TIFF Names Canada's Top Ten for 2014!

Mommy. Photo courtesy of TIFF.
If you thought there were some surprises in today’s New York Film Critics Circle awards, wait until you see Canada’s Top Ten! Like the double-whammy for The Immigrant from NYFCC, though, the annual list of Canada’s best features and shorts from the Toronto International Film Festival holds some pleasant surprises. This year’s feature crop had four solid locks in the line-up: Mommy, Maps to the Stars, Tu Dors Nicole and Felix and Meira, but the field was wide open after those titles. The other six films, like those four, show what a strong year it’s been for Canadian film since Canucks took Cannes by storm earlier this year with Mommy and Maps to the Stars dominating the Croisette in the Cannes Official Selections and Tu Dors Nicole earning quirky raves in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard. (Canada’s other Cannes kid Atom Egoyan sits out in the cold once again with his critically reviled The Captive, which even I didn’t bother to see.)

The Price We Pay. Photo courtesy of TIFF.
Among the other features joining Canada’s Top Ten are two solid documentaries that debuted at TIFF this year: Sturla Gunnarsson’s philosophically thunderous Monsoon, which demands to be seen on the big screen at the Lightbox, and the Harold Crooks’ The Price We Pay. (Reviewed it for POV.) Other goodies include the breakout debuts Corbo by Mathieu Denis and Violent by Andrew Huculiak, and the acclaimed In Her Place, which was one of the best reviewed Canuck flicks at the festival this year.
Felix and Meira. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

This year marks a notably less TIFF-heavy set of lists than 2013's Canada's Top Ten in which nine out of ten of the features and all of the shorts screened at the Festival in September. 2014's CTT features two features that didn't play TIFF (Sol and Violent), plus a number of shorts. The features are a diverse and worthy group overall, and the calibre is plainly evident in the strong crop of films that didn’t make the cut—Wet Bum, The Wanted 18, Trick or Treaty, and Everything Will Be to name a few, plus Festival favourites like Heartbeat, Preggoland and Big Muddy—but from the films I’ve seen in the bunch, not a case can be made against their merit. It’s been a good for Canadian films and this list reflects that. (I’ll have my own Top Ten later in the month.)
The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

The shorts crop is an equally fine mix of expected favourites and pleasant surprises. Randall Okita’s TIFF champ continues its well-deserved steamroll after winning the Vimeo award for Best Canadian Short at the Festival The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer. It’s joined by one of my other TIFF favourites, Sol Freidman’s hilarious animated fable Day 40, plus other TIFFers like Still and Sleeping Giant. The big shocker, though, is the omission of Torill Kove's Me and My Moulton, which is currently a hot contender in the short animation race at the Oscars and was nominated today for an Annie award.

TIFF added another celebration of Canuck shorts by tipping its toque to the best in student filmmaking. The inaugural list of Canada’s Top Ten Student Films carries ten names to watch in the CTTs to come.

Also new this year, besides the new liquor licence at the Lightbox, is a pair of People’s Choice awards for Best Feature and Best Short. Vote early and vote often, since CTT marks one of the few chances audiences will have to see these films.

This year's festival also inlcudes events with Canadian actor Keanu Reeves and Neapen home girl Sandra Oh (Ottawa represent!) and a shindig with Naomi Klein, if one needs more incentive to attend CTT!

Canada’s Top Ten for 2014:

(Links to reviews where available.)

Canada’s Top Ten Film Features:

Dir. Mathieu Denis
Montréal, 1966. Jean Corbo, an idealistic 16-year-old of Québécois and Italian descent, befriends two far-left political activists and joins the FLQ (Front de libération du Québec), an underground movement determined to spark a socialist revolution. Jean thus begins an inextricable march toward his destiny. Starring Anthony Therrien, Antoine L'Écuyer, Karelle Tremblay and Tony Nardi.
Félix et Meira (Felix & Meira)
Dir. Maxime Giroux
Félix is an eccentric and penniless French Canadian whose wealthy father is dying. Meira is a married Hasidic woman with a family, searching for something new. They were not meant to meet, let alone fall in love. Felix & Meira tells the miraculous love story between two strangers from two distinct communities, who attempt to love each other despite what separates them. Starring Hadas Yaron and Martin Dubreuil.

In Her Place
Dir. Albert Shin
A mysterious woman from a big city arrives at a rural farm in South Korea, where she’s taken in by an old woman and her odd teenage daughter. The three women remain in isolation and, as they begin to fall into a new rhythm of life together, work to fill a void within their lives. But soon enough, their arrangement becomes more than what they bargained for. Starring Yoon Da-kyung, Ahn Ji- hye and Kil Hae-yeon.

