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There is never a crisis-free year for Canadian film.

But that’s okay, because our filmmakers thrive when working on tremulous ground – and the past 12 months provided no shortage of tectonic shifts. Whether it is the perilous state of Telefilm funding, the unknown domino effects of the Online Streaming Act or the cloudy theatrical-exhibition landscape, the state of the industry is one of constant anxiety. Top it all off with a number of tragic losses – from filmmaker Charles Officer to tireless champions Ravi Srinivasan and Noah Cowan – and 2023 cannot help but feel like a particularly challenging year for an eternally vexing industry.

Yet just as crises are inevitable, so are breakthroughs – the kind of exciting, transformative cinema that keeps the community alive to fight another day. And the list of the Top 10 Canadian Films of 2023 below doesn’t even include some releases that came out in theatres this year – including I Like Movies, Brother, Riceboy Sleeps and Queens of the Qing Dynasty – because they are considered 2022 titles owing to their film-fest runs last year. (Hey, I don’t make the rules. Although I guess I kinda do.)

1. BlackBerry

The culmination of years’ worth of trash talk from director Matt Johnson as to how the Canadian film industry ought to look, BlackBerry might be the defining film of a generation. An intensely entertaining tale of corporate hubris that confirms Johnson as Canada’s most talented mischief-maker, the comedy is nervy, bold, brash. What’s more: Repeated viewings prove that Johnson’s prankster-cinema shtick never gets old but instead reveals new layers and perfectly executed tricks. Jay Baruchel has never been better, the supporting cast is stacked with legendary Canadian character actors, and will someone for the love of all that is holy in Waterloo, Ont., give Glenn Howerton a Best Supporting Actor nomination? C’mon, let’s go! (On-demand, including Apple TV, Amazon, Google Play; miniseries version streaming on CBC Gem)

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Jay Baruchel as Mike Lazaridis, left, and Glenn Howerton as Jim Balsillie in a still image handout from a scene from the film BlackBerry.The Associated Press

2. Red Rooms

Draped underneath a thick layer of dread, Pascal Plante’s follow-up to his Cannes-certified drama Nadia, Butterfly is the most effectively unnerving thriller of the year. Following two young women’s very different obsessions with a Paul Bernardo-like serial killer (Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, perfectly cast as a creep without the actor needing to say a word of dialogue), Red Rooms mixes the modern folklore of the internet with the pulse-pounding tension of a classic whodunnit. Juliette Gariépy, playing the more mysterious of the two women who are drawn to a Montreal murder trial, delivers a knockout performance, accenting her character’s ambiguity with the hardest of edges. (On-demand, including Apple TV and Cineplex Store)

3. Swan Song

Chelsea McMullan and Sean O’Neill’s riveting documentary traces the National Ballet’s production of Swan Lake over the course of several sweaty months with rigour and inventiveness. With incredible behind-the-scenes access – aided by some ingeniously placed cameras and mics, the crew filming five days a week for 10 hours a day – the Swan Song filmmakers jeté past tired hallmarks of doc cinema to deliver a vivid, propulsive, empathetic and engaged portrait of the artistic process. (Feature-film version currently unavailable to stream; four-part miniseries version streaming on CBC Gem)

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Chelsea McMullan takes us inside the National Ballet of Canada’s 2022 production of Swan Lake, directed and staged by the legendary Karen Kain, in Swan Song.Handout

4. Skinamarink

With little dialogue and most of its action shrouded in darkness, Skinamarink plays like a Michael Snow video-art installation projected from inside the ninth circle of hell. Kyle Edward Ball’s microbudget directorial debut, shot inside his parents’ Edmonton home, is an intensely challenging haunted-house film that dares audiences to stick around. Which is partly why it has inspired such a fiercely devoted following barely a year after its release. And no, the movie has nothing to do with the eponymous children’s song by Sharon, Lois & Bram – for the love of all that is holy, keep children away from this thing. (Streaming on Shudder)

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Skinamarink (2022). The title of the of the movie derives from the name of a popular North American nonsense song for preschoolers – and Kyle Edward Ball’s debut feature tracks preschooler siblings Kevin (Lucas Paul) and Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault) as they experience an irrational world that they do not fully understand. Set in 1995, and looking as though it had been filmed on domestic camcorders from that time (in fact it was shot digitally), Skinamarink has a grainy appearance Courtesy of BayView Entertainment

Kyle Edward Ball’s debut feature Skinamarink tracks preschooler siblings Kevin (Lucas Paul) and Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault) as they experience an irrational world that they do not fully understand.Courtesy of BayView Entertainment

5. Concrete Valley

Shot in the thick of Toronto’s Thorncliffe Park after director Antoine Bourges became fascinated with the slab of Toronto highrises while driving past the area every day on the Don Valley Parkway, this underseen drama takes the concept of storytelling immersion seriously. With one exception, the cast is composed of non-actors, many residents of the actual neighbourhood. Their sometimes stilted, halting line-readings circumvent a sense of amateurism due to the film’s central thematic preoccupations – every character here is learning to live a new life, unsure of themselves, their language, their place. The result is beguiling, with Bourges, his co-writer Teyama Alkamli and his cast building a different kind of cinematic storytelling right before our eyes. (Currently unavailable to stream)

