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The Five Best Canadian Films of 2010

Disclaimer: I purposefully did not include Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. For my purposes, it’s too American. I am interested in hearing if you think it should qualify and if you are willing to undertake a discussion on defining National Cinema. It is tricky, I certainly don’t object to others who would include it on their own list.
Honourable mention: The Wild Hunt (Alexander Franchi)
5. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (Eli Craig)
For fear of spoiling the twist of this film (which, mind you, comes very early on), it is surprising that this is the first instance I have personally encountered to take this approach to the horror comedy that uses this narrative convention. Aided by its strong cast, headed up by Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk, two actors who have already made their name in the cult-culture arena, Tucker & Dale is a sure-fire crowdpleaser. Effectively incorporating the violence and gore into its comedy, the film confidently treads the line between horror and comedy. It is all too easy to forget how close the style of performance in both genres often are, and how reliant they are on sight “gags” as a form of storytelling and as a means of eliciting emotion. The film is so successful at what it does because it’s parody/homage of other slasher films is intrinsically ingrained in the film’s narrative. It it self-aware without being cloying, but remains faithful to and respectful of the horror fans who will be the film’s biggest audience. The film is slotted for a release this month, so if it opens in your area I recommend checking it out, especially for horror fans who are sick of rote remakes.
4. Curling (Denis Coté)
Continuing the Quebec tradition of making seemingly unexceptional narratives remarkably off-putting, Curling is the strange story of a man working in a bowling alley who shelters his daughter from the outside world. Every day while he goes to work, she stays home and does chores. Occasionally, she will defy her father and go on long walks in the woods, and one day she stumbles on a mangled pile of corpses. She obviously does not tell her father about this, though she is clearly disturbed. Meanwhile, he struggles with budding romantic feelings towards a twenty-year-old goth who has been recently hired. Though not much happens in the film, as the characters are defined more by their stagnancy then by any particular action or quirk they may embody, the film’s passiveness creates a dream-like atmosphere that is disrupted only the realization that even a mundane fear can be incredibly destructive. The film has some incredibly powerful images that undermine the apparent emptiness of its characters’ lives, from the highway rendered invisible by blowing snow, to a hotel room inexplicably covered with blood. Violence lies just below the surface, and as hard as the characters work to be repress it, it is inescapable.
3. Fubar II (Michael Dowse)
Though obviously appealing to an English Canadian audience, Fubar II succeeds where so many have failed. Built on the cliches and stereotypes that many other Canadian comedies have, Fubar II is elevated by a clever and endearing subversion of expectations. If the film has found little audience beyond a small cult following that has gathered around the film’s precursor which was released over a decade ago, it is not an issue of quality, but poor marketing and a poor following of national cinema within English Canada. Familiarity with the original film as Fubar II effectively establishes itself in the opening scene. Dean has defeated testicular cancer and lost a ball in the process, but more than reason to celebrate, his family and friends throw a wild drunken bash. Comrade, ribaldry are intensified by narrative and aesthetic chaos. The film adopts a documentary style to very interesting results as it accentuates the eccentricity of the characters while also blessing them with importance and twisted adoration. The party ends with the house in flames, and our two main characters head North in search of work and a better life. Though adopting a rather familiar storyline, Fubar II remains invigoratingly shocking and never opts for easy laughs. Blending satire and parody with absurdist situations and delightfully clumsy slapstick the film is one of the few comedies in recent years that transcends genre.
2. Les Amours Imaginaires (Xavier Dolan)
Xavier Dolan already demonstrates a strong sense of self-reflexivity and irony in his sophomore film. A wonderfully un-romantic take on post-adolescent relationships, two friends compete for the adoration of the same male Adonis. Perfectly suited for Dolan’s pop style, the characters are obsessed with surfaces. Defined by interests and appearances, they seem equally conscious and yet oh so oblivious of cinematic signs. Both characters define their respective relationships with the Adonis through movie-style tropes and signs, yet they remain totally oblivious to the artificiality of these constructs as well as the power of their own gaze and subjectivity in the equation. The film creates an evocative and sensual universe that is appropriately unsubstantial. Movements, styles and music seem lifted out of any number of arthouse films from recent years. These homage moments are both beautiful to look at and perfectly suiting, as Dolan deconstextualizes them in such a way that robs them of their significance. There are few films in recent years that so effectively capture the whims and shallowness of a post-modern generation.
1. Incendies (Denis Villeneuve)
Denis Villeneuve may be on his way to becoming a household name in Quebec, but he deserves far better. There are few contemporary filmmakers who can compare to the verve and creativity to which he approaches all his features. Like his previous work, especially Maelstrom, Incendies is a film rooted in mythology, family and the search for identity. Based on a play written by, the film sends twins on a quest to find their father (who was supposedly dead) and the brother (who they did not know existed) in their middle eastern homeland (which is never named, but is clearly meant to represent Lebanon). Playing out on two temporal plains, the contemporary one and that of the mother’s life before she moved to Canada, the film establishes a careful rhythm that subverts sentimentality and comfortable aesthetic analysis. An Oedipal subtext seems to reposition the image of the mother within our society from that of the matron or virgin defined largely by the Bible and through the edification of the Virgin Mary. (While now largely secular, there is no denying that, culturally, Quebec’s landscape is still codified heavily with religious iconography and perceptions.) This may be present in the original text, but Villeneuve highlights it continually in the way he frames and contextualizes his female characters. Incendies is a challenging film that elevates Villeneuve to the status of a filmmaker deserving of international accolades.

– Justine Smith