16 Best Movies to Watch From Téléfilm Canada

Staff & contributors

This French-Canadian slow-burner, written and directed by Denis Villeneuve, will pull you in with one of the best movie beginnings of all time – and its outstanding ending will leave you shaken. To fulfill their mother’s last wish after her sudden death in Montreal, the two twins Jeanne and Simon must travel separately to an unnamed Middle-Eastern country (with strong resemblances to civil-war-torn Lebanon) to deliver letters to close relatives they never knew they had.

The twins’ quest into a dark and staggering family history makes them experience themselves and the violence of war like they had never imagined. Their ordeal is interrupted by a series of flashbacks telling the story of their mother, Nawal Marwan, before leading them to uncover a deeply disturbing secret. Based on Wajdi Mouawad's 2003 play of the same name, this melodramatic war thriller takes a poetic and poignant look at how families are shaped by atrocities – even long the after wars that produced them have ended.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, War

Actor: Abdelghafour Elaaziz, Ahmad Massad, Allen Altman, Baraka Rahmani, Baya Belal, Dominique Briand, Hamed Najem, Hussein Sami, Jackie Sawiris, John Dunn-Hill, Karim Babin, Lara Atalla, Lobna Azabal, Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Majida Hussein, Maxim Gaudette, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Mohamed Majd, Mustafa Kamel, Nabil Sawalha, Nadia Essadiqi, Rémy Girard, Rémy Girard

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Rating: R

, 2014

Aptly named ‘Rupert Grint on speed’ by one critic, Antoine-Olivier Pilon plays Steve, an abusive ADHD adolescent who just got out of a juvenile care facility for setting fire to the school cafeteria and injuring a fellow student. Similarly, his mother Diane, played by Anne Dorval, is a type of Lorelai Gilmore on speed – and to say that sparks fly when they clash is an understatement. But help comes from unexpected places: ‘Die’ makes friends with Kyla, an anxious teacher living across the street, who then gets sucked into this crazy, volcanic mess.

Mommy is the fifth feature film by French-Canadian don’t-call-him-a-hipster director Xavier Dolan and won the Cannes Jury Prize for its originality. It is shot in the 1:1 ‘portrait’ format, but every now and then a moment of exhilaration will crack open the frame. The brutality on screen is sugar-coated by an all-over-the-place soundtrack that includes the Counting Crows, Celine Dion, and Blue (Da Ba Dee) by Eiffel 65.

Shrill, violent, and demented, this out-of-control dark comedy will punch you in the guts. But it also aims straight for the heart and doesn't miss. Prepare to be continually torn between laughing out loud, clawing your seat, and covering your mouth in shock.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alexandre Goyette, Anne Dorval, Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Catherine Brunet, Danielle Lepine, Dominic Desnoyers, Guenièvre Sandré, Guillaume Laurin, Huguette Gervais, Isabeau Blanche, Isabelle Nélisse, Jean-Philippe Baril-Guérard, Jeanne Roux-Coté, Johanne Garneau, Julie De Lafrenière, Justin Laramée, Mathieu Dufresne, Michèle Lituac, Michael Rudder, Michele Lituac, Natalie Hamel-Roy, Nathalie Hamel-Roy, Patrick Huard, Pierre-François Bouffard, Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Reda Guerinik, Rosalie Fortier, Sabrina Bisson, Stéphane Julien, Steven Chevrin, Suzanne Clément, Suzanne Clément, Sylvie Lemay, Ted Pluviose, Vincent Fafard, Viviane Pacal

