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If 2021 was an anxious year for Canadian cinema, then 2022 was an altogether different kind of 12-month stress test. COVID-19 protocols seem to have permanently added a prohibitive layer of expense to already razor-thin production budgets, theatrical enthusiasm for domestic features is perhaps at its lowest point ever, and what of Bill C-11?

But there are heartening moments everywhere you look, too – promises of new eras at Telefilm and the National Film Board, myriad diversity initiatives coming into full bloom, and more than a handful of Canadian storytellers getting much-deserved notices beyond our borders. Including some of the extraordinarily talented names listed below.

Here, in alphabetical order because we’re all very polite, are my Top 10 Canadian films of 2022, and where you can watch (some of) them right now.

Brother

Brother, directed by Clement Virgo.Guy Godfree/Elevation Pictures via The Canadian Press

A caveat to start this list: several of these “2022″ films won’t actually be available to watch outside the environs of a film festival – including TIFF’s upcoming Canada’s Top 10 series – until 2023. That’s just the way fractured Canadian distribution works. But many 2022/23 films are just too good to hold off mentioning till next December, including Clement Virgo’s remarkable, beautiful new drama, Brother. Adapted from the award-winning 2017 novel by David Chariandy about two siblings growing up in the blighted Toronto neighbourhood of Scarborough circa 1991, Virgo’s film stares the notion of sacrifice straight in the face – and by the time it’s ready to blink, audiences are likely to be left in tears. (In theatres, release date TBD.)

Crimes of the Future

Viggo Mortensen in Crimes of the Future.Photo Credit: Nikos Nikolopoulos/Courtesy of Serendipity Point Films / Sphere Films

A crossover title from my overall Top 10 films of 2022 list, David Cronenberg’s return to filmmaking after an eight-year hiatus and serious ruminations of retirement finds the Canadian icon at the top of his game. Set in a near-future where pain is no longer a problem and “surgery is the new sex,” Cronenberg’s film builds a world in which chaos and fear are laced with small tendons of hope. It is a ruthlessly meditative work as distressing as it is engrossing. (Streaming on Crave.)

Framing Agnes

Zackary Drucker in Framing Agnes.Ava Benjamin Shorr/Courtesy of Mongrel Media

As much a rebuke to documentary tactics as it is to the historical record, Chase Joynt’s Framing Agnes is a film about finding and then breaking form. After looking into the private 1950s and 1960s archives of UCLA sociologist Harold Garfinkel, Joynt uncovered the story of Agnes Torres, a trans woman whose participation in Garfinkel’s gender-health research marked a landmark in her community’s history. Based on his 2019 short film, Joynt’s doc attempts to answer just who Agnes was by employing a high-concept conceit: staging a series of faux-retro talk-show segments, in which he acts as the slick interrogator of Agnes, played by trans performer Zackary Drucker. Impressively, the risky shtick works wonders. (Now playing in select theatres.)

Geographies of Solitude

Documentary Geographies of Solitude traces the life of naturalist and environmentalist Zoe Lucas.Courtesy of Hot Docs

Far off the coast of Nova Scotia sits Sable Island, the site of shipwrecks, the subject of a Stompin’ Tom Connors song, and the focus of a handful of old CBC documentaries. And now the thin stretch of land is the star of a beguiling new Canadian film that focuses on Zoe Lucas, a self-taught environmentalist, naturalist and archivist who arrived on Sable Island four decades ago and never looked back. By the time that director Jacquelyn Mills’s poetic film comes to an end, you might want to follow Lucas’s lead, too, and stay forever. (Now playing in select theatres.)

I Like Movies

Isaiah Lehtinen and Percy Hynes White in I Like Movies.Courtesy of VHS Forever Inc. / Mongrel

Circle March 10 on your calendar, because that’s the date when you’ll finally become sick of me talking about Chandler Levack’s I Like Movies, one of the most hilarious and heartbreaking films I saw all this year. Following a narcissistic teenage video clerk (Isaiah Lehtinen, a true find in the Jonah Hill meets Jason Schwartzman mould) and his jaded mid-30s boss (Romina D’ugo, equally fantastic) in 2002-era Burlington, Ont., Levack’s feature debut is sharp, sweet, sour and singular. (In theatres March 10.)

