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Xavier Dolan, left, and François Arnaud star in Dolan’s autobiographical debut J’ai tué ma mère, in which a young gay man comes of age.

Was it the mute, snowy streetscapes of Polytechnique , Denis Villeneuve's intimate recounting of the Montreal massacre, that haunts you most? Or the delicate romance that blossoms between the lead players in Ruba Nadda's Cairo Time that lingers.

More likely, you didn't see either one of these Canadian films last year. But both hit the screen again as part of Canada's Top Ten - TIFF Cinematheque's annual roundup of domestic achievement in features and short film.

"A lot of people in our audiences tell us they never see Canadian film during the year except for this program," TIFF programmer Steve Gravestock says. "The genesis of whole thing was to create a promotional tool for Canadian films and filmmakers."

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Cinematheque begins screening its top 10 series next week, with most filmmakers present for Q&As. A selection of the features will also hit Vancouver's Pacific Cinematheque and Ottawa's Canadian Film Institute early this year, and Gravestock says TIFF is working on adding more cities to the circuit.

And no, Canada's Top Ten is not, as some grumps still believe, generated by TIFF programmers. Established in 2001, the program recruits a 10-member panel from across the country and a variety of film-related fields (critics, filmmakers, academics and industry pros).

These brave viewers, whose identities are not revealed to each other, each watch around 100 Canadian features that have either opened commercially or premiered at a Canadian festival, ranking them on two ballot rounds. (The final published list does not rank the films.) A few years ago TIFF also introduced a separate "top 10" for shorts, chosen by a similar five-member panel.

While those who closely follow Canadian film will no doubt quibble with the 2009 list - documentary, for instance, is conspicuously absent - the features deliver a high quality cross-section of work that makes a strong program.

There are headline-grabbers such as auteur wunderkind Xavier Dolan's autobiographical debut J'ai tué ma mère (winner of three Cannes prizes), about a young gay man's troubled relationship with his mother as he comes of age. And there are hidden gems such as Passenger Side , Matt Bissonnette's deftly written riff on the road movie, which follows two Canadian brothers on a mysterious Los Angeles daytrip.

There are also some smart and seriously fun twists on genre conventions here. The Trotsky is Jacob Tierney's ebullient comedy about a precocious high school senior obsessed with the notion he is the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky. Defendor , directed by Peter Stebbings, is a pyrotechnic-free superhero story staring Woody Harrelson as a likeable, if slightly deluded, construction worker who becomes a self-styled crime avenger at night (and in Hamilton!).

Set in the context of a large medieval role-playing game unfolding in a forest, Alexandre Franchi's The Wild Hunt (best first feature at TIFF 2009) moves in many surprising directions. "He sets you up and then suddenly you're watching something else," Gravestock says with a laugh. "A strange fantasy movie turns into a weird comedy romance and then gets darker."

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A more neorealist approach to storytelling can be found in Denis Côté's Carcasses , which blends fable and documentary in its portrait of a rural Quebec junkyard dealer. Sherry White's Crackie is about the dreams and heartbreaks of a singularly quirky young Newfoundland girl being raised by her volatile grandmother.

The only veteran on the 2009 list, Quebec master Bernard Émond makes his fourth appearance in the series - a Canada's Top Ten record. La donation , the final film in Émond's humanist trilogy, confronts big ideas through the aches and pains of a disappearing mining town whose long-serving doctor hands over his practice.

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