Director: Xavier Dolan

Rating: R

Directed by David Cronenberg, Eastern Promises is at times brutal—such is the famous Canadian director's trademark—and operates at a fever pitch of grim violence and revenge. Starring a tattooed, ruthless, and terrifying Viggo Mortensen as a very convincing Russian strong-arm gangster as well as Naomi Watts and Vincent Cassel, it features intense psychological drama and a gritty crime story. Midwife Anna (Watts) delivers the baby of a 14-year-old Russian prostitute, who dies while giving birth, and later learns that she was forced into prostitution by the Mafia. To keep this knowledge from seeping out, she gets entangled deeper into London's criminal underbelly, whose various factions and languages are aptly showcased by Cronenberg. Add to all this a smart script and Mortensen's daring performance and you have yourself an intense auteur thriller in signature Cronenberg style.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Aleksandar Mikic, Aleksander Mikic, Alice Henley, Armin Mueller-Stahl, David Papava, Donald Sumpter, Elisa Lasowski, Jerzy Skolimowski, Josef Altin, Mina E. Mina, Naomi Watts, Raza Jaffrey, Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse, Sinead Cusack, Tamer Hassan, Tatiana Maslany, Tereza Srbová, Tony Cook, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel

Director: David Cronenberg

Rating: R

Riceboy Sleeps looks like a fairy tale. Taken in 16mm and colored to pastel-grain perfection, it’s a captivating picture that moves like a happy memory. And occasionally, the action matches the air. Mother So-young (Choi Seung-yoon) and son Dong-hyun (Ethan Hwang) share a fierce, us-against-the-world bond as they strive to make it in a Canadian suburb without a lick of help. 

The film is beautiful that way, but it also importantly doesn't spare us from the harsh-edged realities of immigrant life. There are assimilation attempts, cultural divides, and on Dong-hyun’s part, a perpetual longing to know about an unknowable past. It’s a lovely picture, to be sure, but it’s also a tear-jerker, as heartbreaking as it is heartwarming. 

Coupled with writing and performances that are resonant but restrained (they never verge on melodrama), Riceboy Sleeps makes for a powerful debut and a truly unforgettable watch.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aiden Finn, Anthony Shim, Bryce Hodgson, Choi Jong-ryul, Eric Keenleyside, Ethan Hwang, Hunter Dillon, John Cassini, Kendra Anderson, Lee Yong-nyeo, Ryan Robbins, Sean Poague, Vanessa Przada

Director: Anthony Shim

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

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 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, Kane Mahon, Kanza Feris, Kawa Ada, Laara Sadiq, Lily Erlinghauser, Noorin Gulamgaus, Nora Twomey, Patrick McGrath, Reza Sholeh, Saara Chaudry, Salaman Hamidkohzad, Shaista Latif, Soma Bhatia, Soma Chhaya

Director: Nora Twomey

Rating: PG-13

Polytechnique directed by Denis Villeneuve, is a dramatization of the 1989 Montreal massacre of multiple female engineering students. This film focuses on a male student navigating the massacre for the majority of the film’s run time. The performances and minimal dialogue in this film certainly make this an unnerving film to watch. Littered with the screams of the actors portraying the engineering students, this could be mistaken as a gaudy horror film. However, this is far from a fictionalized horror.

This Villeneuve classic is undoubtedly one of the most emotionally brutal films of the 2000s, yet I appreciate the honesty of the storytelling. Polytechnique encourages its audience to ask itself if it truly understands the truth of misogyny. 

Genre: Crime, Drama, History, Thriller

Actor: Adam Kosh, Alexandre St-Martin, Alexis Lefebvre, Cynthia Wu-Maheux, Dawn Ford, Emmanuelle Girard, Eugénie Beaudry, Ève Duranceau, Eve Gadouas, Evelyne Brochu, Francesca Barcenas, François-Xavier Dufour, Johanne-Marie Tremblay, Jonathan Dubsky, Josée Lacombe, Julien Maranda, Karine Vanasse, Larissa Corriveau, Lily Thibeault, Louise Proulx, Manon Lapointe, Marc Gourdeau, Marc-André Brisebois, Marie-Évelyne Baribeau, Martin Watier, Mathieu Ledoux, Maxim Gaudette, Mireille Brullemans, Natalie Hamel-Roy, Nathalie Girard, Pierre Leblanc, Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Robert Reynaert, Sébastien Huberdeau, Sophie Desmarais, Stéphane Julien, Valerie Cadieux

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Rating: Not Rated

Surreal, off-putting, and extremely disturbing, Infinity Pool plays with the concepts of cloning and the death penalty to craft an examination on colonial tourism. It’s a thematically rich horror film, with hazy neon-lit sex scenes and absolutely terrible behavior, enabled by their wealth and advanced technology that could have been put to better use. Mia Goth, in particular, is strikingly unhinged, as Gabi taunts and lures James into bigger and more terrible crimes, crimes that he can only pay off with the wealth of his father-in-law. And Alexander Skarsgård as James believably gets sucked into this extremely libertine lifestyle, fuelled by the nepotistic anxiety of not living up to his own potential. The film presents a scary notion that pushed by wealth and playground tactics, one will willingly kill their own conscience, again and again, to belong to their cohort.