Inconvenient Indian

Inconvenient Indian is based on Thomas King’s 2012 book.Courtesy of TIFF

Not everyone will be open to approaching Michelle Latimer’s long-delayed doc, which arrived on APTN this past spring after a year and a half of controversy over its director’s Indigenous ancestry. But if at the end of this tumultuous year we are asked to consider the state of the country’s arts – where we have been, and where we might be heading – then watching Inconvenient Indian feels like an essential act. A loose but highly respectful adaptation of Thomas King’s 2012 non-fiction book, Latimer’s film takes delight in breaking conventions while attempting to build new ones from scratch. There are no talking heads or stitched-together archival footage here. Instead, Latimer’s exploration of modern Indigenous culture is as fluid in form and approach as the artists whom she chronicles on camera. (Streaming on APTN Lumi.)

The Maiden

Hayley Ness and Jackson Sluiter in The Maiden.Courtesy of TIFF

An intensely atmospheric meditation on friendship and grief, Graham Foy’s debut feature The Maiden is a haunting work that lingers. Its first half focuses on Colton (Marcel T. Jimenez) and Kyle (Jackson Sluiter), high-school friends whose “MAIDEN” graffiti tags give the film its name. With little to do but kill time, the pair engage in a cycle of gentle adolescent destruction, until a shocking incident breaks their world apart. The film then segues into the tale of the boys’ classmate, the shy Whitney (Hayley Ness), who embarks on an unexpected journey that cosmically loops back to the initial tragedy that tore Colton and Kyle apart. Disturbing and tender, The Maiden announces the arrival of Foy as one of this country’s most exciting emerging talents. (In theatres, release date TBD.)

Queens of the Qing Dynasty

Queens of the Qing Dynasty is director Ashley McKenzie’s follow-up to her 2016 debut Werewolf.Courtesy of TIFF

Following two lost Cape Breton souls, Ashley McKenzie’s follow-up to her incredible 2016 debut Werewolf focuses on the 18-year-old Star (Sarah Walker), who we meet in the hospital after she has ingested poison, and An (Ziyin Zheng), a lonely student from Shanghai assigned to watch over the suicidal patient. What sounds like the log-line of an exercise in Maritime miserablism is instead a playful, energetic and empathetic work – an extension of Werewolf’s focus on how easily people can become stuck in one place, but also a tremendously ambitious stretching of form and vision. (In theatres winter 2023.)

Riceboy Sleeps

Riceboy Sleeps follows the widowed factory worker So-young (Choi Seung-yoon) as she tries to maintain a stable life for her young son, Dong-Hyun (Dohyun Noel Hwang).Courtesy of TIFF

Another startling debut, Anthony Shim’s supremely confident drama, which jumps decades and continents, plays like a microbudget Canadian companion piece to the 2020 sleeper hit Minari. Opening in the early 1990s, Riceboy Sleeps follows the widowed factory worker So-young (Choi Seung-yoon) as she tries to maintain a stable life for her young son, Dong-Hyun (Dohyun Noel Hwang), in their new home of Vancouver. Shooting coverage with a single camera – affording the director luxurious single-take scenes – and shifting aspect ratios when the film moves from Canada to South Korea, Riceboy Sleeps is as impressive in its technical aspects as its storytelling. (In theatres, release date TBD.)

Viking

Larissa Corriveau and Steve Laplante in Viking.Courtesy of TIFF

Quebecois director Stephane Lafleur’s first movie in almost a decade – after the 2014 Cannes-certified dramedy Tu dors NicoleViking arrives like a long-awaited breath of fresh, deadpan air. A minimalist comedy in the vein of absurdist filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, Lafleur’s movie follows a group of wannabe astronauts who are selected to mirror the mission and behaviour of the real-deal space explorers currently on the first crewed flight to Mars. Basically, the amateurs will act as the B-Team so that officials can see what might go wrong on Earth before they could go sideways in orbit. The idea – a perfect metaphor for how Canada’s film industry operates in the shadow of America’s – is rich in dark comic potential, which Lafleur mines with the expertise of a NASA-certified engineer. (Available on-demand, including Apple TV)