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.