4 Best Movies to Watch by Sarah Polley

Staff & contributors
In a world where mortality has been overcome, people watch in awe as the as the 118-year-old Nemo Nobody, the last mortal on Earth, nears his end. He is interviewed about his life, recounting it at three points in time: as a 9-year-old after his parents divorced, when he first fell in love at 15, and as an adult at 34. The three stories seemingly contradict each other. Utilizing non-linear cinematography, Belgian director Jaco Van Dormael presents each of these branching pathways as a version of what could have been. The result is a complex, entangled narrative. That and the movie's ensemble cast, featuring Jared Leto, Sarah Polley, and Diane Kruger, have turned Mr. Nobody into a cult classic. The soundtrack, featuring several of the beautifully restrained music by Eric Satie, is also considered a masterpiece. While it is surely not for everybody, this is trippy, intimate, and existential sci-fi at its best.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance, Science Fiction

Actor: Aaron Landt, Alice van Dormael, Allan Corduner, Andrew Simms, Audrey Giacomini, Ben Mansfield, Carlo Mestroni, Catherine Demaiffe, Christelle Cornil, Christophe Beaucarne, Clare Stone, Daniel Brochu, Daniel Mays, David Kennedy, David Schaal, Diane Kruger, Dominique Warnier, Harold Manning, Harry Cleven, Hugo Harold-Harrison, Jack Proudlove, Jan Hammenecker, Jared Leto, Jenna Wheeler-Hughes, John Churchill, Juliette Van Dormael, Juno Temple, Laura Brumagne, Laurent Capelluto, Leni Parker, Linh Dan Pham, Lola Pauwels, Manfred Andrae, Marc Zinga, Marie-Ève Beauregard, Martin Swabey, Natasha Little, Nicholas Beveney, Noa De Costanzo, Olivier Bony, Pascal Duquenne, Philippe Godeau, Philippe Lévy, Pierre Chaves, Renaud Alcalde, Rhys Ifans, Roline Skehan, Sandrine Laroche, Sarah Gravel, Sarah Polley, Serge Larivière, Stéphane Taillasson, Sylvie Olivé, Tanya Trombetta, Tedd Dillon, Thomas Byrne, Toby Regbo, Vincent Dupont, Virginie Bordes, Vito DeFilippo

Director: Jaco Van Dormael

Rating: R

The Sweet Hereafter is the kind of movie that feels very different from the one you might imagine when reading the plot synopsis. The tragic accident at its center doesn’t form a dramatic crescendo as you might be primed to expect — and, despite revolving around a lawsuit, this is no courtroom drama. Instead, the ironically titled The Sweet Hereafter deals with the messy, difficult emotions that come with grief, survival, and blame in the aftermath of a bus crash, with the film largely taking place in a snowy Canadian town rent apart by the loss of nearly all its children in the accident. Ian Holm plays the out-of-town lawyer battling to unite the bereft parents behind a class action lawsuit, all while struggling to deal with the quasi-loss of his own drug-dependent daughter. Non-linear chronology means the before-the-crash and the after intermingle, scene after scene; it’s an unorthodox remix of the way we’re used to seeing this kind of story unfold, but it allows the movie to home in on the complexity of the community’s pain. Unsparing performances, haunting music, and meditative cinematography plunge us into it all, recreating the terrible iciness of grief in a way that is difficult to shake off.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alberta Watson, Allegra Denton, Arsinée Khanjian, Brooke Johnson, Bruce Greenwood, David Hemblen, Devon Finn, Earl Pastko, Gabrielle Rose, Ian Holm, Kirsten Kieferle, Marc Donato, Maury Chaykin, Mychael Danna, Peter Donaldson, Sarah Polley, Sarah Rosen Fruitman, Simon Baker, Stephanie Morgenstern, Tom McCamus

Director: Atom Egoyan

Rating: R

Forgoing the typical catastrophic approach to the apocalypse, writer, star, and director Don McKellar opts for a grounded tone in Last Night, a film about the end of the world. In it, various Torontonians figure out how best to celebrate and mourn their final hours on Earth. While McKellar’s character Patrick originally planned to spend the day alone, he finds himself gravitating to Sandra (Sandra Oh), a stranger who he gets to know in a series of conversations.

Last Night is more like Before Sunrise than The Day After Tomorrow in that way, filled as it is with thought-provoking dialogue and interesting insights into everyday characters. Whether it was intentional or due to the obviously limited budget, the decision to leave out details like why the world is ending and how is a clever one since it allows us to hyperfocus on everyone's psyche and inner workings. There is desperation, longing, and anxiety, but also relief, gratitude, and joy. 

If you’re watching it for the first time, you’ll be delighted to find surprise stars populate this lo-fi production—apart from McKellar and Oh, well-regarded auteurs Sarah Polley (Stories We Tell) and David Cronenberg (Crimes of the Future) also make welcome appearances. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Arsinée Khanjian, Bob Martin, Bruce McDonald, Bryan Renfro, Callum Keith Rennie, Charmion King, Darren O'Donnell, David Cronenberg, Don McKellar, François Girard, Geneviève Bujold, Jackie Burroughs, Jessica Booker, Karen Glave, Kirsten Johnson, Michael McMurtry, Regan Moore, Roberta Maxwell, Robin Gammell, Sandra Oh, Sarah Polley, Tom McCamus, Tracy Wright, Trent McMullen

Director: Don McKellar

Rating: R

Stories We Tell got on everyone’s radar when, back in 2015, it made the list of the all-time top ten list of Canadian films. That speaks to both the caliber of this movie and its relevance to North America. It’s in fact a first-person account about (and made by) actress Sarah Polley (Mr. Nobody, Exotica, Away from Her, Take This Waltz). In the film, she investigates the rumor that she was the product of an affair, and that her father might not be her biological father. Her family and suspected fathers are all storytellers, and many of them Academy Award winners. Ultimately, the movie becomes about her family’s remembrance of her now-deceased mother (the famous actress Diane Polley). It’s an examination of how the same story can be told so differently by different people and across time. Lies get added and truths are hidden, and all of that enriches Polley’s pursuit.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Alex Hatz, Alexandra "Allie" MacDonald, Allie MacDonald, Anne Tait, Cathy Gulkin, Christine Horne, Dave Kiner, Deirdre Bowen, Geoffrey Bowes, Harry Gulkin, Jeanie Calleja, Jeff Mallory, Joanna Polley, John Buchan, Lani Billard, Mairtin O'Carrigan, Marie Murphy, Mark Polley, Michael Polley, Mort Ransen, Pixie Bigelow, Rebecca Jenkins, Robert MacMillan, Sarah Polley, Susy Buchan, Thomas Hauff, Tom Butler, Tracey Ferencz, Wayne Curnew

Director: Sarah Polley

Rating: PG-13