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CONCRETE VALLEY (2022). Filmmaker Antoine Bourges creates a film about the diverse experiences of a Toronto immigrant community. Struggling to integrate into his new country, Rashid (Hussam Douhna) is mourning his career as a doctor, which he left behind in Syria. Meanwhile, his wife Farah (Amani Ibrahim) is aware that starting over isn’t always an option, and often it’s necessary to reinvent oneself. Courtesy of MDF Films

Filmmaker Antoine Bourges creates a film about the diverse experiences of a Toronto immigrant community in Concrete Valley.Courtesy of General Use / MDF Films

6. So Much Tenderness

Lina Rodriguez’s drama opens with a sly wink and tight grip. Canadian indie film stars Kazik Radwanski and Deragh Campbell (who together made 2019′s Anne at 13,000 Ft.) are introduced as a couple preparing to smuggle a woman across the U.S.-Canada border. But after the two set out for the operation, Rodriguez swiftly and deftly switches gears. So Much Tenderness is not about the dangers of crossing over to a new country but looks at the uneasiness of having done so. The Americans are soon forgotten, and now the focus is on their so-called cargo, a mother named Aurora (Noëlle Schönwald) who escaped Colombia for a better life. Rodriguez expertly balances competing emotions, with her film at once sweet and haunting, nerve-rattling and quite funny. (Streaming on Criterion Channel; available on-demand via Apple TV)

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Noëlle Schönwald as Aurora and Natalia Aranguren as Lucía in So Much Tenderness.Rayon Verde/Mongrel Media

7. I Don’t Know Who You Are

A tremendously tense portrait of small-scale desperation, M.H. Murray’s micro-budget feature-film debut delivered a jolt during its world premiere at this past fall’s Toronto International Film Festival. Anchored by a wonderfully affecting, star-making performance from Mark Clennon, who appears in nearly every second of the film, I Don’t Know Who You Are is a ticking-clock drama about a musician’s bid to pull together enough cash to secure the HIV-preventative treatment he so critically needs in the wake of a brutal sexual assault. Alternately soul-crushing and inspiring, Murray’s fresh and raw work heralds the kind of career that the Canadian film industry badly needs to cultivate. (Opening in theatres early 2024)

8. Solo

Sophie Dupuis continues her run as one of the most adventurous filmmakers to come out of Quebec in years with this immersive look into Montreal’s drag scene. Reteaming with Théodore Pellerin, the star of her first two films Family First and Underground, Dupuis traces the story of a young drag star as he tries to deal with a gaslighting boyfriend and an upcoming reunion with his estranged mother, a celebrity opera singer played by Quebec screen icon Anne-Marie Cadieux. At one moment, Dupuis shoots the inside of a rollicking drag club with fizz and pop. The next, the director stretches tense moments of domestic drama to their breaking points. (Coming soon to digital platforms; plays during TIFF’s Canada’s Top 10 List screening series, Jan. 25-28)

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Felix Maritaud as Olivier, in an undated handout still image from the film Solo.HO/The Canadian Press

9. Seagrass

A remarkably assured directorial debut, Meredith Hama-Brown’s drama about one mixed-race family coming apart at the seams is tender and true. Set about a decade ago, Seagrass follows the Japanese-Canadian Judith (Ally Maki), her white husband Steve (Luke Roberts, giving off a serious Chris Messina vibe) and their two young daughters as they vacation at a Pacific coast family retreat. Nerves are frayed, hidden truths exposed, with all the minor-key drama underlined by a vaguely supernatural bent. Hama-Brown refuses to offer easy answers to her characters’ problems, delivering a story that feels painfully genuine. (Opens in theatres early 2024, with a special screening during TIFF’s Canada’s Top 10 List screening series, Jan. 25-28)

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Seagrass, Meredith Hama-Brown’s drama about one mixed-race family coming apart at the seams, is tender and true.Handout

10. Infinity Pool

In other, cleaner hands, Infinity Pool’s high-concept pitch – what would happen if you could have a clone of yourself shoulder the debts of your criminal activities? – might devolve into a dryly ponderous exercise. But in Brandon Cronenberg’s sweaty palms, the conceit provides an opportunity to revel in an all-out primal nastiness. The violence isn’t limited to acts of murder, either, with several sex scenes – including a drug-fuelled encounter that might hold the record for the longest onscreen orgy – treating the human body as a mutable thing. This is unapologetic filmmaking that has no qualms about sticking its face in the muck and staying there till everything turns black, which is a kind of Canadian-cinema specialty. (Streaming on Crave)

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Mia Goth, left, and Alexander Skarsgard in a scene from Infinity Pool.The Associated Press

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