A Cinematic Trip Around Canada

As I knew Canada Day was coming up, I wanted to write a post wherein I took a trip cinematically around Canada; considering the fact that I know the geography of Canada better than most countries I have never lived in. As I started trying to pick films by province or territory, I quickly realized there were some complications afoot.

The first complication being British Columbia, specifically Vancouver. Vancouver and its vicinity are a host to myriad productions, but due to the areas diverse geography it’s usually doubling as another city. Then there are the maritime provinces and northern territories, which are less frequently featured. It very quickly became clear that this post would first highlight some of the Canadian cinema I have seen and enjoyed, but would also serve an exploratory purpose and cause me to seek out new titles. Therefore, in conjunction with this post I will also create a Letterboxd list.

Essentially, the ideal is to have the film both set in and produced in the Canadian province mentioned. Co-productions will be valid for this list, but ideally I will be seeking Canadian productions.

I can’t exactly pinpoint where my fascination with all things Canadian began. Yes, I’ve always been obsessed with hockey, but this burgeoning affection during my childhood also coincided with many of my entertainment staples being either vaguely or blatantly made in Canada such as You Can’t Do That on Television, The Kids in the Hall, Are You Afraid of the Dark? and to an extent SCTV. Regardless, the affinity has always been there and since thanks both to the internet and internationally distributed calendars I’ve come to learn of Canada Day, and decided to compile at least the beginnings of a list.

All-Around Canada

To start with, I’ll include some films that traverse much of the nation in order to attempt to compensate for some of the areas wherein I’ve had difficulty finding selections.

In the vaguest sense of the word the recent NBC Sports Net documentary Cold War on Ice is an all-encompassing Canadian tale inasmuch as it deals with the 1972 Summit Series that pitted Canada’s best NHL talent versus the Soviet team. If you scripted a 8-game series the way this one unfolded it’d be hard to believe, but it actually happened.

If you trust the IMDb’s filming location info, and you can’t always, Canadian Bacon doesn’t traipse through nearly as much of Canada as it could. However, I do recall this film being quite funny and underrated in my mind. It’s a great collection of many of Canada’s finest and funniest, that does a tremendous deal of US-themed satire also, as it’s directed by none other than Michael Moore.

Now, in compiling these suggestions I realized that many areas in the country were a bit underpopulated in terms of films I have already seen. Therefore, I turned to my Twitter friends north of the border and received many suggestions, which I’ll include throughout all sections of the post starting now:

One international production suggested to me by was The 49th Parallel, a film I’ve meant to see but have not yet, it chronicles a U-Boat stranded in northern Canada during World War II.

One Week was also suggested to me by quite a few people and it’s one that upon being reminded of it I realize that I was interested in it when it had just come out. The film is about a man seeking meaning in his life on a cross-country motorcycle trip.

Quebec

I go to Quebec next because, while Canada is a predominantly Anglophonic nation, it is also a Francophonic nation and due to that fact Canada has regularly submitted a Best Foreign Language Film nominee since 1971. In that time five Canadian films have been nominated: Jesus of Montreal, The Decline of the American Empire, The Barbarian Invasions (Won), Days of Darkness and Incendies.

The Quebecois cinema does have its own mark of originality as it can at times produce perfectly distilled hybrids of European and North American sensibilities, having at the same times an always unique voice on the world cinema stage.

Some other films from Quebec I’ve seen and enjoyed greatly are: The Red Violin, while this is a globe-trotting, time-traveling tale with a star-filled cast, the present day action does occur in Montreal. It’s writer-director is French-Canadian, Francois Giraud, and it’s a film I’ve seen many times over that I enjoy tremendously.

A completely French-Canadian film (were my revisionist BAM Awards still legitimate would’ve won many awards) called Leolo. It’s a poetic, bizarre and unique tale of a young boy’s adolescence in 1970s Montreal. Sadly, this was the last vision Jean-Claude Lauzon brought to fruition as he tragically died in a plane crash in 1997.