Genre: Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Alexander Skarsgård, Alexandra Tóth, Amanda Brugel, Amar Bukvić, Caroline Boulton, Cleopatra Coleman, Gergely Trócsányi, Géza Kovács, Jalil Lespert, Jeff Ricketts, John Ralston, Mia Goth, Roderick Hill, Romina Tonković, Thomas Kretschmann

Director: Brandon Cronenberg

Rating: R

C.R.A.Z.Y. is crazy good, so to speak. A portrait of a French-Canadian family in 70's Quebec that will knock your socks right off, it's the story of a boy struggling with his identity and his relationship with his father. Featuring a killer soundtrack (including but not limited to Bowie, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones), it received Best Canadian Film in 2005 at Toronto International Film Festival. There are many things I would like to say about C.R.A.Z.Y. but I fear it's one of those films you enjoy best when you go into them not knowing much.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alex Gravel, Anik Vermette, Claude Gagnon, Danielle Proulx, Denis Trudel, Élizabeth Adam, Francis Ducharme, Hélène Grégoire, Isabelle Pagé, Jean-Alexandre Létourneau, Jean-Louis Roux, Jean-Marc Vallée, Joël LeMay, Marc-André Grondin, Marie-Michelle Duchesne, Marie-Yong Godbout-Turgeon, Mariloup Wolfe, Maxime Le Flaguais, Maxime Tremblay, Michel Côté, Michel Laperrière, Mohamed Majd, Natacha Thompson, Natasha Thompson, Pierre-Luc Brillant

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée

Rating: Not Rated

We mostly think of objects as just stuff to buy, to sell, to give, and to throw away, but for many musicians, their instruments are quite important to them. The Red Violin takes it to the extreme– with the titular instrument infused with the life force of a human– but the film justifies this passion, the pain, and the cost through one of the most beautiful violin scores ever made, and through an ambitious series of vignettes spanning across four centuries and five countries. As the object passes hands, and the owners live, and play, and die, The Red Violin suggests that while these artists’ lives are fleeting, there’s still something human and important in chasing the sublime, and this instrument is just proof of it.

Genre: Drama, Music, Mystery, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Anita Laurenzi, Arthur Denberg, Carlo Cecchi, Clotilde Mollet, Colm Feore, Dany Laferrière, David Gant, David La Haye, Dimitri Andreas, Don McKellar, Dorothée Berryman, Eva Marie Bryer, Florentín Groll, Gregory Hlady, Greta Scacchi, Herman Meckler, Hong Tao, Irene Grazioli, James Bradford, Jason Flemyng, Jean-Luc Bideau, Jody Shapiro, Johannes Silberschneider, Joshua Bell, Julian Richings, Monique Mercure, Rainer Egger, Rémy Girard, Russell Yuen, Samuel L. Jackson, Samuele Amighetti, Sandra Oh, Stuart Yung Sai-Kit, Sylvia Chang, Sylvia Stewart, Tan Zeng-Wei, Tommaso Puntelli, Wang Xiaoshuai, Wolfgang Böck, Zhi Qiao, Zifeng Liu

Director: François Girard

Rating: R

Unlike other films about great inventions of a bygone era, BlackBerry isn’t nostalgic nor sentimental in the least bit. Instead, it’s chilly, calculating, and surprisingly comic (it has to be, with comedians Jay Baruchel and Glenn Howerton as leads). And it’s less about the brilliance of this one product than the cycle of greed, corruption, and vanity that eventually traps its too-ambitious creators. 

