Seventh Row’s editors pick the 10 best Canadian films released in 2020 and the 10 best Canadian world premieres. This is part of our 2020 wrap up series.
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These days, it seems like every year is an incredibly strong year for Canadian cinema, even in 2020, when cinemas were closed, Canadian films were relegated to VOD hell, and others were postponed for better times. It almost seemed superfluous to make a best Canadian films of the year list this year when more than half of the selections are on our 30 best films of the year list (which will be published tomorrow) — possibly a first. What’s particularly noteworthy this year is the diversity of films and filmmakers. Among those released in 2020, our top ten list includes four Indigenous filmmakers and three French-language films. Plus, these aren’t all naturalistic coming-of-agers like so many of the best Canadian films of past years.
Instead, this year’s list ranges from an Indigenous zombie film (Blood Quantum) to comic noir (The Kid Detective) to observational documentary (First Stripes) to unconventional sports drama (Nadia, Butterfly) to anti-rom-com (Spinster). The films are set from coast to coast, transporting us from beautiful Kitimat, BC (Monkey Beach) to Halifax, Nova Scotia (Spinster).
Among the year’s world premieres still waiting for their release were several works of creative nonfiction that aim to reclaim Black history (John Ware Reclaimed) and LGBTQ+ history (No Ordinary Man), a trilingual political satire (Québexit) and several short films, with only three films by men making our top ten.
Canada has long had a strong tradition of producing excellent short films, but these so rarely get the mainstream attention and accolades that they deserve. This year, one short made our list of the top ten films released in 2020, and two short films are on our list of the top ten world premieres. That’s not for a lack of excellent Canadian features but because these young women have packed more emotional punch into less than twenty minutes than many features (Canadian or otherwise) have managed in two hours.
10. The Kid Detective (Evan Morgan)
Writer-director Evan Morgan’s first feature, The Kid Detective, takes a premise that sounds silly and bad, and turns it into a funny and emotionally resonant black comedy with a touch of noir. Adam Brody stars as Abe, a man in his thirties who never actually grew out of his childhood moniker as “the kid detective”. Initially, Abe seems like a slacker who simply squandered his potential; the arrival of a teenage girl (Sophie Nélisse) asking him to find her presumed dead boyfriend is the most excitement he’s had in months. When he becomes obsessed with solving this case that won’t even pay, still avoiding responsibility, Morgan begins to unpeel Abe’s past trauma which has kept him emotionally frozen at the maturity level of a teenager. The final act of the film gets unexpectedly dark, but it’s in line with Abe’s journey. All the while, the film seriously challenges patriarchal institutions of power that, we realise, Abe’s pseudo-profession has cheekily and slyly been doing since the start. Alex Heeney
The Kid Detective is available to rent on iTunes in Canada.
9. White Lie (Yonah Lewis, Calvin Thomas)
From our interview with Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas: “From its first shot, White Lie plunges the viewer into moral turmoil. Seen through the bathroom doorway, Katie (Kacey Rohl) stands shaving her already bald head down to the scalp. One’s instinctive sympathy over what a woman’s bald scalp might infer — cancer, chemotherapy — is challenged by the scene’s very length, forcing the creeping realisation that Katie is up to something far more sinister. As Katie shows up to college, poses with a “Fight For Katie” campaign poster, and attends a dance class where she’s clearly the star pupil, Lewis and Thomas shoot Katie from a distance with a limber camera that pans left and right to follow her movements. The eyes of every pupil are on her, this brave student fighting cancer. But Katie is faking her illness, scamming everyone around her for money, status, and affection.”… Read the full interview.
White Lie is available to rent on VOD in Canada and the UK.
8. Blood Quantum (Jeff Barnaby)
From our interview with Jeff Barnaby: “As an Indigenous, and specifically Mi’kmaq, filmmaker, Barnaby’s zombie story is filtered through a Native perspective. In this film, if you have ‘blood quantum’, and are thus Indigenous, you are immune to zombification. Barnaby’s largely Indigenous cast of characters are thus not so much afraid of zombies as they are afraid of white people who turn into them and are trying to invade their safe haven. It’s a blunt-force metaphor for colonialism — they keep coming, and coming to destroy you, forever outnumbering you, until they eat your brains — but it’s a solid and original one. In a way, Blood Quantum allows Barnaby to pose the question, What would have happened at Restigouche if we didn’t let the white police in? Or perhaps, more accurately, if we didn’t let the colonizers in centuries ago? By making Indigenous people immune, they’re empowered, but they still have to face this enormous, suffocating force.”… Read the full interview.
Blood Quantum is streaming on Crave+ in Canada and Shudder in US, UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.
7. Je m’appelle humain (Call Me Human, Kim O’Bomsawin)
Kim O’Bomsawin’s portrait of Innu poet Joséphine Bacon is equally a portrait of the land and the legacy of settler colonialism on Bacon’s life and work. As a residential school survivor, Bacon has fought hard to regain her language and maintain her culture, using her poetry, which is always in both French and Innu. O’Bomsawin documents cross-generational relationships within the film, revealing how Bacon is passing on language and traditions today, and how she herself received these from her elders. Cinematography by Hugo Gendron and Michel Valiquette capture the beauty and rhythms of the land on the reserve in contrast to the colonial cities that have destroyed this beauty elsewhere. Careful, gentle sound design contrasts the calming nature of life on reserve with the noxious loudness of the streets. AH
Call Me Human is on iTunes and VOD in Canada.