Sitting in my to be watched pile is the Criterion Collection edition of Mon Oncle Antoine. Films I was suggested for Quebec include: Ma vie en CinemaScope, C.R.A.Z.Y., Le Chat dans le Sac, L’eau Chaude L’Eau Frette, Gerry, Going the Distance (1979) and Bon Cop, Bad Cop.

British Columbia

British Columbia is one of the trickiest as mentioned above. For the time being, I’ll have to stick with suggestions kindly provided me by a friend. In the meantime, rest assured that if you’ve seen enough movies you’ve likely seen British Columbia in disguise and didn’t realize it.

The suggestions were The Grey Fox, about a gentleman bandit who heads north after years in jail to ply his trade in Canada and My American Cousin, which tells a tale of a mysterious visit from a family member and the intrigue it introduces to a Canadian family’s life.

And also a suggestion was Everything’s Gone Green about a man who’s tries to work a money laundering scheme while working at a lottery magazine.

Nova Scotia

This is perhaps the best and most rewarding part of this post to me. The reward is that again thanks to those who responded to my Twitter inquiries I now have more Nova Scotia-based tales to seek out Margaret’s Museum and New Waterford Girl.

It was, however, one of the places I had a ready suggestion for but just the one. Pit Pony is one of those properties that you come across by chance. I first became familiar with it due to the television series that expanded upon the story, which bounced around several different US broadcasters. It’s one of the few shows I’ve seen in their entirety on multiple occasions. It reaffirms my belief that, although rarely implemented, the half-hour drama, especially when shot single-camera, is the most effective TV format. You have in this series palpable drama, romance, all in a turn of the century mining town so there’s a Dickensian struggle to is also.

Eventually, the TV show lead me to seek out the novel upon which it was based, and also the feature film that kickstarted the series. The film is essentially very faithful to the book and the series picks up from there spinning out new tales. In some ways the film isn’t as cinematic as the show is at its best. However, the emotional truth is there owing mostly to the fact that is shares many of the same actors. The various incarnations of the story but mainly the series is why Nova Scotia is near the top of my list of places to go; those vistas need to be seen in person.

Newfoundland and Labrador

Here is another part of the country wherein I was very glad to have a helping hand. I’ve honestly not seen anything set or produced in this province as of yet. However, with The Shipping News, which was suggested by a few people, and Rowdyman that should be quickly remedied.

Ontario

Ontario, Toronto specifically is another city, which while not as renowned as Vancouver, is a chameleon. Yet there are some very clear examples of films made there where the setting is either clearly Ontario or is vague thus makes it somewhat Canadian in my mind all the same.

If you haven’t seen Pontypool remedy that. I do want to revisit it, and while I’m not currently crazy about the third act, it is truly effective stuff.

It’s likely a film I should’ve included on my Embarrassed to Say list but I saw Videodrome for the first time not too long ago and it wouldn’t be what it is if not made by Cronenberg and Cronenberg wouldn’t be Cronenberg without being Canadian. Both he and Atom Egoyan made many a film in Canada, though perhaps not specifically set there. However, Egoyan’s earlier works all seem to be and are well worth seeing.

I have said previously how underrated and amazing I think The Kids in The Hall: Brain Candy is. While it too falls into the vague category and does make a lot of commentary apropos of 90s America, it’s still The Kids in the Hall, in my head (where it’s 72 degrees all the time) this movie is in Canada.

Suggested to me: Nobody Waved Goodbye and Breakfast with Scot.

Northwest Territories and Nunavut

There are two reasons I had to combine these two territories: First, since Nunavut came into being in 1999 a boundary may have shifted moving a previously made film from the Northwest Territory to Nunavut. Second, specific information is hard to find on productions that shoot that far north so to play it safe I’ll discuss both rather than being incorrect.

