Our top 9 favourite Canadian films

A list of homegrown cinematic treasures from our critics, just in time for the inaugural National Canadian Film Day.


Today is the inaugural National Canadian Film Day, created to celebrate our country’s fine selection of cinematic treasures.

We spoke to Jack Blum, executive director of Reel Canada. (He also acted in ’80s Can-cheese classic Meatballs!)

posterKayla Marie Hillier: How did the idea to have a National Canadian Film Day come about?
Jack Blum: Reel Canada brings Canadian films to high school students and to new Canadians across the country — we’ve been doing it for about nine years. And it’s been quite wonderful because when we introduce these films to these new audiences, they really like them. And we thought, maybe we should at least have one day where we try to extend that invitation to all Canadians to actually enjoy these movies that nobody gets to hear about — or if they do, they’re really hard to find. So we thought let’s see if we can make them available for one day a year. And that’s what we’ve tried to do.

KMH: What are your hopes for this day, in the years to come?
JB: Well, this year our goal was to raise awareness so that Canadians might hear that there are great Canadian films and if anyone wanted to see a great Canadian film on that day, we’d be able to help them find one. Those are the two big issues. If you’re asking where I’d like to see it go in five years, it’d be great if on that day thousands of Canadians actually had fun planning their own screenings or going to community screenings and actually made a day of watching or rediscovering a great Canadian film. If it actually got to reach a larger audience, that would be great. But we expect it will take some time to build to that.

New Waterford Girl
New Waterford Girl

KMH: Do you have a favourite Canadian film?
JB: I have a lot of favourite Canadian films. I like mentioning ones that people really haven’t heard of because that’s what’s keeping them alive. Atom Egoyan is one of my favourite filmmakers and his film Calendar is probably very difficult to find, I just think it’s a masterpiece. Jean-Marc Vallée’s C.R.A.Z.Y. is a magnificent film. Allan Moyle, when he was known as Bozo in the mid-’70s, and a guy named Frank Vitale and an artist named Stephen Lack, they made these amazing sort of semi-improvised, co-operative films, one of which was called Montreal Main and the other one was called Rubber Gun Show. They’re fantastic movies. The ones that I like are really quite obscure.

If you want to check out Reel Canada’s massive list of Canadian films available to screen or purchase online, and their list of local events, head here.


Alex Rose
It would be easy to be overwhelmed by all of the great Canadian offerings of the last 100 years, so for the sake of my sanity, I’ve consciously limited myself to films from the ROC.

The Sweet Hereafter (1997)
I’d go to bat any time defending Atom Egoyan’s adaptation of Russell Banks’ book as one of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen, but for one thing: I’ve only seen it once 10 years ago. It’s so profoundly depressing and melancholy that I’m terrified of watching it again, even though I remember most of it perfectly.

The Silent Partner (1978)
The crowning achievement of the much-maligned tax shelter years, this gritty ‘70s thriller stars Elliot Gould as a naïve Toronto bank teller who gets mixed up with a truly psychopathic bank robber played by Christopher Plummer at his most bug-eyed and terrifying. It stands alongside movies like The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 and The Friends of Eddie Coyle as the great plaid-jackets-and-sideburns crime thrillers of the decade.

Tales From the Gimli Hospital (1988)
I saw this in film school thinking that it would be exactly as pretentious as director Guy Maddin’s reputation suggested (this was not that long after he filmed an opera about Dracula), but what I found was actually a hilarious, inventive and surreally bizarre cult movie. My heart grew three sizes that day, and I learned not to have such a stick up my ass about black-and-white, quasi-silent Canadian movies about fishermen.

Malcolm Fraser
It’s well documented that I have a problem with Canadian film, but I do have some pet faves.

Top of the Food Chain, aka Invasion! (1999)
Winnipeg’s John Paizs is beloved in Canadian cult-film circles for his 1985 comedy Crimewave, but I’ve always had a soft spot for this little-known, charmingly silly alien-invasion flick. Campbell Scott’s stone-cold deadpan delivery of lines like “the lumpy part of town outside of town” and “that must be one of the new advances in advanced technology advances” always makes me laugh.

eXistenZ (1999)
When I first saw this, it seemed like a transparent ploy on David Cronenberg’s part to take the heavy concepts of Videodrome and Naked Lunch and shoehorn them into the then-trendy concept of “virtual reality.” Today, it seems prescient in its vision of a society obsessed with gaming and alternate identities in virtual realms. Plus, it has some unexpected comedy. Death to realism!

Ding et Dong: Le Film (1990)
If you want to understand Quebec culture — or grasp why it can never truly be understood — you need go no further than this cinematic debut of a famous ‘80s comedy duo. Lowbrow does not begin to describe it; the brow is so low that it grazes the floor, but it has a lot of heart along with old-fashioned vaudevillian laughs.

Kayla Marie Hillier
I clearly have a bit of late ‘90s thing going on here. So it goes.

New Waterford Girl (1999)
I have a soft spot for Allan Moyle. I think I wore out my VHS tapes of Empire Records and Pump Up the Volume several times until finally DVDs came along and stopped my destructive repetitive-viewing madness. But I have to say New Waterford Girl is my favourite. Liane Balaban is a total fucking legend.

Last Night (1998)
I also have a soft spot for Don McKellar and this really was a toss-up between McKellar’s end-of-the-world drama and Bruce McDonald’s Highway 61. But I think that Last Night is interesting. No other film approaches the prospect of inevitable death and armageddon quite like McKellar does. (Bonus: Cronenberg makes an appearance.)

Love That Boy (2003)
Andrea Dorfman’s story about a pretentious, over-achieving, to-do list obsessed, 20-something who’s never had a boyfriend (and who falls in love with a much younger lawn-mowing teenager) is a really solid choice. The flick is also one of Ellen Page’s first.