Cinema Canadiana

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(or when does a movie rank as Canuck even though there's nary a drop of maple syrup in it?)

Our national cinema is a bit of a quandary, isn’t it? Who’s with me on this? If Canada is a country of wide spaces, many languages, different races and a handful of time zones then the movies that help define who we are as Canadians must themselves be pretty tough to pin down.

This is made even tougher by the pervasive and persnickety influence of Hollywood. Let me explain.

The great William Shatner was born in MontrĂ©al but that doesn’t make Star Trek a particularly Canadian TV and film series. Not even the presence of British Columbian James Doohan helps this cause. It just doesn’t. It’s set in space, dudes.

Similarly, James Cameron can call Ontario his home and native land but I don’t think anyone will call Avatar a Canuck masterpiece. No sirree Bob (and/or Doug).

At the same time, there are films that get made in the Great White North that are ostensibly as American as apple pie. To wit: Vancouver and Toronto are often exchanged in place of Los Angeles or Chicago or New York for big city settings of some Michael Bay lackluster blockbuster or another. A lot of the early Superman movies were filmed in this glorious province, and parts of Calgary. My aunt worked at a t-shirt shop where they put the big old diamond-shaped ‘S’ badge on the Man of Steel’s blue tights.

Cowtown=Metropolis? Yes. Superman=Canadian movie? No, not even because Joe Shuster, one of the two original co-creators of the comic book, had Canadian maple syrup in his veins.

So, where does all that leave Canadian movies? Somewhere blowing in the breeze, I ‘spect.

There are lots of bloggers who have lists of their favourite Canadian movies. At least, I’m pretty sure that there are lots of bloggers. I haven’t checked. Who does that?

I, however, don’t.

What’s more important, I feel, is not a compilation of the Best Canadian Movies or People’s Favourite Canadian Movies.

I’m on a bit of a quest to bring together a library of the ‘Most’ Canadian Movies. These are movies that bring out our national identity. They help us to understand who we are. They tell the world that this is what it means to be Canadian. We have a particular (and some say “peculiar”) outlook on things, a certain sensibility, a perspective that is different from Norwegians or Brazilians or Kenyans. Or anybody else for that matter.

There are many reasons for me to compile this list, not the least of which is the state of our national cinema. We all know and recognize our outstanding filmmakers and performers but there isn’t really a breadth of movies that are identifiably Canadian.

Think about it. The masterful David Cronenberg works mainly in Toronto but doesn’t make movies that are specifically about that city. They are generic, leading many North American audiences to view them as typical cinematic big cities AKA Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York. Movies – Hollywood movies – get filmed in Toronto and Vancouver all the time. You know it. I know it. Everybody knows it. I could easily list off 50 big movies that were filmed somewhere in Canada. That’ll be another blog post some day.

When was the last time there was a blockbuster Toronto movie? A bona fide Michael Bay tentpole film with a plot that took place in a city identified as Toronto, or Vancouver, or Edmonton, or Montreal, or even Saskatoon?

Honestly, the closest one that I can think of is Barney’s Version, the 2010 adaptation of the Mordecai Richler novel set in Montreal. Not exactly Armageddon

There are also tons of great movies directed by or starring Canadian actors but they don’t count here on that criterion alone. And Canadian writers. The thing is, I am not going to start spouting off about Back to the Future served our national identity just because of one Michael A. Fox. (Yes, it’s actually ‘A’). Nope, not a chance.

Likewise, I’m not going to trump up something like 300 just because it was filmed in a massively green-screened production palace called Icestorm Studios in Montreal.

So this is my idea for a list: these are the best movies that are most definably and definitively Canadian. The ‘Canadian sensibility’ is the focus: not the director, not the cast, and not the scenery. Movies help the world audience to understand a people and a nation. These aren’t documentaries, only dramatizations with a few comedizations for good measure.

My intent is to take one film at a time and extol the virtues of it as a Canadian film. They won’t all be works of art. They won’t all be cult classics. They won’t all even be good. But they’re as Canadian as beavertails and cabanes a sucres. I’ll do one film a week, so expect this blog to be updated every Friday, at least for awhile. Blogs aren’t easy but I’m keen to keep this one in people’s attention spans.

This is my list. This is what I call Cinema Canadiana.

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St. Albert Gazette

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