One film that was suggested to me was Atanarjuat: Fast Runner, which I recall seeing during its initial US Theatrical release at the Angelika in New York I believe.

That film was the first installment of a loose trilogy, I have yet to see the middle film, but the third Before Tomorrow was one of my favorite films in 2009 and won a BAM for its cinematography. I believe the only location cited in the filming is northern Quebec and I don’t recall if it was supposed to be doubling for the even further north Nunavut isles or if it was supposed to be a literal setting.

From a film history perspective Nanook of the North is an early groundbreaking documentary even though the titles offer a clearly biased (at times racist), dated interpretation of the footage it’s still an interesting film, but an American one.

Manitoba

When I think of Manitoba cinematically one name jumps immediately to the fore: Guy Maddin. I was suggested The Saddest Music in the World but would submit My Winnipeg a wonderfully personal, bizarre and artful portrait of a man and his strange relationship with his hometown. The narration, which is plentiful and great has been published as a book and would make a great companion to the film if you can track it down on DVD.

Seeing as how two National Film Board animated shorts were nominated for the Oscars this year I spotlighted a great Canadian short in a Short Film Saturday post: The Cat Came Back is one of my single favorite animated shorts ever.

The Nature of Nicholas, which is a tremendously creative, well-crafted, surreal fable about a boy struggling with his feelings for his best friend.

Alberta

This proved to be a tough one for me to figure also. I know the Canadian rockies and plains have been used as substitutes but to find a film shot and set there was a challenge. I didn’t want to cheat here with something like King’s Ransom, the ESPN Films doc about the Wayne Gretzky trade. However, answers did find me…

The first was via a tremendous suggestion by one of those I asked for input and a response I got was Passchendaele, which is a tale of a veteran his girlfriend, a nurse and a naive child during World War I, which sounds like a film well worth seeking out.

Then I was reminded of my second favorite Oscar nominated animated short from this year: Wild Life. You can read my thoughts on it here.

Lastly, like a bolt of lightning it struck me to search out information on perhaps the most successful lampoon for the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 gang: The Final Sacrifice. Now, typically I will go on laughing jags in good MST3K episodes. However, never before in one of these episodes was I fighting against asphyxiation so hard, never did my face hurt so from laughing, nor did cry from laughing so hard; as when I first watched this film. Like a typical selection by the show, it’s not quality cinema but this is one of those bad movies that really goes for it, which makes it enjoyable in its own right. It’s not one of those limp, plotless trudges it gives them a lot to play off of. This film tries hard, it creates a mythology and perhaps the greatest character name ever, and I’d argue a decent anti-hero; Zap Rowsdower. So after struggling, I did find some Alberta product that is rather intriguing in one way or another.

Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan was another one I had a tough time with. When I first really started to watch and follow Canadian football I was drawn to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in part because that’s the professional team there. I subsequently learned a bit more about the region but I don’t believe I’ve seen a film made in and set in the province, I could be wrong but it’s not coming to mind at the moment.

Here is where a suggestion came in handy, again this one was Brendan Meyer’s: Why Shoot The Teacher? which tells the tale of a young man who just graduated college in the east and the only job offer he receives is in a one-room school house in the prairies. There’s a clear clash and fish-out-of-water element but eventually he does connect to the place and the people and they to him. It’s one of the more intriguing suggestions I received.

Yukon

I had to go and search the IMDb because my inquiries did not yield results for the Yukon, though there are some interesting ones at least in terms of locations.

The recent film The Big Year had scenes there though I suspect doubling. A recent horror film entitled Whisper used the Yukon to double for New England. Therefore, the most recent film that was both shot in and set in the Yukon, I believe, is the 1983 Disney film Never Cry Wolf.

Its an area with a fascinating history and great scenic locations, which could be utilized more.

