Thursday, April 5, 2012

WORTHWHILE CANADIAN INITIATIVE: What does it mean to be a Canadian film? Does it require Canadian talent behind the camera? In front of it? Does it need to be filmed in Canada? (Well, so are a lot of American films.) Does it need to involve Canadian themes -- and what, for the love of God, are "Canadian themes" beyond a desire to celebrate Thanksgiving in the wrong month and to find the Northwest Passage?  Is Juno a Canadian film since it was filmed in Canada, was directed by a Canadian and stars two Canadians, and shares its name with the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys, even though it's not set in Canada? If Juno counts, does Meatballs?

Hell, I don't know.

But in the comments yesterday, Randy called Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter "the greatest Canadian movie ever made" and if there's a blog better suited than ours to test that proposition, well, it's probably in Canada and since I haven't found it (that blog -- I know where Canada is), we're here.

And in terms of defining a "Canadian film," I think the Genie Award nominations are a fair start, though that only covers us from 1980 onwards (see, also, this list) it leads us to an obvious problem: beyond Meatballs and Strange Brew, are we basically looking at the films of David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan? The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz aside, I think so. And if that's the case, if I'm choosing up between devastating films I don't often go back to (with the exception of Egoyan's Exotica), as much as I admire Cronenberg's Dead Ringers (and Jeremy Irons' performance therein) I think I have to agree with Randy and go with The Sweet Hereafter, in which the setting matters more to the overall feel of the film and therefore makes it a more Canadian film, as opposed to "a film which happens to have been made by a Canadian."  Your mileage may vary (in miles or kilometres.)


  1. Eric J.8:27 AM

    If I ever get to request a topic for an Extra Hot Great Mini, now I know what it will be.

  2. Anonymous8:51 AM

    The Genie Award-winning "Bon Cop, Bad Cop" is not only the greatest buddy cop movie ever, but also obviously the greatest Canadian movie ever.  A dead body is found on the Ontario/Quebec border, so a by-the-book Ontario police officer has to team up with his "loose cannon" Quebec counterpart.  The cops have the cliche bar brawl.  The cops accidentally get high in a drug house.  The climax involves lots of hockey and a flimsy Don Cherry parody.  

  3. Joseph J, Finn9:00 AM

    That Genie list is fascinating for two things, one interesting and one bad:

    1.  I guess if you're going by production companies then the quite good Fifty Dead Men Walking could be considered a Canadian film, but no one would guess it otherwise.

    2. Is Guy Maddin somehow just ignored completely by Genie voters?  The Saddest Music In The World (to take an example) being missing from the 2003 nominations is just plain goofy (especially since the winner was the dullest Egoyan movie, Ararat.

  4. Meatballs is what first comes to mind. After that,

    Jesus of Montreal
    32 Short Films about Glenn Gould
    The Grey Fox

    *I don't care that Triplets of Belleville won a Genie, that's a French movie

  5. I was happy to hear that ECHO commenting is being killed.

  6. Randy9:16 AM

    I kept hoping BCBC would turn into a franchise, where they'd be in different parts of the country in subsequent movies.  Alas, if there's one thing Canadian movies aren't good at, it's making successful mainstream movies and knowing what to do with them.

  7. Randy9:45 AM

    A few things, and I'll try to be brief:
       1. There's a book about Canadian movies called "Weird Sex and Snowshoes", which documents all the bizarre things that Canadian movies are often about.  And it takes only a surface knowledge of Canadian movies to know that they're often weird.
       2. Things are different in Quebec, which has a booming, popular French-language film industry. Most of these movies are really only well-known in La Belle Province.
       3. The Canadian movies that become famous internationally are often festival hits first, so that gets a certain TYPE of movie known internationally.
       4. When Canada tries to make more mainstream, Hollywood-ish fare, these movies are often not very good, and most of the Canadian public doesn't bother seeing them.
       5. Most of Cronenberg's funding (and filming locations) over the last decade has been international, yet we still claim him as one of our own.  And while we're proud of the Reitmans and Jim Cameron and others, we don't consider their movies to be Canadian.
       6. Egoyan remains more clearly Canadian, with funding and filming locations and (often) casting.  But apart from The Sweet Hereafter (and to a lesser extent, Exotica), I find his movies frustrating.
       7. Guy Maddin is probably the best anglo Canadian director working today, but his work is definitely an acquired taste.
       8. I'm not a fan of a lot of Quebec cinema, but Denis Villeneuve (Polytechnique, Incendies) is a great filmmaker.

