Originally published at Moviefone.ca
Slipping the words "Canadian film" into a conversation elicits any number of images: virginity pacts from the '50s, hosers drinking beer, naked lunches or snowy tundras forcing school buses into deadly waters. It's a unique cinematic front led by David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan, filmmakers who dominate the industry so clearly that they act as an iron curtain of sorts, with much of the mainstream world having no idea of the talent and films screening north of the 42nd parallel.
The following films reveal the horrors of language and dangers of rock music, the rush of young love, the trials and tribulations of familial relationships, the ups and downs of friendship, and even a miracle Christmas birth. If you've heard of them, you're a true Canadian cinephile. And if you haven't, it's time for some schooling.
Hit the jump and dig in, eh?
'A Girl Is a Girl'
American cousins: 'Chasing Amy,' 'Singles'
In 1999 Reginald Harkema (who recently helmed the Charlie Manson satire 'Leslie, My Name is Evil') offered up his first feature film, the uber-indie slacker romance 'A Girl Is a Girl.' The film focuses on Trevor, a young slacker type who is utterly inept at dealing with women and slowly learning through his experiences with four girlfriends. Inspired by the Jean-Luc Godard classic 'Une femme est une femme' ('A Woman is a Woman'), 'Girl' even features a scene of Trevor and one of his girlfriends bonding over record covers, much like Godard's characters bonding over book covers. Super-low-budget and saturated with the feel of the 1990s, 'Girl' thrives in its treatment of the transitional angst between adolescence and adulthood.
American cousin: 'War of the Worlds'
We've seen a lot of zombie movies over the years, but nothing quite like Bruce McDonald's 'Pontypool,' where the menace isn't just the undead creatures wreaking havoc on the small Ontario town of Pontypool, but the infected language that created them. Stephen McHattie (a scene-stealer in 'Watchmen') plays Grant Mazzy, a once-popular radio personality who's now stuck in a small town relaying boring, daily minutia over the radio. But when the strange zombie plague overtakes the town one morning, he has to use his mind to stay safe. Time Out likened the cerebral plot to playing "Scrabble with the [zombie] genre's cinematic lingo."
American cousins: 'American Beauty,' 'The Ice Storm'
Based on Barbara Gowdy's novel and boasting a cast that includes Callum Keith Rennie ('Battlestar Galactica'), Miranda Richardson and Katharine Isabelle ('Ginger Snaps'), 'Angels' zeroes in on a severely dysfunctional Canadian family during the '60s. Much like 'Beauty' and 'Ice Storm,' the stage is dysfunctional suburbia, where the kids are experimenting with sex and the parental units are drowning in their own interpersonal problems. Though it lacks the polish of its American cousins, Scott Smith's film has a nice wry tone to it that thrives most in moments when familial hatred and unconditional love intersect.
American cousin: 'This Is Spinal Tap'
It might be 'Spinal Tap' without the musical talent, but 'Fubar' reigns at the "giv'er." The Canadian mockumentary follows two slacker headbangers, Terry and Dean, as a film crew records their lives. What starts as a foray into the drunk monotony and lazy lies from two mulleted slackers gets complicated as Terry and Dean face the trials of testicular cancer and a deadly, tragic accident. 'Fubar' is equal parts ridiculous and recognizable with its trashy, mullet-headed, shotgunning protagonists who want nothing more than to have a good time.
American cousin: 'Almost Famous'
Zachary Beaulieu (Marc-Andre Grondin) might not become a music journalist as an awkward teen, but he does obsess about '70s music whilst receiving much of his mom's motherly attention. A devout Catholic, she thinks he's some kind of magic healer, while his conservative, Patsy Cline-loving dad has a hard time dealing with a gay son who loves listening to glam-rocker David Bowie. Filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallee thrives on the passion of music, much like Cameron Crowe, and uses popular music like "Space Oddity" to embody his lead's personal struggle and create stunningly apt musical moments.
'Year of the Carnivore'
American cousin: 'Clerks' meets 'American Pie' meets 'Shortbus'
She's (Cristin Milioti) a strange tomboy who hides in layers of clothes and spends her days as an undercover detective at her local grocery store. He's (Mark Rendall) an indie musician who kinda likes her. Unfortunately, her body issues and awkwardness foil a sexy rendezvous between the pair, and when he suggests that she needs more experience, she takes it to the literal extreme and sets out to have every hands-on sexual encounter she can possibly manage. A plot relishing in the extreme, the film is also based on director Sook-Yin Lee's first love. Milioti is so darned charming in this film that the rough, indie edges of a first-time feature filmmaker are smoothed by the lead's charisma.
American cousin: When freaky facts and David Lynch converge ...
There's really no one like Winnipeg filmmaker Guy Maddin. You'd only come close if you got David Lynch in a great mood, and perhaps very stoned, before forcing him to shoot comedies with antique cameras. 'My Winnipeg' is Maddin's idea of a documentary, mixing quirky and strange public stories with insane remembrances of his own family and imaginative psyche. A "docufantasia" mixing the real with the surreal, it relishes in the weirdness of real life in such a way that even the absurdly fictional begins to feel true.
'Young People F*cking'
American cousin: 'American Pie'
In 'American Pie,' kids venture forth into the world of dating and sex. They masturbate with the aid of pies and engage in sex play with flutes. YPF doesn't go to that extreme and isn't half as scandalous as the name suggests; quite simply, different groups of people face the challenges and perks of different sexual experiences -- friends crossing the line into romance, the married couple trying to spice things up, the one-night stand, the third party and the exes. Like any fun sex comedy, the plot is run by truth, with those absurd little twists that make the proceedings slapstick funny.
'Breakfast With Scot'
American cousin: 'The Kids Are All Right' with hockey
An ex-hockey player and sportscaster (Tom Cavanagh, 'Ed') is living in the closet, afraid to come out to the sports world. But his carefully shrouded life becomes problematic when he and his partner Sam (Ben Shenkman) must temporarily care for the latter's deadbeat brother's son, Scot. An eccentric kid who loves boas, poodle belts and musicals, his unabashed view of life makes the couple re-evaluate everything. The film lives and dies with Scot, a kid so sweet that it's impossible not to root for him and his spin on life.
American cousin: 'Before Sunset'
In 'Before Sunset,' two lovers meet for the first time in 10 years and dig into the aftermath of a rendezvous that never happened. In 'Trigger,' it's two friends and ex-bandmates who reunite for dinner, their mere presence immediately awakening old insecurities and anger. Featuring Molly Parker and the late Tracy Wright, 'Trigger' is an homage to the discussion classic 'My Dinner with Andre,' but speaks just as loudly to old indie rock sensibilities and the comfort and combat inherent in childhood friendships. Parker and Wright are magic together, the latter of whom gives the most devastatingly powerful performance of her all-too-short cinematic career.
Not happy with the above selections? Wish that 'Cole,' 'Land of Plenty,' 'Days of Darkness,' 'The Trotsky,' 'The Five Senses,' 'Peepers,' 'Chicks With Sticks,' 'Suck' or some other Maple Leaf pic was on the list? Weigh in below.