The sun is shining, fireworks are exploding and drinks are being had. Fun for all, unless you should be more a lone wolf type than a group activities enthusiast. Don’t feel like having a beaver painted on your cheek this July 1st? Why not indulge in a Canadian-inspired movie binge instead?
For us, there’s no better way to celebrate our Canuck status than watching a few films that depict our home and native land. Below, for your viewing pleasure, a round-up of our top picks. (Maple-flavoured popcorn optional.)
My Winnipeg, 2007 | Guy Maddin
Who says CanCon is boring? Not any viewer that is familiar with Guy Maddin’s singular oeuvre. In this refreshing documentary (which the filmmaker lovingly refers to as a “docu-fantasia”), Winnipeg takes center stage, as Maddin invites the audiences to join him on a personal tour of his hometown. Using a mix of archival footage and interviews, the director weaves together a fantastical portrayal of his city, culminating in a tapestry of fact and fiction, beautifully linked in the name of memory. By the end of this Genie-nominated film, it’s almost certain that you will have a very different perspective of ol’ Winterpeg, as the snowy city is known, thanks to a dose of history and entertainment, entirely of Maddin’s own signature brand of filmmaking.
The Revenant, 2015 | Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Set in 1823, the film’s backdrop showcases the Canadian Rockies, as the story follows frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) during a perilous wilderness expedition. Things go pear shape when Glass and a bear tango, rendering his body a broken shell. Out for the count due to his life-threatening injuries, Glass is forced to stand by (while horizontal in a make-shift gurney) as a member of his hunting team kills his young son and leaves him for dead. With the odds stacked against him, grief and vengeance fuel Glass’ determination to get back to civilization and find the man responsible for his son’s murder. With scenery as epic as the acting that earned Leo his first Oscar, this one will especially appeal to those who prefers to spends their weekends hiking the trails of their closest provincial park. (Not to mention film lovers that get a kick out of seeing incredible Canadian talent in Hollywood blockbusters, in this case, B.C. First Nations actor Duane Howard, among others.)
Jesus of Montreal, 1989 | Denys Arcand
A cult classic, this Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film shows off our country’s flair for art house cinema and satire alike. Directed by Canada’s beloved Denys Arcand, this is the story of an acting troupe hired to stage a play about the life and times of the man on the cross, with the story catalyst played by Lothaire Bluteau in the role of Daniel, the group’s leader. As each actor in the play struggles with their own issues, personal lives run interference during the process of attempting to create a daring interpretation of the Biblical tale—one bent on confronting accepted Christian belief. Unfortunately for Daniel, this doesn’t go over well with the Roman Catholic priests who have recruited the troupe, and as the film’s action progresses, the audience sees Daniel’s life starts to look like it’s struggling under the weight of a crown of thorns. For viewers that are familiar with Quebec’s cultural capital, this Cannes Jury Prize winner and Palme d’Or nominee will offer the added bonus of feeling something like a love letter to the city, while patriotic cinephiles will delight in being able to point to why our county’s filmmaking is internationally acclaimed.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, 2010 | Edgar Wright
Before Toronto was cool for being The 6ix, there was Scott Pilgrim upping the city’s cred. Based on the graphic novel series Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley—a Canadian cartoonist, hailing from Ontario—the film is co-written, produced and directed by Britain’s Edgar Wright, of Shaun of the Dead fame. Starring Michael Cera in the title role, chaos ensues when the aspiring musician falls for one Ramona Flowers. Pilgrim’s crush comes with a virtual army of evil ex-boyfriends with superhuman powers, dead set on ending his budding new relationship. Set in Toronto, Wright’s film pays homage to landmarks for local rockers, including Lee’s Palace and of course The Big Smoke’s late-night staple, Pizza Pizza.
The Barbarian Invasions, 2003 | Denys Arcand
It’s Canada Day, how can we not include Denys Arcand at least twice on our list of best Canadian films? A dramedy with political pluck, this film impresses as the sequel to Arcand’s The Decline of the American Empire, which saw the director take home the award for Best Canadian Feature Film at TIFF, back in 1986. Rémy (Rémy Girard)—a middle-aged professor in Montreal is the story’s hero, reintroduced to audiences at a turning point in his life, right after he has learned he has terminal cancer. Struck by the news, Rémy is motivated to reconnect with his son, a finance expert living abroad in London. Given Rémy socialist leanings, his views are at odds with that of his sons, providing a compelling backdrop for a film that sees its character’s— Rémy’s relatives and friends—discuss hot-button issues that touch on everything in between sex and philosophy. If you haven’t seen this film yet, get on it! Before you’re even halfway through, Arcand’s genius will make it easy to believe that the director was featured three times on a list compiled by the Toronto International Film Festival in 2004 for Canada’s “All-Time Top Ten” films.