13 Best Canadian Films Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors

, 2012

Goon is funny, violent, and sweet as hell. You’ll be surprised by how nasty it is but at the same time you won’t care. What you will want to do, on the other hand, is rip through the screen, and hug the main character. It is also a great example of a feel-good movie that isn’t solely focused on being a feel-good movie. It’s also great love story, with all its absurdities and highly emotional load. The story shines a light on the players who join hockey teams not for the game but for the fights that may erupt. They are called goons. Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) is a new goon and this movie is his journey towards success both on the ice and off.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Ali Hassan, Alison Pill, Amy Groening, Andrew Degryse, Aron Tager, Brandy Jaques, Bryan Clark, Christian Fraser, Christian Lalonde, Darren Ross, David Lawrence, David Paetkau, Don Carmody, Ellen David, Eugene Levy, Gabriel Daniels, George Tchortov, Georges Laraque, Howard Jerome, Jacob Klick, James Durham, Jay Baruchel, Jeff Strome, Jeff Wahl, Jodi Stecyk, John Paul Tremblay, Jonathan Cherry, Kalyn Bomback, Karl Graboshas, Ken St. Mars, Kim Coates, Lance Cartwright, Larry Woo, Liev Schreiber, Lorrie Papadopoulos, Marc-André Grondin, Mark Dann, Michael Dowse, Mike Bell, Mitchell Kummen, Nicholas Campbell, Richard Clarkin, Ricky Mabe, Robb Wells, Sarah Scheffer, Sean Skene, Seann William Scott, Sidney Leeder, Terry Ray, Tom Anniko

Director: Michael Dowse

Rating: R

The Tragically Hip was a deeply beloved band from Ontario that peaked in the 90s with hits like Grace, Too or Nautical Disaster. The Hip, as their fans refer to them, had just finished recording their latest album in 2015 when the lead singer was diagnosed with a fatal disease. This movie is about them deciding to go on one last tour to say goodbye to their fans and country. Mostly, it’s about the singer, Gord Downie, and how his personality and love for the music shined through his illness. Picture someone who is giving an immaculate performance despite being a few weeks away from death, and a packed stadium of people singing along in tears - this is this movie. It’s truly an incredible story of human ambition, empathy, and the bond that music can create between an artist and a whole nation.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Bobby Baker, Gord Downie, Gord Sinclair, Jennifer Baichwal, Johnny Fay, Justin Trudeau, Nicholas de Pencier, Paul Langlois, Rob Baker

Director: Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier

Rating: N/A

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, Arsinée Khanjian, Brooke Johnson, Bruce Greenwood, David Hemblen, Earl Pastko, Gabrielle Rose, Ian Holm, Marc Donato, Maury Chaykin, Mychael Danna, Peter Donaldson, Sarah Polley, Sarah Rosen Fruitman, Simon Baker, Stephanie Morgenstern, Tom McCamus

Director: Atom Egoyan

Rating: R

This is a gorgeous French-Canadian movie with out-of-this-world sound work.

Laurence is deeply in love with his girlfriend, Fred. On his birthday, he announces to her that he wants to restart his life as a woman, having always hated his male body. Fred doesn't know how to take the news: “everything I love about you is everything you hate about yourself”.

Laurence Anyways is about how their romance continues after this revelation. There are so many reasons to watch this movie: the story, the acting, the cinematography; but trust me, the soundtrack alone is reason enough.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Alexandre Goyette, Alexis Lefebvre, Anne Dorval, Anne-Élisabeth Bossé, Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Bronwen Mantel, Catherine Bégin, Claude Gasse, David Savard, Denise Filiatrault, Denys Paris, Emily Hampshire, Emmanuel Schwartz, Éric Bruneau, François Sasseville, Gilles Renaud, Jacob Tierney, Jacques Lavallée, Magalie Lepine Blondeau, Manuel Tadros, Melvil Poupaud, Monia Chokri, Monique Spaziani, Mylène Jampanoï, Nathalie Baye, Patrice Coquereau, Patricia Tulasne, Perrette Souplex, Pierre Chagnon, Sophie Faucher, Susan Almgren, Suzanne Clément, Vincent Davy, Violette Chauveau, Xavier Dolan, Yves Jacques

Director: Xavier Dolan

Rating: Not Rated

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

A harrowing family loss sets off a poetic exploration of grief in this experimental film from Haitian-Canadian filmmaker Miryam Charles. The focus of the movie is Charles’ own cousin, who was found murdered in her Connecticut bedroom in 2008. Rather than let her cousin’s life remain frozen at that point in time, Charles unmoors her film from the cold realities of time and space to suggest new perspectives on the girl’s past and imagine a future that never came. While events like the family’s decision to move to the US are recast as portends of tragedy, there’s also deep generosity in the movie’s ghost story — such as the joyous scenes it depicts from a mother-daughter trip to the family’s home country of Haiti, a trip that never actually took place.