It's a smart film that refuses to dumb down the tech and business side of things, and what it lacks in characterization (there is little to no backstory to be found), it more than makes up for in drama and a superb pace, which propulsively and practically brings you to its wonderful peak and bleak end. Equipped with a no-nonsense yet thrilling approach to facts, BlackBerry is a refreshing entry into the biopic genre.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, History

Actor: Al Bernstein, Ben Petrie, Cary Elwes, Conor Casey, David Christo, Dillon Casey, Elena Juatco, Eric Osborne, Ethan Eng, Evan Buliung, Glenn Howerton, Greg Calderone, Gregory Ambrose Calderone, Gwynne Phillips, Jay Baruchel, Kelly Van der Burg, Laura Cilevitz, Lauren Howe, Lyndon Casey, Malakai Fox, Mark Critch, Martin Donovan, Matt Johnson, Michael Ironside, Michelle Giroux, Pranay Noel, Rich Sommer, Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll, Saul Rubinek, Sean Jones, Stephanie Moran, SungWon Cho

Director: Matt Johnson

Rating: R

Possessor announces a visionary new voice in Brandon Cronenberg, and is one to watch for the concept alone, brilliantly melding science fiction and horror into one. Cronenberg's direction is reminiscent of a cross between Christopher Nolan’s Inception and Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin, but has more than enough originality to stand well on its own. However, unfortunately, it is surprisingly slow at times, and is far from the mind-blowing gore fest that was promised, resulting in a well made but underwhelming experience. BUT, if you were in the mood for a trippy introspective sci-fi thriller and are able to keep your expectations tempered, this is well worth a watch

Genre: Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Andrea Riseborough, Ayesha Mansur Gonsalves, Christopher Abbott, Christopher Jacot, Daniel Junghuan Park, Daniel Park, Danny Waugh, Deragh Campbell, Dorren Lee, Doug MacLeod, Gabrielle Graham, Gage Graham-Arbuthnot, Hanneke Talbot, Hrant Alianak, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kaniehtiio Horn, Kathy Maloney, Matthew Garlick, Megan Vincent, Rachael Crawford, Raoul Bhaneja, Rossif Sutherland, Sean Bean, Tuppence Middleton

Director: Brandon Cronenberg

Rating: R

, 2015

This  exploration of the complex and loving relationship between a mother and her son will take you through a variety of emotions: it's uplifting, disturbing, provocative, sad, and hopeful. We don't get many of these middle-class-budget films anymore, and this one might be one of the category's best.

A kidnapped girl (Brie Larson) has a son after being raped by her abductor. She tries to provide a "normal" environment for the kid in the room where they're being held captive until they can escape. Brie Larson won an Oscar for Best Actress in Room, so make sure to also check out Short Term 12, an equally impressive performance by her in an equally amazing movie.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Amanda Brugel, Brie Larson, Cas Anvar, Chantelle Chung, Graeme Potts, Jack Fulton, Jacob Tremblay, Jee-Yun Lee, Joan Allen, Joe Pingue, Justin Mader, Kate Drummond, Katelyn Wells, Matt Gordon, Megan Park, Ola Sturik, Randal Edwards, Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll, Rory O'Shea, Sandy McMaster, Sean Bridgers, Tom McCamus, Wendy Crewson, William H. Macy, Zarrin Darnell-Martin

Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Rating: R

After the sudden death of a teacher, 55-year-old Algerian immigrant Bachir Lazhar is hired at an elementary school in Montreal. Struggling with a cultural gap between himself and his students at first, he helps them to deal with the situation, revealing his own tragic past. A strong portrait without any weird sentimentality. 11-year-old actress Sophie Nélisse makes her brilliant debut.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: André Robitaille, Brigitte Poupart, Daniel Gadouas, Danielle Proulx, Denise Lamontagne, Émilien Néron, Evelyne de la Chenelière, Francine Ruel, Gabriel Verdier, Jose Arandi, Judith Baribeau, Jules Philip, Louis Champagne, Marie Charlebois, Marie-Ève Beauregard, Mohamed Fellag, Nathalie Costa, Nico Lagarde, Sophie Nélisse, Stéphane Demers, Vincent Millard

Director: Philippe Falardeau

Rating: PG-13