6. Premières armes (First Stripes, Jean-François Caissy)
From our review: “First Stripes begins and ends with the same military graduation parade. A Steadicam shot marches along the ceremonial procession of solemn-looking army recruits, their movements stiff, their faces expressionless. But once the young men and women pass beyond the curtain separating them from their family and friends, their bodies take on a whole new shape. Plasticity returns to their limbs and emotion to their faces. This is where Jean-François Caissy’s verité documentary takes us: behind the curtain, behind external appearances, to follow a group of Québécois recruits to the Canadian armed forces through the 12-week basic training boot camp. The film reveals how training designed to equalize recruits is yet another machine that reproduces a conservative set of norms.”… Read the full review.
Premières armes is streaming free on the NFB in Canada and on Prime in US, UK, Australia.
5. Monkey Beach (Loretta Todd)
From our interview with Loretta Todd: “Monkey Beach tells the story of Lisa (Grace Dove), a young Haisla woman who gets visions of loved ones dying before it happens. Ever since she was a child (her child counterpart is played by Zoey Snow), she’s been plagued by one vision, in particular, of her younger brother, Jimmy (Joel Oulette, and the younger Oliver Tru Sison), who is also a high level competitive swimmer, drowning. Having watched so many loved ones die and been powerless to do anything about it, she left home in, Kitimat, for Vancouver to drink and party and try to forget. When the film begins, Lisa returns home after two years away, to rekindle her relationships with her family and friends — and talk to dead loved ones, another gift. When Jimmy goes missing on a fishing trip, she becomes obsessed with saving him, but what that ends up meaning shifts as the film progresses, and as Lisa comes to terms with her gifts and her grief.”… Read the full interview.
Monkey Beach is currently streaming in Canada on Crave+ and will be available on VOD soon.
4. No Crying at the Dinner Table (Carol Nguyen)
From our interview with Carol Nguyen: “No Crying at the Dinner Table, from Canadian filmmaker Carol Nguyen, was not just one of the best Canadian shorts at TIFF 2019, but one of the very best films I saw at the festival. In the film, Nguyen separately interviews her sister and her parents — both Vietnamese immigrants — about family secrets and traumas: her mother discusses the lack of physical intimacy she shared with her mother; her sister shares how, growing up, she felt closer to her grandparents than parents; and her father tells a traumatic story from his past in Vietnam.”… Read the full interview.
No Crying at the Dinner Table is available to stream free worldwide on Vimeo.
3. Nadia, Butterfly (Pascal Plante)
From our interview with Pascal Plante: “Aside from showing us the art of swimming in Nadia, Butterfly, Pascal Plante has upended the sports film genre by starting the film with the big competition rather than ending with it. Instead of telling the story of the rigorous preparation required to swim at the Olympics, Plante is interested in the psychological journey of his characters. The film thus begins on the eve of Nadia’s (Katerine Savard) final swimming competition ever, at the Olympics, and then follows her for the few days she remains in Tokyo afterward. After devoting more than a decade of her life to being one of the world’s best swimmers, Nadia has decided to quit to go back to school and become a doctor.”… Read the full interview.
Nadia, Butterfly is available on iTunes, VOD, and DVD and Blu Ray in Canada only. It will be playing international festivals this year.
2. Rustic Oracle (Sonia Boileau)
From our interview with Sonia Boileau: “Rustic Oracle follows a Mohawk mother and daughter, Susan (Carmen Moore) and eight-year-old Ivy (Lake Delisle), coping with the aftermath of Ivy’s teenage sister, Heather (McKenzie Deer Robinson), going missing. Set largely in the 1990s, in the time before social media, Susan and Ivy go on a road trip to personally try to find Heather after the police have provided little assistance. Told through Ivy’s perspective as an adult looking back on her childhood, when she didn’t fully understand what was happening, the film weaves a complex and heartbreaking story of family bonds, grief, and the effects of systemic violence on the community.”… Read the full interview.
Rustic Oracle is available to purchase worldwide on Blu Ray. In Canada, it is also available to rent on Apple TV, Bell on Demand, Videotron on Demand, Cogeco, and Cinema Moderne.
1. Spinster (Andrea Dorfman)
From our interview with Andrea Dorfman: “In the press notes for Spinster, director Andrea Dorfman describes it as a film that ‘tells a story of someone who isn’t always seen — in this case, the single woman.’ Single women in films are usually partnered up by the end of the story. Spinster has been marketed as an ‘anti rom-com,’ because even though it’s a heartwarming comedy about a woman’s relationships, the script steadfastly maintains that heroine Gaby (Chelsea Peretti) doesn’t need romantic love to be happy. The film begins on Gaby’s 39th birthday and ends on her 40th; in between, we watch her realise that romantic love isn’t the be all and end all of her existence, as romantic comedies so often paint it to be.”… Read the full interview.
Spinster is available on VOD in Canada, US, and UK.
Top 10 Canadian world premieres
1. Nadia, Butterfly (Pascal Plante)
2. No Ordinary Man (Aisling Chin-yee, Chase Joynt), coming in 2021
3. Monkey Beach (Loretta Todd)
4. John Ware Reclaimed (Cheryl Foggo), coming in 2021
5. Point and Line in Plane (Sofia Bohdanowicz), coming in 2021
6. Quebexit (Joshua Demers), coming in 2021
7. Je m’appelle human (Call Me Human, Kim O’Bomsawin)
8. Souterrain (Underground, Sophie Dupuis), coming in 2021
9. Still Processing (Sophy Romvari), coming in 2021
10. The Kid Detective (Evan Morgan)
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The last year was one of the best for Canadian cinema in history. Discover these great films through conversations with the filmmakers, guided by the Seventh Row editors in our inaugural annual book, The 2019 Canadian Cinema Yearbook.