Prince Edward Island

Part of what I really enjoy about expansive posts like this one is that I invariably learn things. Now, clearly I found many films worth pursuing but where I learned most was here. I got no suggestions for PEI and it nearly slipped my mind. However, the IMDb didn’t offer much in the way of film productions set there. I did discover that there is quite a bit of legacy on Prince Edward Island in the person of Lucy Maud Montgomery whose novels about Emily of New Moon and Anne of Green Gables that are renowned the world over. Television productions, be they series or TV movies of the books, were filmed there but apparently no feature film adaptation was shot there. It is quite impressive that two such well-known series not only came from the same author but round out this post nicely.

Conclusion

I already knew Canada offered diverse film selections but approaching it this way I came away with myriad titles to seek out and discover, along with some others I was aware of but didn’t include here. If you’re interested in assembling your own tour there are several resources you can check out, you’ll find two below:

The National Film Board

You can also visit and search via provincial or territorial film boards.

Canuxploitation

Favorite Older Movies First Seen in 2011

Now, I know what you’re thinking “Another list and in the middle of February no less?” Well unlike my Best of 2011 (#25-20, #20-16, #15-11, #10-1), my awards (Nominees, Acting Winners, Behind the Scenes Winners and Film Winners) and my horror list timeliness isn’t as much of a concern with this list because I am discussing my favorite older films that I viewed for the first time last year.

I have to tip my hat to @bobfreelander from whom I first heard of such a notion. Now I was hesitant to backtrack through 2011 but in seeing all those he posted I just had to and I’m glad I did. I could have split it up amongst some Honorable Mentions, Well-Known Films I Just Happened Never To Have Seen and Films I Never Heard Of Then Saw And Loved but I decided to throw them all into the same heap and unranked no less!

Discovering an older film you enjoy is a pleasure so I decided to not add the stress of splitting hairs, plus as Awards season winds down we’re all tiring of rankings anyway. So I picked 31 titles that I most enjoyed. I always seek diversity and balance when making these lists up and I think this may be the most mixed bunch of all. Enjoy!

Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Mrs. Miniver (MGM)

I already wrote at length about Mrs. Miniver in the link above. Suffice it to say like any “through the years film” of a certain length you must give it time. I watched it for Greer Garson any loved it all.

Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

Witness for the Prosecution (United Artists)

Courtroom dramas don’t come much better than this, Charles Laughton in top form and Marlene Dietrich steals every scene she’s in. It’s as compelling as it is entertaining.

Piranha (1978)

This is a movie night special. It was picked from Netflix as something to try. I had, and still have, avoided the remake but I really enjoyed this film, great horror/comedy as usual from Dante.

Basket Case (1982)

This is one of two Frank Henenlotter films on my list. This one, in spite of its effects, I interpreted as a less comedic, more horror approach than the second film based mostly on conception, execution and tone. I was told I’d enjoy it and I did because the concept really works.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

There will be a few films on the list which will be somewhat emblematic. The first Tarantino I saw was Kill Bill. I never really backtracked until last year for many reasons. When I did this, and not Pulp Fiction, was my favorite.

The Howling (1981)

Here’s Joe Dante again. In some cases when I was trying to break ties I tried to have another director represented but in others I knew I had to have the film on the list and didn’t give it a second thought. Here’s the best film I saw when I was on my werewolf kick.

Son of Frankenstein (1939)

I really should and could get all the Universal box sets but the one I found cheap was Frankenstein. I found all of them enjoyable to a different degree but I concur with the sentiment that this is better than the original.

Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

Being a fan of the horror genre I don’t know how I managed to avoid this one for so long and didn’t have it ruined for me but nonetheless I loved it and went in after the hype had died down, which was a plus.

Videodrome (1983)

I really have to get better at completing filmographies. I saw Spider shortly after it came out and absolutely loved it but never made a concerted effort to seek more Cronenberg. I caught a few this past year. This was the best one I saw.

[REC] 2 (2009)

Though the found footage subgenre is running out of wiggle room I did ask for suggestions, and thankfully got good ones, and I love both these films but I really love the way this one flipped the series on its ear. Jaume Balagueró is a director I had to pick just one film for and whose name makes me press play.

Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980)

In my review of The Turin Horse I talked about how there’s only baptism by fire when it comes to learning Tarr’s canon and no film is really an ideal starting point in my estimation, no prior film. Well, Fassbinder does likely have a logical starting point of his own but I decided to start here. Yes, I watched it. All 894 minutes or so, by Netflix discs no less and I’d wait for them and watch them immediately upon arrival and I loved it. Some of my favorite movie watching moments last year were having my morning coffee and playing the next few chapters. Not only did I like the whole thing but then in the very last section it absolutely blew my mind by the direction it took and how brilliantly and boldly it went there. So now I need to figure out where to go from here but it was a wonderful place to start.

Careful (1992)

I had the chance to see more of Guy Maddin‘s features last year (as I am rather well-versed in his short films) and this one took the cake, what an incredible concept and handled as only he could.

La Jetée (1962)

I probably won’t say anything about this film that hasn’t been said before except to repeat that it’s stunning, original and inspirational.

Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940)

I love serials. I have since I first learned of them. One of my first posts on this site was about feeling gypped by purchasing a “composite” (i.e. a feature film version which makes practically no sense). However, my affection for them has far exceeded the rate at which I’ve been able to see them, so if I have a chance to, like on Netflix for instance, I usually do. This is the first Flash Gordon I encountered and though I’ve seen a few earlier this one is still my favorite of them.

Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927)

One of the most accurate titles you’re likely to see. It is the day in the life of a major metropolitan area but the way it’s cut and shot really is symphonic.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978)

Last year was notable because I was able to finally see some B-Movies that wanted to be funny and actually were. This is one of them. This was a favorite of my best friend in junior high but I had no interest in seeing it at the time. I’m glad I finally did.

Strike (1925)

I am not one who subscribes to the theory that Eisenstein’s films are more important than they are enjoyable. I think his contribution to film touches every possible facet of it, it’s complete so, yes, his work important but not a chore and I enjoyed seeing Strike very much.

I Bury the Living (1958)

I remember after I saw this film I tried to remember where I first heard of it: it was in Stephen King’s non-fiction book about horror Danse Macabre. He listed it in an appendix as one of 100 excellent horror films released between 1950 and 1980 or so. I agreed with his assertion immediately. It’s a jarring film but brilliant at both ends so to speak.

Manhattan Melodrama (1934)

This is a film I caught during 31 Days of Oscar last year and it’s part of why I love the festival. You will turn up some surprises or films you never saw. I love the title too, the film knows what it is but does it so well and is very memorable for that reason.

The Nickel Children (2005)

This is a movie I found at my local library and more proof that you need to use all sources available to you to find worthwhile films. This movie is not an easy one to watch as it deals with kids who live on the street whether kicked out or have run away and the harsh realities they face and what needs doing to survive. The film could be more sensationalistic than it needs to when dealing with subject matter such as child prostitution, juvenile delinquency and so on, barring one scene the film handles it all very well.

Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998)

I have to see the Phantasm series again. If there’s not a box set there should be. I’m not sure there’s a horror series with a better, more consistent through-line than this one, which continuously adds layers to the equation. I saw them all as they popped up on Netflix and it’s hard to say which of the last two I enjoyed more but they really do need revisiting, it’s fascinating stuff.

Charcoal People (2000)

This is a great documentary because all it does is shed light on an issue and give you food for thought, it gives you facts. Charcoal People is about Brazilians who cut down trees to make charcoal that is sold to international car manufacturers to make pig iron, which is, of course, the cheap construction solution. Much of it deals with these people’s lives eloquently and poetically but it also addresses deforestation and the conundrum they face, essentially they don’t want to contribute to the deforestation of the Amazon but they have no other means to make a living. It’s powerful stuff.

