Best CDN Films of 2022, So Far
by Thom Ernst – Film Corespondent
(Canada Day 2022 – Toronto, ON) With Canada Day falling conveniently at the year’s halfway mark, now is an excellent time to take stock of Canadian-made film releases thus far. Of course, the pressure is on to plan Canada Day around any number of outdoor isolation-busting events. Fight the urge. If you’re a hard-core movie fan, there are few things more threatening to your right to sit in a dark room in front of a screen than a publicly sanctioned event requiring you to do something outside—unless it’s a drive-in theatre.
This is a list for those flummoxed by the burden to celebrate. While not exactly a “Best of 2022 So Far” list (not every film mentioned is a gem) these are films of some significance. Arguably, a few movies belong on the 2021 list but appear because of a delayed public release or have otherwise been reviewed in 2022 editions of Northernstars.ca.
The Canadian film releases of 2022 still felt the effects of a pandemic. Covid-related shenanigans pushed some projects back while others powered through under strict COVID guidelines—admirable efforts that would occasionally fail, putting well-intended projects on hold. A quick, and I suspect an incomplete, summary reveals 45 films released or due for release in 2022. That’s a significant drop from the 176 noted releases in 2021.
The overall good news is that there appears to be a continued rise of attention given to Indigenous Canadian filmmakers—an advancement not to be confused with equal representation. That’s still a long time coming. But worthy of celebration is the debut release of Brennan Hamman’s Wildhood and of Nyla Innuksuk’s Slash/Back.
Wildhood is a tale of a Metis boy’s (Phillip Lewitsky) search for his mother, despite being told by his abusive father (Joel Thomas Hynes) that his mother has died. Hamman gets a lot out of their young stars, and those young stars have much to give. A strong debut in both story and performances.
Slash/Back pits an atypical group of teen girls against aliens bent on taking over their secluded Arctic home. Director Innuksuk captures not just the adventurous spirit of a movie-matinee science-fiction thriller but provides an essential document on owning your identity.
See For Me: The year started with director Randall Okita’s See For Me, a fine suspense thriller that reboots themes from films like Wait Until Dark (1967), The Slender Thread (1965), The Call (2013), and Panic Room (2002) to concoct an impressive ride into modern noir. Okita’s skill is not in imitation and labeling it as a homage but through a thorough understanding of cinema history and the execution of suspense. Skyler Davenport, a seeing-impaired actor, plays a seeing-impaired woman who accepts a job cat-sitting for a wealthy woman undergoing a nasty divorce. The night takes a dangerous twist when a group of thieves breaks in, believing the home to be empty.
Aline is the barely concealed music biopic of Celine Deon. It’s a suitably bizarre take with the iconic Canadian singer being performed at all stages of her life by the director Valérie Lemercier—and no, the 50-plus-year-old Lemercier cannot pull off the appearance of a 5-year-old. This vanity project works if only as a curiosity piece, enjoyed for its spirited performances, nut-ball script choices, and corny bits of operatic melodrama. Go in with doubts and apprehension, and you should be okay.
Last of the Right Whales, a documentary from director Nadine Pequenza, brings three people who, on the surface, seem diametrically different but who come together in their cause to save the Atlantic right whale. Pequenza’s footage is breathtaking, with moments of both unexpected beauty and disaster. The ending surprises in a way that the film would have been well served with a trigger warning.
Into the Weeds: No surprise that Jennifer Baichwal’s Into the Weeds, a David and Goliath story, fares well with both festival audiences and critics. Into the Weeds is something of a departure for Baichwal. Into the Weeds is less of a philosophical statement of a corporation’s effect on the landscape and more of a personal drama. Baichwal has found an ideal subject in Dewayne Johnson, a man who goes against a corporation over an herbicide he believes led to a debilitating fight against Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Kids in the Hall, Comedy Punks, director Reginald Harkema’s documentary on the iconic Canadian comedy outliers. Harkema’s documentary succeeds mostly on its subject and the inevitable pleasure of revisiting The Kids in the Hall. His movie suspiciously follows the current Kids in the Hall television reboot.
Crimes of the Future: David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future arrives from its Cannes premiere with reports of walkouts and standing ovations. It hardly matters how Crimes is received; Cronenberg remains one of our country’s most intriguing and profitable creative exports, with Crimes of the Future as the most talked-about film of the year.
Carmen, from director Valerie Buhagiar, is an audience pleaser. Carmen is still being courted on the festival circuit, winning awards and gaining well-deserved attention. Carmen (Natascha McElhone) has served her brother, a local parish priest in Malta, her entire life. When her brother dies, Carmen is left homeless and without employable skills. Buhagiar’s film is touching, funny, and an idea response to cinema that seems to turn a blind eye to films about and starring women in their 50s.
Scarborough, like Wildhood, is another film arguably best filed under 2021. Still, with a later more public release (outside of film festivals) and following the strength of positive word-of-mouth, a critical response, an acknowledgment in 2022 is not unreasonable. Directors Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson successfully adapt Catherine Hernandez’s novel about three children from lower-income families who meet at an experimental start-up reading center run by a caring Ms. Hina (Aliya Kanani), confronted by the challenges of racism and red tape.
The Righteous is one of the most rewarding horror films released. One of the film’s surprises is that it comes from the mind of Republic of Doyle actor Mark O’Brien. The Righteous premiered at the Blood in the Snow film festival, 2021. (BITS is a must-see festival for Canadian genre fans). The Righteous stars Henry Czerny as an ex-priest, now married, mourning the loss of his child. A stranger with dubious reasons enters the family home, their routine, and their grief. Solid performances from a solid script.
Firestarter: There are misses in every industry. So far, in the Canadian film industry, the Firestarter remake is that miss. The exception is that the remake effectively corrects the original by casting Michael Greyeyes as John Rainbird, an Indigenous homicidal hitman formerly played by George C. Scott. Greyeyes is an actor of fantastic potential who makes the most out of a weak script.
We can’t count Scott Derrickson’s The Black Phone as Canadian, nor can we comfortably include Turning Red, the Pixar-hit from director Domee Shi. But let’s take credit for these films’ significant Canadian contributors.
The Black Phone is a compelling, sometimes shocking movie about a clever 13-year-old boy (Mason Thames) who is abducted by The Grabber (Ethan Hawke, who is practically an honourary Canadian). But as gripping as The Black Phone is, being based on a short story by Joe Hill, it is made even more gripping by Toronto-based composer Mark Koven’s nightmarish music.
Turning Red catapults (as did an Oscar win for Best Animated Short) Canadian director Domee Shi onto Hollywood’s ‘A’ list. The film also stars the Canadian talents of Maitreyi Ramakrishnan and Sandra Oh.
Thom Ernst is a Toronto based film critic and writer and an active member of the (TFCA) Toronto Film Critics’ Association. His work has appeared in various publications including Playback Magazine, The Toronto Star, and The National Post. He is known to CBC Radio listeners for his lively contributions to Fresh Air, Metro Morning, and CBC Syndication as well as appearing on-air for CTV News Channel and The Agenda with Steve Paikin. He was host, interviewer and producer of televisions’ longest running movie program Saturday Night at the Movies. Currently he can be heard interviewing Canadian filmmakers on the Kingston Canadian Film Festival podcast, Rewind, Fast-Forward