ATANARJUAT (THE FAST RUNNER) (2000)
An authentic recreation by director Zacharias Kunuk of an oral tale told over thousands of years, the film demystifies the exotic, otherworldly aboriginal stereotypes by telling a powerful, universal story.
AWARDS: Genies – Picture, Director, Screenplay, Editing, Musical Score, Claude Jutra Award; TIFF – Best Canadian Feature Film; Cannes – Caméra D’Or; Toronto Film Critics – Best Canadian Film, Best First Feature.
AWAY FROM HER (2006)
Away from Her is made all the more poignant by the impressive cast and Sarah Polley’s sensitive direction. It’s Gordon Pinsent’s best performance in a long and distinguished career and Julie Christie is simply magnificent. A heartbreaking masterpiece.
AWARDS: Genies – Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Pinsent), Actress (Christie), Supporting Actress (Kristen Thomson), Claude Jutra Award; Oscar nominations – Actress (Christie), Adapted Screenplay; Golden Globes – Actress in a Drama (Christie); Screen Actors Guild – Female Actor in a Leading Role (Christie); New York Film Critics – Actress (Christie), Best First Film (Polley); Los Angeles Film Critics – New Generation Award (Polley); National Board of Review – Actress (Christie); Toronto Film Critics – Best Canadian Film.
Brimming with humour and bittersweet drama, C.R.A.Z.Y. is the best film about Quebec’s chronically dysfunctional families since Léolo. Director Jean-Marc Vallée makes brilliant use of fantasy passages to mimic the boy’s fantasies and beliefs.
AWARDS: Genies – Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor (Michel Côté), Supporting Actress (Danielle Proulx), Editing, Overall Sound, Sound Editing, Art Direction/Production Design, Costumes, GRA; Prix Jutra – Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor (Marc-André Grondin), Supporting Actor (Côté), Supporting Actress (Proulx), Cinematography, Editing, Art Direction, Sound, Costumes, Makeup, Hair; TIFF – Best Canadian Feature Film.
EASTERN PROMISES (2007)
David Cronenberg’s Russian mob movie is set in London, England, and features some powerful performances, specially Viggo Mortensen who was nominated for an Oscar. It’s an intense and masterful crime thriller with a fight-to-the-death sequence in a bathhouse that’s a splendid tour-de-force piece of filmmaking.
AWARDS: Genies – Supporting Actor (Armin Mueller-Stahl), Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Musical Score, Sound, Sound Mixing; Oscar nomination – Actor (Mortensen); TIFF – People’s Choice Award.
LES INVASIONS BARBARES (2003)
Like its predecessor, Le Déclin de l’empire américain, Les Invasions is brilliant entertainment, full of bemused skepticism, and Arcand’s evident love for these people and their vanishing lives.
AWARDS: Genies – Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor (Rémy Girard), Supporting Actor (Stephane Rousseau), Supporting Actress (Marie-Josée Croze); Prix Jutra – Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actress (Croze); Oscar – Foreign-Language Film; Oscar nomination – Screenplay; César Awards (France) – Film, Director, Screenplay; TIFF – Best Canadian Feature Film; Cannes – Screenplay, Actress (Croze); National Board of Review – Foreign-Language Film.
The storyline is bit far-fetched and the scenes on the home front in Alberta are sentimental and somewhat clichéd, but the battlefield action is credible, recreating the muddy hell of northern France with gut-wrenching authenticity. An unusual Canadian war epic, which proved a critical and box office success for Paul Gross.
AWARDS: Genies – Picture, Art Direction/Production Design, Costumes, Sound Editing, Overall Sound, Golden Reel Award.
THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD (2003)
As Guy Maddin films go, The Saddest Music is relatively easy to follow, and yet, given its convoluted narrative connections, it resists easy synopsis. At times it sags under the weight of its ambitions, but Maddin’s inventiveness outweighs his weaknesses. The lasting impression is of mad ingenuity without a hint of arrogance.
AWARDS: Genies – Editing, Costumes, Original Music.
Ralph Fiennes and Miranda Richardson give exceptional performances in a cast that is uniformly excellent. Spider is starkly austere and asks the audience to question what is fantasy and what is real as it moves to its shattering conclusion.
AWARDS: Genies – Director; TIFF – Best Canadian Feature Film; Toronto Film Critics – Best Canadian Film.
LES TRIPLETTES DE BELLEVILLE (2003)
It playfully alludes to Jacques Tati and acknowledges influences from Betty Boop to 101 Dalmatians to Windsor McKay, but in reality Les Tripletttes de Belleville is one of the most bracingly original animated films to come along in a long time. It’s comic, touching and a visual knockout.
AWARDS: Genie – Picture; Oscar nomination – Animated Feature; Toronto Film Critics – Best Canadian Film.
Water is director Deepa Mehta’s richest, most complex work to date and completes her self-described ‘elements trilogy’ that includes Fire (1997) and Earth (1999). It’s the work of a deeply committed humanist, made with tenderness and a true concern for the plight of all her characters.
AWARDS: Genies – Actress (Seema Biswas), Cinematography, Musicial Score; Oscar nomination – Foreign-Language Film.
There were a number of films that would have made the list had we extended it to the top 12 or 15 films, but we decided to draw the line at 10. As Contributing Editor Wyndham Wise pointed out with his usual hint of sarcasm, "The Times of London ran a list of the 100 top films of the past 10 years on its website. 100? In this digitally-saturated, rollercoaster-thrill-ride universe of today’s movies, can there be 10 worthy of note?" We decided not to name the films that came close to making it into the Top 10, as that would be just like putting them on the list.
