Canadian cinema can suffer from a Goldilocks and the Three Bears syndrome: "Serious" Papa Bear films that win accolades but tank at the multiplexes, or lowest common denominator Baby Bear horror films and comedies. This often squeezes out the Mama Bear films -- those that don't require a degree in Film Appreciation 101, yet neither do they demand you check your frontal lobe at the ticket counter.
Yet, perhaps coincidentally, recently there seems to be a spat of these Mama Bear movies -- neither high brow nor low, aiming for the international market place without hiding their Canadian origins. Movies like the light-hearted caper movie, The Art of the Steal, the action-thriller, Ice Soldiers, and the rom-com, The Right Kind of Wrong. Granted, the results have been mixed. The Art of the Steal is a witty, briskly-paced romp, but Ice Soldiers and The Right Kind of Wrong miss more than they hit.
Still, they encouraged me to plug a few random Canadian movies I've seen in the last few years. And my criteria isn't so much whether these were "great" -- but simply good. Movies to settle back and enjoy with a bowl of popcorn.
I know -- a radical criteria for Canadian film, eh?
In no particular order...
Bon Cop, Bad Cop (2006) -- a straight-laced Anglophone (Colm Feore) teams with a free-wheeling Francophone (Patrick Huard) to solve a series of murders -- hockey-themed, naturlement. It's a pretty generic mismatched buddy-cop action-comedy (though the French-English spin gives it a refreshingly unique voice) but in execution it seems classier. Stylish, witty, and anchored by great performances from Huard and Feore.
One Week (2008) -- when a young man (Joshua Jackson) is diagnosed with cancer, he heads west across Canada on a motorcycle. Sounds kind of melancholy, eh? But it's actually a comedy-drama! The wry humour often served up by Campbell Scott's deadpan narration. Set against breathtaking vistas it puts you in mind of past counter culture road movies (you half expect him to bump into Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper). After you see it, you might find yourself pausing before the display windows of motorcycle shops and thinking, y'know, maybe...
Suck (2011) -- a rock band rockets in popularity after one of them (Jessica Pare) gets turned into a vampire. A modestly-budgeted movie you can view as a black comedy/horror flick about a rock band -- or as a music industry satire with vampirism the Faustian metaphor. It's funny, it's quirky, and it's well acted. Star/writer/director Rob Stefaniuk (who did the earlier genre comedy, Phil the Alien) is also a musician (with the band Mamabolo), explaining the music in jokes and musician cameos.
Othello (2008, CBC TV) -- Shakespeare can often leave me ambivalent, and maybe it's my "lay man"'s eye that meant I was blindsided by how effective I found this trimmed down (90 min.) production. Here the traditionally black Othello is depicted as an Arab and the movie is visually quite striking and atmospheric, mixing theatrical sets with cinematic close ups to create a slight -- and effective -- surrealism (like characters in a play who don't realize they are characters in a play). Carlo Rota's Othello is both sympathetic and threatening and Christine Horne is powerful as Desdemona. If you don't generally dig Shakespeare, this might be a good one to try.
Starbuck (2011) -- a surprisingly touching comedy about a shiftless man (Patrick Huard) whose donated sperm resulted in hundreds of disparate (now adult) children. And even as he wants to avoid the publicity of being outted, he becomes curious about their lives. It's well thought out and even led to a Hollywood remake.
Gunless (2010) -- it's been a while since westerns dominated the box office, so this comedy about an American wild west outlaw (Paul Gross) who finds himself befuddled by Canadian civility north of the 49th is actually a pleasant surprise. It's a mix of wacky and witty -- but boasts a bit of gravitas at its heart, with a romance, character development, and suspense. Nice performances from Gross, British actress Sienna Guillory, and the whole cast.
Snow Cake (2006) -- I think this Canada-U.K. co-production kind of slipped in under the radar. Suffused with empathetic melancholy, it's about a man (Alan Rickman) who finds himself drawn into the small town world of an adult autistic woman (Sigourney Weaver) and the woman's sexy neighbour (Carrie-Anne Moss) after a tragedy. It's a low-key, sly comedy-drama, anchored by great performances (can anyone play long suffering better than Rickman?) One of those movies they mean when they talk about movies made for grown ups.
Cold Blooded (2012) -- the DVD shelves are full of low-budget/high concept thrillers that aren't as sharp as they think they are. But sometimes -- they are. Various crooks (including Ryan Robbins and William MacDonald) and a rookie cop (Zoie Palmer) hunt each other in a deserted wing of a hospital. Well-paced with quirky twists and good performances from a cast of familiar faces (if not necessarily big names). Moments of extreme brutality are a bit shocking -- in part because overall the movie is more about the characters and the suspense than violence -- but narratively justified.
Solo (2013) -- a movie that gives you hope for the teen thriller/horror genre, because it's well-made and any violence serves the story -- it's not in lieu of a story. A teenage girl (Annie Clark), camping on a deserted island, realizes she isn't alone. One part Blair Witch Project (minus the shaky camera shtick), one part straight cat-and-mouse thriller. Nicely Old School and though minimalist, it keeps the mood and the suspense high -- and has gorgeous lakeside scenery, to boot.
Cottage Country (2013) -- a ghoulish black comedy that probably works best the less you know going in. In brief: a perky young couple (Malin Akerman and Tyler Labine) spending a weekend at the family cottage soon find themselves with bodies to dispose of. A comic take on a Hitchcockian thriller, with nods to "Macbeth."
So there you go. Just a random ten movies worth checking for on the DVD shelves.
Canadian film: it's more than just Atom Egoyan and the boys from the trailer park.
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