If you only paid attention to the marquee names of the Canadian film industry, 2017 may have seemed like a peculiar one. The past 12 months have come and gone without a single new Cronenberg, Mehta, Egoyan, Rozema, Polley or Maddin feature to dissect and put atop a pedestal in an effort to ponder, "Whither Canadian Cinema?" Even Xavier Dolan, who's been producing one film per annum for the past seven years, didn't make the cut, with his English-language debut The Death and Life of John F. Donovan sliding into 2018.
But away from the familiar directors who dominate the conversation, it was a riveting, bold, brash year for homegrown movies. Perhaps, even, a game-changer. Here, in alphabetical order, are the Top 10 Canadian films of 2017 – and this doesn't even include the standout titles that made their way across the festival circuit (Ava, The Crescent, Black Cop), but have yet to appear in theatres or on-demand.
A Canadian co-production with Ireland and Luxembourg, Nora Twomey's animated film leaves behind all three states to go deep into the life of one young girl in Afghanistan. The themes of freedom and strength in family are far from new, but Twomey's heartfelt direction, her team's subtle animation and Anita Doron's gentle adaptation of Canadian author Deborah Ellis's novel culminate in a powerful and topical tale.
Dim the Fluorescents
Hilarious and heartbreaking, Daniel Warth's debut feature dissected the creative process with surgical precision. Following the ambitions of two theatre-scene wannabes as they eke out a living on the corporate-presentations circuit, Dim the Fluorescents becomes a film about big breaks that itself turns into a big break for Warth and his lead actors (Claire Armstrong, Naomi Skwarna).
Great Great Great
Sarah Kolasky and Adam Garnet Jones get their hands dirty in this dark, messy dramedy that will make you question any long-term relationship you've ever had. The pair wrote the film together, while Garnet Jones directs and Kolasky stars; watching the effort unfold, you cannot help but marvel at how much Kolasky drops any sense of pretense, how tightly Garnet Jones controls the emotional weather, and how truly, madly, deeply the two must have laboured to get their vision out into the world.
This is Canada, so there are going to be hockey movies. But though 2017 delivered a film like Goon: Last of the Enforcers – a fun-enough and filthy sequel – the best hockey movie of the year isn't about hockey at all. Kevan Funk's Hello Destroyer takes the dark psychology of the game and twists it to form a devastating drama of alienation that should haunt anyone who's enjoyed an on-ice fist fight (goons included).
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World
Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana's doc made a splash at Sundance in January, and its sesquicentennial/reconciliation timing only further enriched the viewing experience as the year went on. Tackling the pioneering Native American musicians who changed the rock game, the film nimbly weaves history and cultural analysis into one insightful, very loud package. Turn it up, then.
Pavan Moondi's dark comedy – yep, Canadians do enjoy this genre; nothing wrong with that – could have been a vacation-gone-awry cheapie. But thanks to Moondi's whip-smart and wry script, loosely based on his own misadventures as a wedding videographer hired for tropical gigs, Sundowners is more John Cassavetes than Chevy Chase. It is extremely uncomfortable, but captivating and engaging all the same.
A documentary built from the ground up, Charles Officer's film takes a unique approach to chronicling urban change and renewal. Looking at the revitalization of Toronto's Villaways housing complex, Unarmed Verses uses young resident Francine Valentine as an avatar to examine themes of gentrification, community and class. That Officer is able to accomplish such a task with effortless grace makes the doc a priceless artifact of 21st-century urban life.
What could have been a mere Stuart Gordon homage is given some serious chills in Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski's horror. Blessedly free of self-referential yuks, the filmmaking pair take their concept of a haunted hospital deadly seriously, resulting in 90 minutes of pure terror.
I have spent 2017 doing two things: fearing for the general future of the world, and recommending Ashley McKenzie's feature debut to anyone who would listen. If you missed Werewolf's short theatrical run this past summer, stop reading this article – even though you haven't made it to the end of the list; bookmark it! – and download the film on iTunes. Or, failing that, take a flight on Air Canada and watch it there as a screening option. Peanuts extra.
If 2017 delivered nothing else, it was a remarkable dose of stellar first-time features. Here, rookie Joyce Wong crafts a poignant portrait of urban isolation, using a decaying Scarborough strip mall as the place where dreams go to die. That may sound depressing, but Wong's vision is exacting and sharp, never letting her story drown in sorrow.
Bonus! Nirvanna the Band the Show's Halloween episode
Although the Viceland series' second season is not in any way, shape or form a feature film, it does represent some of the most purely entertaining and ambitious 30 minutes of Canadian content made all year. Riffing on The Evil Dead, Jumanji, The Simpsons and An American Werewolf in London, and all with a uniquely Toronto POV, Matt Johnson and Jay McCarrol's creation was a goofy delight that offset the general mood of the year perfectly.