It’s not always easy to discern where or when we’re at in its liberal toggling between time and space, but once Cette Maison establishes its unconventional visual language, everything comes into poignant focus. Given the reality on which it’s based, this is undoubtedly a heartbreaking watch, but the way Charles’ movie evokes the ability of imagination to both deepen and assuage the pain of grief is nothing short of revelatory.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Ève Duranceau, Nadine Jean

Director: Miryam Charles

Sandra Oh earned her breakout in this warm, candid Canadian indie, which — not uncoincidentally — shares its name with that of a decorative Chinese symbol associated with marriage. The movie’s title is also a reference to 22-year-old Jade Li’s (Oh) struggle to pursue her own ambitions and meet the clashing romantic and professional expectations her disapproving first-generation immigrant parents have for her. As she puts it, “Double happiness is when you make yourself happy and everyone else happy, too.”

An aspiring actress who dreams of playing Blanche DuBois, Jade is instead asked by unimaginative casting directors to adopt a pronounced Chinese accent for tiny bit parts. In essence, she’s typecast everywhere: on set, and at home, where she struggles to play the good daughter who’ll give up acting for a more conventional job and will only marry a man her parents approve of. It’s a jarring existence, but Double Happiness never feels claustrophobic because it gives Jade the freedom to finally be herself via witty, confessional monologues and fantasy sequences. There’s undoubtedly bittersweetness to this portrait of a young woman fighting to be herself on every front, but that it's nevertheless such an irresistibly charming, never-flippant watch is a testament to first-time director Mina Shum and Oh’s already mature talents.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alannah Ong, Callum Keith Rennie, Donald Fong, Frances You, Gene Kiniski, Sandra Oh, Stephen Chang

Director: Mina Shum

The Grand Seduction, a remake of 2003 French-Canadian film La Grande Séduction (2003), is a lighthearted comedy about the residents of the small fishing village of Tickle Head, Newfoudland attempting to convince a young doctor to become its long-term caregiver in order to secure a contract for a new petrochemical facility. Desperate to guide the town out of its impoverished conditions and lack of employment opportunities, the citizens band together to pull ever bit out of deceit and chicanery out of their hats (in often laugh-out-loud fashion) in order to sway the young doctor Paul (Taylor Kitsch) into believing that Tickle Head is where he belongs. It’s a lighthearted and funny story, despite undeniably familiar shades of The Shipping News, Doc Hollywood and Funny Farm. Brendan Gleeson is particularly good as the new mayor of town and Paul’s head “seducer”. He gives the film that extra bit of humanity and wry humor that lifts it above the familiar plot points and into “notable recommendation” territory.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Brendan Gleeson, Cathy Jones, Gordon Pinsent, Kevin Lewis, Lawrence Barry, Liane Balaban, Margaret Killingbeck, Mark Critch, Mary Walsh, Matt Watts, Michael Therriault, Percy Hynes White, Pete Soucy, Peter Keleghan, Steve O'Connell, Taylor Kitsch

Director: Don McKellar

Rating: PG-13

The Breadwinner is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. The animation is magical as it seamlessly jumps back and forth between Parvana's stark reality and richly detailed fantasy. It's a wonder to just look at, but it's a tapestry brought to life by the story at the center of it. 

