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The Globe's Canadian artists of the year: The runners-up

2017 was a remarkable year for Canadian culture, across mediums. To celebrate, Globe Arts writers and editors offer their arguments in favour of the figures who mattered most

Author Margaret Atwood.

Margaret Atwood

In his review of Sarah Polley's sly, smart TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace this fall, New York Times TV critic James Poniewozik quipped that, if the author "didn't already exist, 2017 would have had to invent her." How about this Mobius strip tease, then: Atwood invented 2017. Or, at least, a version of it, in her 1985 dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale, which depicted a United States that had become a wartime theocratic dictatorship in which the few remaining fertile women were enslaved as breeders. Three decades later, Western culture has finally caught up to (collapsed into?) Atwood's grim, Eastern-bloc-inspired imaginings, as the TV adaptation of Handmaid, shimmering with rage and ironic humour, spawned an army of meme-ready red-cloaked handmaidens marching in the streets of our benighted southern neighbour. (It also rocketed Atwood's novel back onto the bestseller charts.) During a Handmaid premiere event at the University of Toronto in April, someone asked Atwood a question and then tried to interrupt with a follow-up question. Atwood cut her off: "Yeah, I've got more to say," she purred mordantly. We're listening. Simon Houpt


The Globe's artist of the year: Lido Pimienta

How #metoo shaped 2017 from start to finish

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Christi Belcourt

Michif painter and multimedia artist Christi Belcourt.

Truth took such a beating this year that I have to celebrate an artist who fearlessly stood up for the truth. Christi Belcourt is a Michif (Métis) painter and multimedia artist whose work can be seen in major public galleries and in the Centre Block of Parliament, where her stained-glass window Giniigaaniimenaaing (Looking Ahead) commemorates the tragedy of the residential schools. She is one of the originators of Walking With Our Sisters, a community-based art project about missing and murdered Indigenous woman, which travelled to five Canadian cities in 2017. She has also been a vigorous advocate for Indigenous language resurgence through the Onaman Collective, and against the family-destructive practices of agencies such as Winnipeg Child and Family Services. She exposed the comfortable lies underlying Canada 150 and the gulf between the federal government's symbolic show of reconciliation and its still-colonial policies toward Indigenous people. For her, making art and changing the world are one continuous practice. Robert Everett-Green

Ashley McKenzie

Director Ashley McKenzie.

This past year has been a frustrating one to endure, for myriad reasons. But away from the endless depths of the sociopolitical arena, it has been especially difficult to watch one of the year's best films – Canadian or not – open almost completely under the radar. Ashley McKenzie's drama Werewolf is a work of startling artistry, at once a manifesto on how to produce a film with almost no money as well as a simple story, powerfully told. Following the down-and-out days of two Cape Breton drug addicts as they kill time and each other's souls, McKenzie's debut feature still haunts me more than a year after I saw it on the festival circuit, and six months after it opened in a tiny Toronto theatre. The film, and McKenzie's invaluable contribution to the national cinema and creative landscape, deserve far more exposure than 2017 afforded. Werewolf is currently available for download on iTunes Canada, and as a screening option on Air Canada flights. It is worth the cost of a flight. Barry Hertz

Tom Wilson

Author and musician Tom Wilson.

"I just keep doing things," Tom Wilson tells me. In 2017, his doing was heavier than usual. The Hamilton musician's year included a pair of tours with the folk-rock supergroup Blackie and the Rodeo Kings. The Juno-winning trio (with Colin Linden and Stephen Fearing) released Kings and Kings, its ninth album. He worked on some paintings; a touring exhibition of new works will happen in 2018. With his alt-rock group, Lee Harvey Osmond, he released a live album. He was in a couple of movies – in one of them he played God, but he can't remember the title. And he wrote a book: Beautiful Scars, a poetic and potent memoir with a plot twist. A few years ago, Wilson found out he was of Indigenous ancestry. "I'm an infant, crawling toward my identity," said the man, deep into his 50s, at a book launch. He gave his first reading at Massey Hall, with Neil Young and Bruce Cockburn in the audience. Right now he's working on a new show, involving memoir passages set to music. Mostly, Tom Wilson kept busy. It's his thing. Brad Wheeler

Irene Sankoff and David Hein

Writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein.

Broadway is a brutal marketplace at the best of times, but, in the 2016-17 season, 13 new musicals premiered in New York's commercial theatre district – the most in three and a half decades, a post- Hamilton deluge. Somehow, Come from Away, the Canadian couple Irene Sankoff and David Hein's original musical about the passengers on 38 planes diverted to Gander, Nfld., on 9/11 and the Newfoundlanders who took them in, cut through all the noise and well-known brands. That Sankoff and Hein did so by preaching the power of kindness made their success all the more satisfying. Their heartwarming show may not have won the Tony for best musical, but it has been sold out since it opened and will have grossed over $52-million (U.S.) by the end of 2017. It earned a place in the Canadian political history books when Justin Trudeau practised soft diplomacy next to Ivanka Trump at a performance in March – and a place in the theatre history books when it became only the second Canadian-penned musical to recoup on Broadway in October. More Come from Away to come – with a new Toronto production, a tour and a film adaptation in the works. J. Kelly Nestruck

Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg

Since the co-artistic directors and founders began staged productions by Opera Atelier in 1985, the journey has been steady and, recently, soaring. It's remarkable for a small Canadian company. In 2015, they took Mozart's Lucio Silla to La Scala in Milan, a production that had earned raves at the Salzburg Festival, known rightly as the toughest opera audience in Europe. This year, they returned to France to stage their stunning, stripped-down Medea at the Royal Opera House, Versailles. In 2018, they are invited to the Rossini Opera Festival in Italy. Meticulous, inspired staging with dance an essential component has made the baroque company an international powerhouse punching way above its apparent weight – and an inspiration to every Canadian performing-arts group aiming for excellence at the highest global level. John Doyle

Denis Villeneuve

Director Denis Villeneuve, right.

For many filmmakers, it might have been a suicide mission: direct a belated sequel to a cult classic, inviting invidious comparisons with the sci-fi master who defined the dystopian genre 35 years before. This year, Denis Villeneuve finessed the impossible: The Quebec director moved the darkly strange and perpetually rainy Los Angeles of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner three more decades into the future to create the rare sequel that justifies its existence by actually enlarging the original. Critically acclaimed, Blade Runner 2049 cements Villeneuve's reputation for bringing a fine eye and a big brain to what might appear as mere genre scenarios, imbuing his films with startling imagery and subtle emotions. The prolific Villeneuve continues to draw the high-profile Hollywood offers he's enjoyed since his move to English-language movie-making in 2013 – next up is a new adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune. So what if audiences didn't flock to Blade Runner 2049? It took time for the original to earn its reputation, too: It's not by topping the weekend box office that you earn your spot in posterity. Kate Taylor

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