As we were preparing this story for posting, Wyndham Wise sent a follow-up note, making the observation that we had… “Two films by David Cronenberg, indisputably Canada’s finest, most ambitious filmmaker, and there would have been a third film on this list, if A History of Violence were a Canadian film, which it isn’t. Like The Fly and Dead Zone, it’s one of his American films. Perhaps surprisingly, a film by Atom Egoyan doesn’t show up on this list, reflecting the fact that he hasn’t made a real impact with his films since The Sweet Hereafter, which was more than 10 years ago. It remains to be seen if Chloe will be his comeback film.”
Contributing Editor and Inside Québec columnist, Maurie Alioff made the observation that "despite diversity of genre, content, and setting, all these Canadian films – including the ones with a big canvas – are at least partly driven by the drama around relationships between father and son in one film, or husband and wife in another, or a group of friends, or a criminal and potential victim, and so on. Each has at its core an intimate relationship." Glen Russell, our West Coast Contributing Editor found a unifying force at work in films like Water. "This is one of the reasons I loved this film, it was a chance to learn more about the history of Indo-Canadians, an act of unification."
We set out to find a handful of films based not just on their awards or box office performance but whether or not they were memorable. All great films have survived because decades after they were made people still remember them. We believe that will be the case for the 10 films we have chosen.
Northernstars.ca congratulates everyone involved in the creation and distribution of these Top 10 Canadian Films of the Decade.
Poster images are copyright by their respective distributors.
Still Mine – Review
There is an old joke contained in the not so funny line, “Hello, I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” In real life there are innumerable stories of how the average working Joe has run up against some bureaucrat who owes their career to the steadfast belief that the line isn’t a joke but a mantra from a religion built on a faith that the government knows best. Craig Morrison is one such average tax payer and the central character in Michael McGowan’s new film, Still Mine.
This is the writer-director’s latest feature and his smallest to date. His career began with the ambitious and successful Saint Ralph, continued with the hit One Week and then Score: A Hockey Musical which opened that year’s Toronto Film Festival but went on to mixed reviews. Canadians take their hockey far too seriously and we were clearly not ready for a musical about our national sport despite excellent performances throughout the film. Now comes Still Mine. If I may be allowed to possibly coin a new genre, it’s a coming of old-age movie.< It isn’t the first, but Still Mine stamps the genre with all of the necessary ingredients. An older couple behaving in a way that has their children and assorted friends and neighbours cringing in disbelief while they sort out their lives, relationship and sex drives. The difference here is that the character, Craig Morrison, played by James Cromwell in a performance that brought him a Canadian Screen Award earlier this year, is a real person and the story is a real story.
It all began in 2008 when the local newspaper laid out the details in a piece with a dateline of West Quaco, New Brunswick. Morrison is one of those self-sufficient Canadians who wouldn’t ask for help if they we’re being mauled by a bear while helping a cow get through a difficult calving session. The facts, quickly, are that Morrison’s wife of 61 years is showing signs of dementia, the house they live in isn’t the right place for her anymore so he decides to build a new, smaller cottage on his own land with his own wood using his own two hands. Problem is the local inspector won’t let him, saying he’s not following the building code. As he is quoted in the article by Marty Klinkenberg, Morrison is hurt and confused: “I’ve lived here all my life and have always had the freedom to do what I wanted, and it makes me feel bad that they are doing this to me. There is no need: It’s my own house, and I’m building it with my own money and my own materials on my own land.”
Of course it’s more complicated than that but McGowan gently lets the story spill out as we grow to embrace the elder Morrisons against the best intentions of their children, neighbours and of course the officious prats who can’t get past the idea that sometimes a rule book should be nothing more than a guide and not a hard and fast set of laws that beg defiance.
Against Cromwell’s stoic performance is the rambunctious play of his wife, Irene, portrayed wonderfully by Geneviève Bujold. Very much older now, appearing frail herself, she plays Irene to the hilt. While Cromwell stands silent against his perceived enemies, Bujold’s character lifts the lines of Dylan Thomas’ poem from the page and brings them to life. She is determined not to "go gentle into that good night," and behaves, one suspects, as she always had. One brief, touching scene is bound to have the kiddies rolling their eyes. Irene says to her husband that she wants to see his body. A quick cut to a post-coital bedroom scene saves us from the details but serves to remind us that old people are people too.
Still Mine also serves to remind us that we have given our elected officials too much leeway in our lives. The problem with lawmakers is that they want to make laws even when the laws they want to make impinge on our lives and freedoms.
While this is a coming of old-age film, Michael McGowan has made a movie for everyone. The story is both universal – we’re all going to get old some day – and highly personal. It faces the blunt realty that sometimes our enemies will be real and sometimes they will be ourselves. Young people need to see it to get a better understanding about their parents or grandparents. Older people need to see it to get a better understanding of what life could be like in just a few short years. Government employees at all levels need to see this to get a glimpse into the murmuring anger they are capable of creating when they stop being people and become nothing more than extensions of the unfathomable baffle gab they represent. It is joyous in all the right places and harshly real in all the right places.
Still Mine reminds us that we enjoy nothing more than a tenuous grip on the people and things that are important to us and that we’d better hang on to them while we still can.
Published on May 3, 2013 this review is by Ralph Lucas, founder and publisher of Northernstars.ca. He began reviewing movies in the mid-1970s as part of his career in radio in Montreal.