    My top 5 Canadian movies would probably look like this:
    1. The Sweet Hereafter.  Easily Egoyan's most effective "puzzle box" movie.
    2. Incendies.  A great, shattering, devastating movie.
    3. Spider.  Cronenberg films the unfilmable.
    4. Away From Her.  Sarah Polley shows she's as talented behind the camera as she is in front. 
    5. A handful of Guy Maddin's movies: The Saddest Music in the World, Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary, My Winnipeg.

  8. I can't watch it because I know my personal emotional limits, but a good friend whose taste in film I trust is always singing the praises of "Last Night."

    Personally, I'm a huge, huge fan of Canadian animation. This won't surprise some of you that tease me for my outmoded media consumption, but I still keep on VHS a couple of "Canadian Animation" specials I recorded off tv 15-20 years ago.

  9. isaac_spaceman10:52 AM

    I thought I was going to say that I have never loved a Canadian movie, but judging from the Genie noms, it is possible that I have never seen a Canadian movie.  Why is there no love for Degrassi Goes Hollywood?  It may not be the best movie that is Canadian, but it probably is the most Canadian of movies.   

  10. kd bart10:53 AM

    If it is based on a work of Mordecai Richler, it's a Canadian film.

  11. Canadian films are the ones where people say "eh" a lot. Duh.

  12. Joseph J. Finn11:11 AM

    Another (not top spot) vote for Away From Her.  Sweet zombie jesus, Polley knocked that out of the park.  June 7th (in the States), her second feature comes out, Take This Waltz.

  13. I don't know enough to define Canadian film, but I do think one can identify a Canadian literary style.  It has some of the magical realism usually associated with Latin American fiction, coupled with some attention to environmental or nature-related issues.  I'm thinking Yann Martel, Margaret Atwood, and one or two others I can't remember just yet.  It differs from what I think of as the primary strains of American fiction (neurotic Jews, slice-of-life WASPS) and British fiction (cool, detached, precisely worded eveymen).  

  14. Heather k11:28 AM

    I love Jesus of Montreal!!

  15. Last Night is really good, and it's a lot less difficult to watch than you might expect.  It's much more quirky/melancholy than dark/depressing.

  16. Best* Canadian film, hands down, has to be Jesus Christ Vampire HunterThe power of Christ impales you!

    * For sufficiently broad definitions of "best."

  17. isaac_spaceman1:14 PM

    What happened to your phone?
    Jesus took it.  A Jesus hawk on a speedboat.  The environment. Bears. Fairies.  Magic.  I need your help, Schmidt.   

  18. lisased1:16 PM

    That movie destroyed me. Sarah Polley is one of my go-to answers for "Name a talented Canadian."

    As for "The Sweet Hereafter", I read the book years before the movie came out, and I didn't think Egoyan could pull it off, but he (and Polley) surprised me.

  19. Benner2:26 PM

    Bon Cop Bad Cop.  Check it out.

  20. Carrie6:47 PM

    Thank you, Randy, for mentioning Sarah Polley's "Away from Her." Let's not forget Denys Arcand's "The Decline of American Civilization" or Ivan Reitman's "Cannibal Girls" or Cronenberg's "They Came from Within" (although I think his "Videdrome" and "The Fly" are better. Also like Patricia Rozema's "I've Heard the Mermaids Singing" and "Mansfield Park." And there's a great documentary called "The Canadian Conspiracy" about the nation's dominance in comedy.