Set in 2001, at the height of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, the film follows Parvana, a young girl driven to desperate measures to keep her family alive. Because of the violent restrictions imposed on women (they’re not allowed to buy, sell, study, or practically do anything without a male chaperone), Parvana disguises herself as a boy so she can work for a living. The more she gets away with it, the bolder her attempts get. It's a story of survival and standing up, but it's also a sobering reminder of what fundamentalism is capable of doing (or more accurately, ruining). As long as cruel systems like this are taking place in the world, Breadwinner remains essential viewing for all.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Family, War

Actor: Ali Badshah, Ali Hassan, Ali Kazmi, Kanza Feris, Kawa Ada, Laara Sadiq, Noorin Gulamgaus, Nora Twomey, Saara Chaudry, Salaman Hamidkohzad, Shaista Latif, Soma Bhatia, Soma Chhaya

Director: Nora Twomey

Rating: PG-13

, 1997

In this powerful exploration of suppressed desires and societal constraints, Fire delves deep into the lives of two women trapped in loveless marriages. Radha's husband has banished all desires from their marriage due to Radha's infertility, while the newlywed Sita knows her husband still sees his lover. As they live their stifling lives being dutiful wives and taking care of their paralyzed matriarch on their own, they begin to find solace in each other—eventually igniting a forbidden romance that challenges what they thought living truly was. The performances by Nandita Das and Shabana Azmi are captivating, as they find renewed passion in each other's arms even as they question how tradition doesn't hold a women's benefit in mind. Fire is a bold and groundbreaking film that provokes reflection on love, freedom, and the courage to defy societal norms.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Alice Poon, Avijit Dutt, Javed Jaffrey, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Laurence Côte, Nandita Das, Ram Gopal Bajaj, Ranjit Chowdhry, Shabana Azmi, Vinay Pathak

Director: Deepa Mehta

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

Cloudburst is the very funny and heartwarming story of two old ladies, Stella (played by Academy Award winner Olympia Dukakis) and Dotty (played by another Academy Award winner, Brenda Fricker) who escape their nursing home and drive to Nova Scotia, Canada to get married. Along the way, they meet Prentice, a hitchhiker on his way home to Nova Scotia as well. Cloudburst is the story of their road trip. Dotty is lascivious and loving. Expect to be shocked by Stella's potty mouth. The whole film is a great love story about devotion, acceptance and living life to the fullest.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Brenda Fricker, Jeremy Akerman, John Dunsworth, Juanita Peters, Kevin Kincaid, Kristin Booth, Mary-Colin Chisholm, Michael McPhee, Olympia Dukakis, Randy Boliver, Ryan Doucette, Trina Corkum

Director: Thom Fitzgerald

Rating: Unrated

In The Kid Detective, Adam Brody stars as Abe Applebaum, a once-beloved child prodigy turned pathetic P.I. stuck in the glory days of his past. At 32 years old, he’s still solving petty mysteries and coasting on his parents’ money, but things start to change when he is finally dealt with a real, adult case: a murder that confounds even the local police. As Abe uncovers more details about the case, he also unwittingly finds a connection to his traumatic past and begins a long-overdue coming-of-age journey. 

Released during the first year of the pandemic, The Kid Detective understandably flew under the radar when it first came out, garnering sufficient critical praise but not enough fanfare. It will no doubt find a second life among film lovers, though; it’s too smart and riveting to go unnoticed. Most impressive is how director Evan Morgan, in his feature debut, deftly balances multiple genres in a movie that often feels as if Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums, Roman Polanski's Chinatown, and modern stoner humor were somehow rolled into one. The gags consistently amuse, the drawn-out mysteries pay off, and the human element persists throughout. Adam Brody, himself a kid celebrity back in the day, expertly carries this delightful and sobering film. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Mystery

Actor: Adam Brody, Alan Catlin, Alicia Brand, Amalia Williamson, Avery Esteves, Barbara Rajnovich, Bethanie Ho, Brent Skagford, Bruce McFee, Dallas Edwards, David Rosser, Deborah Tennant, Devin Myler, Giovanna Moore, Isaac Kragten, Jake Bell-Webster, Jesse Noah Gruman, Jonathan Whittaker, Kaitlyn Chalmers-Rizzato, Kaleb Horn, Kevin Hoffman, Kira Gelineau, Lisa Truong, Marcia Bennett, Marcus Zane, Marlaina Andre, Maurice Dean Wint, Peter MacNeill, Sarah Sutherland, Sharon Crandall, Sophia Webster, Sophie Nélisse, Sophie Nélisse, Steve Gagne, Tracy Rowland, Tyler Duke, Tzi Ma, Wayne St-George, Wendy Crewson

Director: Evan Morgan

Rating: R