After decades atop nearly every greatest film of all-time list, Citizen Kane has recently been dethroned on the most prestigious of these lists: Sight & Sound magazine. The publication has declared Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo to be the new greatest film of all time, which means Citizen Kane has moved into second position for the very first time since it topped the list in 1962.
While no equivalently authoritative survey of great Canadian films exists, Claude Jutra’s 1971 classic Mon oncle Antoine is generally regarded as the Citizen Kane of Canada — not because it shares any thematic or stylistic similarities with the Orson Welles film, but rather because of its prominent place in Canadian cinematic history. It is an innovative film, full of beautiful cinematography, clever flashbacks, religious and political symbolism, and all of this surrounded by a Truffaut-like celebration of mischievous childhood.
For the purposes of this list, we focused on Canadian films that were innovative, aesthetically pleasing and historically important. With that in mind, we’re going to shake things up a bit and declare a new Citizen Kane of Canada — or should we say the new Vertigo of Canada? Either way, these films keep some pretty good company. The list contains many well-established Canadian classics, as well as some hidden gems. So, without further ado, here are the 50 Best Canadian Films Ever Made.
1. Dead Ringers (1988) — David Cronenberg: Twin gynecologists (both played by Jeremy Irons) share the same women and invent unusual medical devises. This is David Cronenberg at his most psychological, dark, twisted and ultimately best. The film’s bold vision captures not only the mind of Cronenberg, but also the essence of what Canadian film can be: often a little askew, perhaps, but utterly unique.
2. Jesus of Montreal (1989) — Denys Arcand: Appropriately blasphemous and reverent at the same time, Jesus of Montreal is a film you can equally laugh at and spend hours dissecting and discussing because of its profundity.
3. Mon oncle Antoine (1971) — Claude Jutra: A deconstruction of childhood and Catholicism with a brilliantly absurd nativity ending, this is clearly one of the best Canadian films ever made. An allegory of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, Mon oncle Antoine, like Truffaut’s 400 Blows, is a rarity in that it’s a truly great film about childhood made for adults.
4. My Winnipeg (2007) — Guy Maddin: Regarded by many critics, including Roger Ebert, as one of the best films of the 21st century (regardless of country of origin), here Guy Maddin lends his penchant for the arcane to his hometown. This “documentary” is full of half-truths, and much of the appeal is figuring out precisely what is true and what isn’t. This brilliant film says much about the subjectivity of experience as it uncovers Winnipeg’s dirty secrets.
5. Warrendale (1967) — Allan King: Canada’s greatest contribution to cinéma vérité was this underappreciated 1967 documentary about a Toronto group home for disturbed children. Upsetting and gritty, Warrendale forever shattered whatever was left of the mythic 1950s notion of the nuclear family.
6. Incendies (2010) — Denis Villeneuve: This Academy Award-nominated film about two Quebecois siblings who visit their mother’s birthplace in Lebanon is one of the most stirring and emotionally wrenching films ever to come out of Canada, and has cemented Denis Villeneuve’s position as one of Canada’s great young filmmakers.
7. Goin’ Down the Road (1970) — Donald Shebib: Fiercely independent, Donald Shebib became Canada’s Jack Kerouac in this freewheeling tale of two Nova Scotians seeking a better life in the big city of Toronto.
8. The Barbarian Invasions (2003) — Denys Arcand: Arcand won the Best Foreign Film Oscar for his tale of death and the politics of death in this humorous and moving portrayal of a family dealing with their terminally ill father.
9. The Sweet Hereafter (1997) — Atom Egoyan: A touching and sad film, The Sweet Hereafter depicts the aftermath of a deadly school bus accident, and is Atom Egoyan’s best film.
10. Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001) — Zacharias Kunuk: Although stunningly photographed, this is not an easy film to appreciate. Its exploration of Inuit spirituality set in the distant north can seem bewildering to southern Canadian audiences, especially given that Canada’s north doesn’t have the same exotic appeal as some other locales. Still, director Kunuk gives voice to First Nations Peoples as few other directors have, and the voice is simultaneously universal and unique.
11. Neighbours (1952) — Norman McLaren
12. Wavelength (1967) — Michael Snow
13. Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993) — François Girard
14. Les bons débarras (1979) — Francis Mankiewicz
15. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974) — Ted Kotcheff
16. A tout prendre (1964) — Claude Jutra
17. The Decline of the American Empire (1986) — Denys Arcand
18. Atlantic City (1980) — Louis Malle
19. Away from Her (2006) — Sarah Polley
20. Videodrome (1983) — David Cronenberg
21. The Red Violin (1998) — François Girard
22. C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005) — Jean-Marc Vallée
23. The Triplets of Belleville (2003) — Sylvain Chomet
24. Tit Coq (1953) — René Delacroix and Gratien Gélinas
25. Les ordres (1974) — Michel Brault
26. Last Night (1998) — Don McKellar
27. The Grey Fox (1982) — Phillip Borsos
28. Polytechnique (2009) — Denis Villeneuve
29. The Saddest Music in the World (2003) — Guy Maddin
30. Black Robe (1991) — Bruce Beresford
31. Water (2005) — Deepa Mehta
32. Volcano: An Inquiry into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry (1976) — Donald Brittain and John Kramer
33. Léolo (1992) — Jean-Claude Lauzon
34. Hard Core Logo (1996) — Bruce McDonald
35. Exotica (1994) — Atom Egoyan
36. The Hart of London (1970) — Jack Chambers
37. Un zoo la nuit (1987) — Jean-Claude Lauzon
38. Smoke Signals (1998) — Chris Eyre
39. Le confessional (1995) — Robert Lepage
40. Scanners (1981) — David Cronenberg
41. Monsieur Lazhar (2011) — Philippe Falardeau
42. Cube (1997) — Vincenzo Natali
43. Set Me Free (1999) — Léa Pool
44. Sweet Movie (1974) — Dušan Makavejev
45. A Christmas Story (1983) — Bob Clark
46. Possible Worlds (2000) — Robert Lepage
47. Bon Cop, Bad Cop (2006) — Erik Canuel
48. Fubar (2002) — Michael Dowse
49. Lies My Father Told Me (1975) — Ján Kadár
50. My American Cousin (1985) — Sandy Wilson
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Andrew Unger lives and writes in a dystopian Mennonite town, but feels no Orwellian sense of urgency to escape. He is the author of, among other things, the novel Inches from America. He promises that the next one will be better.