The Flyboys (aka Sky Kids) (2008)

This is a film I knew about for sometime. It did some festivals but sat in the can for a while. Then I heard there was a premiere but never saw any evidence of the film say like a DVD. I figured it was just going to be one of those films I never saw because I couldn’t. Well, the world is a funny place. Much the way certain musicians retain or have popularity in unexpected regions so are the curious ways of distribution deals because I saw this film on a premium movie channel in Brazil. It’s an interesting one which has its first plot point feeling very climactic but it doesn’t really slow down from there (As a matter of fact my aunt wondered what took me so long because passing through she thought the movie was nearly over) and I really enjoyed it. In some ways it’s like a lot of kid’s movies but it does have a unique combination of elements and always keeps things adventurous so while changes in the story are surprising they’re not mutations of tone or genre.

Demonic Toys (1992)

This movie is part of the reason that this list is called “Favorite” and not “Best.” I don’t usually distinguish between the two but this is the rare film in my estimation that garners that elusive title of “So Bad It’s Good.” It has an audacious script by David S. Goyer (pre-Nolan Batman films) and a great albeit dubbed evil kid performance by Daniel Cerny, good flashbacks and chemistry between leads. For all its faults, which are myriad, I still found it to be very enjoyable to watch. Beyond that it nearly defies description. I wanted to include it in my 61 Days of Halloween series but I stuck with mostly posting about the original class, this year I may include it.

Der Wilden Kerle 5: Hinter Dem Horizont (2008)

I first saw a film from this series on Netflix but sadly they only offered it with the godawful American dubbing furthermore the US distributor has labeled part two as part one for reasons unknown. So thanks to the magic of the internets I tracked down most of the films and not only is the the first one I saw another film when watching it subtitled the series absolutely refuses categorization and gets curioser and curioser as it goes and you never really know what genre you’ll stumble into making it even more fun.

Burnt Offerings (1976)

This is another Danse Macabre special and after I was finished watching I could not find enough superlatives to laud it with and it held up on second viewing too. Dan Curtis brings to this the same palpable tension that imbues Dark Shadows minus the markings of daytime TV. I was quite literally gobsmacked when I was done watching it.

Lake Mungo (2008)

This was a film that I also found thanks to my seeking out found footage films worth watching. What’s most compelling about this film is its construction. It’s an after-the-fact mockumentary that incorporates a lot of found footage and it also provides some amazing and chilling twists and turns.

Face to Face (1976)

Proof that I have diversity in this list is that I have things from B-grade horror/comedy to this long lost (to Americans anyway) film by Ingmar Bergman. I have been enamored with Bergman’s work since I first saw it and slowly but surely have seen all I could get my hands on, owning most of it. The funny thing about Face to Face is that I actually read it before I saw it. I happened upon a script one day, in an old pocket book edition, read it and I still have a photocopy in my files. The film is much more vibrant and crystal clear to me than the script was, I have read a few other Bergmans and didn’t encounter that particular quandary. Regardless, it’s quite the mind-play and one of Ullmann’s strongest works.

Burning Secret (1988)

This is a fascinating film which actually prompted me to buy the short novel its based on. I think the adaptation is really great not only because it manages to capture the right elements and change a few that it needs to but it strips the inner-monologue from all characters, which while illuminating leaves less of an air of mystery to the tale. It also allows the film to be quite visual and features great performances by all three featured players Klaus Maria Brandauer, Faye Dunaway and David Eberts, in his only role as an actor.

Frankenhooker (1990)

I was fortunate to win this in a Twitter giveaway (so enter them, you can win) and I must say I was laughing from start to finish, as I was supposed to. As I said under Basket Case I felt this one was much more skewed towards comedy and maybe the better for it. Hilarious.

Conclusion

So there’s my list. This year’s is taking shape and who knows how different it will be I’m much more tuned in to 31 Days of Oscar this year, anyway, I’m very glad I did this because if anything it’ll keep me (and maybe you too) on the lookout for older treasures.