You’ve seen Anne of Green Gables, Goin’ Down the Road, Mon oncle Antoine, and other well-known classic Canadian films, but did you know that Canada’s vast cinematic repertoire includes many hidden gems throughout its long history? Here are a just a few of our favourites!
An abstract short film by Montreal avant-garde director Arthur Lipsett, 21-87 was produced by the National Film Board of Canada in 1963. Lipsett created the film using snippets of discarded footage found in the editing room of the NFB (where he was employed as an animator), combined with his own black-and-white 16mm footage shot on the streets of Montreal and New York City.
Following the convention of ʼ60s avant-garde collage films, his work reacted against the dominant ideologies of the time. Lipsett sought to exploit images that encapsulated the concerns, creations and insecurities of contemporary society; images of science and technology, images of war and destruction, and images and sounds of religion.
What is less known about 21-87 is that it had a profound influence on director George Lucas. Lucas stated that it was ‟the kind of movie I wanted to make — a very off-the-wall, abstract kind of film”.
The aesthetic and style for the Star Wars films, as well as the look and feel of a number of Lucas’s other works, including American Graffiti and THX 1138, were all inspired by the visual and auditory elements found in 21-87.
Watch this underappreciated Canadian avant-garde masterpiece.
The Changeling is a 1980 psychological horror film directed by Peter Medak. Working off of a screenplay based on events that writer Russell Hunter claimed he experienced while living in the Henry Treat Rogers mansion in Denver, the film follows John Russell, a composer from New York City who moves to a secluded historical mansion in Seattle. A series of unexplained phenomena, unnerving noises and haunting apparitions lead John on a disturbing journey, as he begins to unravel the story of the mansion and a grisly murder that took place almost a century earlier.
Included in director Martin Scorsese’s list of the Top 11 Scariest Horror Films of All Time, The Changeling became an extremely influential horror film of its day, winning the first ever Genie Award for Best Canadian Film and being reimagined in 2008 for Clint Eastwood’s Changeling.
Don’t miss out on what many consider to be the best haunted house film of all time!
Léolo is a 1992 coming-of-age fantasy film by director Jean-Claude Lauzon. Using a screenplay based on stories from Lauzon’s own life, Léolo tells the story of a young boy named Léo “Léolo” Lauzon, who engages in an active fantasy life while growing up with his dysfunctional Montreal family. Léo is torn between two worlds — the squalid Montreal apartment that he inhabits, and the imaginative world that he constructs for himself through his writings, where he becomes ‘Léolo Lozone’, son of a Sicilian peasant.
After premiering at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival, the film inspired a great number of thematic interpretations by critics and audiences, linking it to political symbolism of Quebec’s national identity, and alluding to classical works such as Dante’s Inferno.
Declared as one of his favourite films of that year’s Cannes film festival, reviewer Roger Ebert said of Léolo: “A film that stirs in the shadows of memory for everyone who has ever seen it, a film that cannot be classified and can hardly be explained…”
Watch this unique Canadian classic today!
Le chat dans le sac
Le chat dans le sac (The Cat in the Bag) is a 1964 dramatic film by Quebec filmmaker Gilles Groulx. Told from the perspective of a young Quebec journalist, Claude, Le chat dans le sac came to symbolize the political emergence of the people of Quebec, and played a seminal role in the development of Quebec cinema.
The film is one of the first in Canada to incorporate the stylistic and thematic elements of the French New Wave movement. Groulx mixed documentary techniques to tell the story of a young man’s struggles to come to terms with his place in Quebec society and Quebec’s place in Canada. Claude struggles with the question of whether to change society or accept it the way it is. His girlfriend, an actress with a budding theatre career, does not share his concerns, leading to tension between the couple.
Quebec critic Robert Daudelin stated that “[a]t last we were confronted by a film which really belonged to us, one in which we were happy to recognize ourselves and see ourselves close up. [It] was (and remains) the image of our most recent awakenings.”
The film received the Grand Prix at the 1964 Montreal International Film Festival and was identified as a “culturally significant film” by the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada.
Watch this seminal Quebec film for free right here!
The Bitter Ash
In 1963, a 26-year-old UBC student named Larry Kent wrote and directed the first modern and truly Canadian feature made in Vancouver. At a time when English Canadian feature films were rarely produced anywhere in the country, let alone on the West Coast, Kent produced The Bitter Ash for a mere $5,000. The film is a stylish, scandalous drama set against the sexual revolution of the time.
The film follows a young man, Des, who abandons his girlfriend upon learning she is pregnant to explore the seedy counterculture at the fringes of Vancouver’s otherwise ‘respectable’ society. The film weaves threads of class conflict, social upheaval and generational change, punctuated with sex, drugs and jazz music.
Imbued with New Wave visual energy, The Bitter Ash came to be seen as something new and vital in Canadian cinema. A notorious nude scene saw it banned in many locales, but also made it highly popular on Canadian campuses. Film studies professor Brett Enermark at Simon Fraser University said that The Bitter Ash was “A big piece of Canadian and B.C. film history … The Bitter Ash is to Vancouver what La Dolce Vita is to Rome.”
After an extended period of relative obscurity in the public eye, the film was restored in 2014 and was screened for the first time in Ottawa on a newly transferred 35mm film print, courtesy of Library and Archives Canada.
While often difficult to find, a DVD copy can be purchased online.
