10 Defining Canadian Movies To Watch On Its 150th Birthday

Happy Canada Day!

by michael-oliver harding

July 1 has arrived, and as our neighbor to the north marks its 150th anniversary of existence, we thought Canada Day might be the perfect pretext to look into 10 recent game-changing Lumberjack Country films you may or may not have heard of. We’re skipping all the Oscar-nominated fare as well as anything by body-horror giant David Cronenberg. The following 10 titles (released after 2000) contributed something gutsy, radical, or pioneering to Canada’s movie culture.

Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001)

A nail-biting epic tale of love and revenge, based on the legend of skilled hunter and running man Atanarjuat, this first feature to be entirely written, directed and acted in the Inuktitut language (one of the country’s main Inuit languages) is considered the best Canadian film of all time, according to a 2015 industry poll. The extended sequence of Atanarjuat running stark naked across melting ice floes is a masterpiece unto itself. Worth sinking your teeth into as Canada celebrates a controversial birthday that doesn’t take into account all the indigenous people who’ve called that same land home for much, much longer than 150 years. 

I Killed My Mother (2009)

Wild to think that a mere eight years ago, Xavier Dolan, the Québécois face of Louis Vuitton, was a complete unknown when his biographical first feature fired up the Cannes Festival. Now, he’s shot his English-language debut (and whopping seventh feature!) with Jessica Chastain, Kit Harington, and Natalie Portman called The Death and Life of John F. Donovan. Chalk it up to the magic of movies, sure, but also to the insanely precocious (prodigious?) talent on display both behind and in front of the camera in this convincing snapshot of turbulent teen angst. 

Stories We Tell (2012) 

Sarah Polley, Canada’s longstanding sweetheart (at age 11, she was already the lead star on TV hit Road to Avonlea) bravely and inventively explored her family’s long-buried secrets—chiefly those of her enigmatic mother, who died when Polley was 11—in this fascinating pseudo-documentary about the myriad ways in which we all process memories and edit certain details out. Which version of the truth ends up being passed down from one generation to the next? This most imaginative and moving docu-fiction explores just that.

FUBAR: The Movie (2002) 

If you still don’t get what your wacky Canuck friends are saying when they tell you to “just give’r,” do we have the film for you. FUBAR (army slang for Fu**ed Up Beyond Recognition) is a handheld mockumentary classic about greasy mullet-sporting, Pilsener-chugging headbangers from Cowtown (aka Calgary). This unbridled celebration of stunted adolescence—think heavy metal, shot-gunning beer and breaking stuff—has spawned a sequel as well as a forthcoming eight-part VICE series. Long live Dean and Terry, the Beavis and Butt-head of the North. 

Félix and Meira (2014) 

Quebec cinema consistently punches above its weight, especially when you consider the province is only 8 million strong. Among the most celebrated filmmakers these days is Maxime Giroux thanks to his movie Félix and Meira, an unlikely love story between a French-Canadian atheist and a young Hassidic mother set in the multicultural hipster-ground-zero that is Montreal’s Mile End neighborhood. Far from condemning religion, this gem of a film explores the power of human connection and the attraction of difference.

Enemy (2013) 

Denis Villeneuve, the Oscar-nominated mind entrusted with the sequel to neo-noir classic Blade Runner, also directed this little-seen erotic thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal that makes Toronto look like an oppressive, high-rise-gorged inferno. Doppelgänger heroes, 10-foot tarantulas, underground sex clubs, and uncontrollable compulsions—this parable about totalitarianism is nearly impossible to decipher (on par with, say, Mulholland Drive). But with Villeneuve and Gyllenhaal both totally committed to the bonkers premise, it’s well worth the head scratching. 

The Corporation (2003) 

Canada has a storied documentary tradition, but those films have tended to err on the side of observational portraits, not Michael Moore-style muckraking or hard-hitting exposés. So you can imagine The Corporation took audiences by surprise when it laid out its provocative premise: If the corporation’s legal status is that of a person, what kind of person is it—a psychopath, perhaps? The film’s mischievous and insightful examination of businesses that have chased profit at any cost (think: owning the rain) was much-needed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, and it’s all the more relevant after the 2008 financial crisis, too.  

Otto; or Up with Dead People (2008) 

Canada’s provocateur-in-chief Bruce LaBruce has been melding low-budget shoots, German performers, gay porn scenarios, campy humor and subversive politics since the early 1990s, and Otto stands among his most inspired, genre-busting entries (for those who are up for the very X-rated experience). The story of a sensitive teen zombie feasting on roadkill in the streets of Berlin while starring in an eccentric filmmaker’s gay zombie uprising movie, Otto also doubles as a sly critique of consumer culture and AIDS paranoia. 

My Prairie Home (2013)  

A meditative documentary musical about one of Canada’s most talented country-folk musicians, My Prairie Home’s innovative structure mirrors its protagonist’s singular identity. The transgender singer-songwriter Rae Spoon reflects on her aggressively conservative upbringing as she tours the country, stopping by Greyhound stations, highway diners, and dinosaur museums to offer powerful, high-concept visual renditions of her contemplative music. 

Noah (2013) 

There’s a reason why a 17-minute college project produced on a $300 budget instantly became the talk of the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival (eventually winning the Best Canadian Short prize). Shot entirely through the titular protagonist’s computer screen, it’s an eerily on-point examination of modern relationships as mediated by technology. As Noah’s attention is diverted from Skyping with his girlfriend to snooping for signs of infidelity on Facebook to grieving with strangers on Chatroulette, the film smartly suggests digital filters may distort our IRL connections. Four years later, Noah still feels remarkably prescient.