Breakfast with Scot
Breakfast with Scot — director Laurie Lynd’s deceptively complicated portrait of gay life in 2007, follows Eric McNally, a gay retired hockey player turned television sportscaster who lives with his partner Sam, a sports lawyer. When Sam unexpectedly becomes the legal guardian of his brother’s stepson, Scot, their lives are turned upside down as the demands of being a parent — as well as the boy’s preference for clothing and hobbies which suggest that he may also be gay — begin to intrude on Eric’s desire to remain closeted at work.
Sean Reycraft screenplay, based on a novel by Michael Downing, is more convincing than most other movie treatments of this topic. Queer people are too often demeaned by comedy that reinforces stereotypes and by drama that rushes towards tragedy, whereas Breakfast With Scot embraces being both comic and dramatic in equal measure.
The film attracted a great deal of attention upon its release, with it becoming the first gay-themed film to receive approval from the NHL and Toronto Maple Leafs for the use of their logos and trademarks.
Director Lynd’s experience with family films such as Virtual Mom, I Was a Rat and TV credits on Queer as Folk and Degrassi: The Next Generation are very much in evidence here. Breakfast With Scot is not only amusing and heartfelt, but also genuinely thoughtful about life’s many unexpected turns. Watch it today!
Beyond the Black Rainbow
Beyond the Black Rainbow is a 2010 science fiction–horror film written and directed by Italian-Canadian director Panos Cosmatos — his feature film debut.
Set in a strange and oppressive emotional landscape inthe year 1983, Beyond the Black Rainbow is retro-futuristic, combining ’80s-inspired music with creepy, saturated visuals. The film centres on a doctor at a New Age research facility who, on a quest to combine the scientific and spiritual worlds, imprisons a woman with telekinetic powers and subjects her to cruel and unusual treatment.
One of Beyond the Black Rainbow’s notable characteristics is its deliberately slow, hypnotic pace. According to Cosmatos, the film belongs to what he dubbed the “trance film” subgenre. He stated that he’s interested in social control mechanisms, and how religion affects our consciousness and society. These philosophical ideas are present in Beyond the Black Rainbow, which focuses on issues of repression and control of emotions.
Although the film received mixed reviews upon its release, it has since gained a strong following, being featured at number 27 on The Playlist’s The 50 Best Sci-Fi Films Of The 21st Century So Far list.
Judge for yourself and watch it today!
Hard Core Logo
Hard Core Logo is a 1996 Canadian musical mockumentary adapted by writer Noel S. Baker from the novel of the same name by author Michael Turner.
Director Bruce McDonald plays himself as a documentarian who decides to follow Vancouver punk band Hard Core Logo. Band leader Joe Dick gets the band together for a reunion show and subsequent tour in an attempt to keep his dream and band alive. Squished into a small truck, the band takes to the road travelling east across the country. Along the way friendships are destroyed, feelings are hurt and many cigarettes are smoked. The film balances a hardcore punk aesthetic with meaningful and intimate human relationships. Each of the band members is a conflicted and flawed character, but they come off as oddly sympathetic to the audience.
In his review for the Toronto Sun, Bruce Kirkland praised the cast: “They’re all so convincing it is impossible to believe they’re not all the real thing”, while John Griffin, in his review for the Montreal Gazette, called it “a masterful exercise in edgy virtuoso film craft, subversive propaganda and exhilarating entertainment”.
If you’re a music lover, you don’t want to miss this masterfully crafted film with arguably one of the best soundtracks of any Canadian film! Check it out!
Called “Denis Villeneuve’s most elusive film…” by reviewer Dylan Griffen, Maelstrom is a 2000 romantic drama film that follows a young businesswoman who becomes romantically involved with the son of a man she killed in a hit and run accident.
Villeneuve’s films often include ‘a search’ as a driving point in the plot (in this case, the search for the victim of the hit and run). However, he does not make the films specifically about those searches, rather he focuses on how they translate to a search for something more existential and all-encompassing.
Villeneuve describes Maelstrom as:
“It’s more a film about responsibility and [clarity]. Car crashes are the most dramatic events common and closest to us. That’s why I’m very interested in them … The film is a dark tale. One of its subjects is mythology. There’s a strange narrator telling the story from a fantasy world. It’s a hyper-realistic film, but it goes very close to fantasy at some points.”
Maelstrom truly incorporates an interesting juxtaposition between realism and fantasy. Be prepared for an incredibly emotional film, narrated by a talking, dead fish. Sound intriguing? Check out this Canadian gem today!
One of the quirkiest and funniest films ever made in Canada, Crime Wave follows screenwriter Steven Penny, a strangely silent young man who aspires to make the best “colour crime films” imaginable. Steven is able to write beginnings and endings, but not middles! Living above a family garage in a suburban neighbourhood, Penny is befriended by the landlord’s 10 year old daughter, who narrates his tale – which is interspersed by the strange and hilarious beginnings and endings he writes.
Called “A forgotten gem…” by the Uniter Newspaper, the legendary Winnipeg film has become a cult classic and an influential chapter of Winnipeg’s filmmaking history. There’s even been a book written about the film.
Director John Paizs designed the film to emulate the look of ’40s and ’50s b-movies, TV comedies and educational films, gradually taking on more of a neo noir feel as the story progresses.
The film has continued to be screened at festivals around the world, long after its premiere in 1985. You can catch what some call the ‘funniest Canadian film of all time’, right here!