Maps to the Stars
Dir. David Cronenberg     
With this tale of a secret-filled Hollywood family on the verge of implosion, director David Cronenberg forges both a wicked social satire and a very human ghost story from today’s celebrity-obsessed culture. Maps to the Stars tours the seductive allure and the tender, darkly comic underbelly of contemporary success. Starring Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Olivia Williams, Sarah Gadon, John Cusack and Robert Pattinson.

Dir. Xavier Dolan
A feisty, widowed single mother finds herself burdened with the full-time custody of her explosive, ADHD-afflicted 15-year-old son. As they struggle to make ends meet, a peculiar new girl from across the street benevolently offers her help. Together, they find a new sense of balance and a chance to regain hope. Starring Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clément, and Antoine-Olivier Pilon.

Dir. Sturla Gunnarsson
Part road movie, part spectacle, part drama, Monsoon is Sturla Gunnarsson’s meditation on chaos, creation and faith, set in the land of believers. The subject is the monsoon, the incomparably vast weather system that permeates and unifies the varied culture of India, shaping the conditions of existence for its billion inhabitants.

The Price We Pay
Dir. Harold Crooks
Director Harold Crooks (Surviving Progress) blows the lid off the dirty world of corporate malfeasance with this incendiary documentary about the dark history and dire present-day reality of big-business tax avoidance, which has seen multinationals depriving governments of trillions of dollars in tax revenues by harbouring profits in offshore havens.

Dir. Marie-Hélène Cousineau and Susan Avingaq
When Solomon Uyarasuk, a young Inuk man filled with talent and promise, is found dead while in RCMP custody, the police claim suicide but the community suspects murder. Sol is a riveting and emotional documentary that explores the underlying issues of youth suicide in Canada’s North while investigating the truth behind Solomon’s tragic death.

Tu dors Nicole
Dir. Stéphane Lafleur
Twenty-two-year-old Nicole is adrift after college graduation, working a dead-end job, making the most of the family home while her parents are away, enjoying a peaceful evenings with her best friend, Véronique. When Nicole’s older brother shows up with his band to record an album, their summer takes an unexpected turn and the girls’ friendship is put to the test. Amidst a rising heat wave, Nicole’s insomnia — and romantic misadventures — mount each day. Tu dors Nicole takes a humorous look at the beginning of adulthood and all its possibilities. Starring Julianne Côté, Juliette Gosselin, and Marc-André Grondin.

Dir. Andrew Huculiak
A catastrophic event sparks a young Norwegian woman’s memories of the five people who loved her most, in the visually stunning feature debut of West Coast musician and filmmaker Andrew Huculiak. Starring Dagny Backer Johnsen.

Canada’s Top Ten Film Shorts

Bihttoš (Rebel)
Dir. Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers
Bihttoš is an unconventional documentary that explores the complex relationship between a father and daughter. Through animation, re-enactments, and archival photos, writer/director Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers delves into the dissolution of her parents’ mythic love story and how it has coloured her perception of love in her adult life.   

Dir. Kevan Funk
A meditative and mysterious drama, Bison explores the violent legacy of colonialism in a contemporary context. The film is anchored by thematic concerns around implicit cultural culpability, systemic issues of failure surrounding the contemporary and historical relationship with First Nations peoples, and notions of responsibility in an individual and societal context.

La Coupe (The Cut)
Dir. Geneviève Dulude-De Celles
A charming domestic moment between a father and his young daughter is disrupted by a phone call. Made with heartbreaking sensitivity, The Cut is a poetic exploration of family and isolation.

Dir. Kazik Radwanski        
Cutaway portrays a phase in the life of a young man as he works as a labourer, pursues relationships with women, and comes to terms with a life-changing event. Told through close details of hands and objects, this film intimately portrays uncertainty and loss.

Day 40
Dir. Sol Friedman   
In this animated retelling of the Noah’s Ark story, various unholy activities fill the great ship as the animals discover the darker side of their nature.

Kajutaijuq: The Spirit That Comes
Dir. Scott Brachmayer       
Isolated in the harsh wilderness of the Arctic, a hunter follows the teachings of survival passed on to him by his grandfather. In an environment governed by the spirits of the land, a taboo is broken and he is forced to face the consequences.

Mynarski chute mortelle (Mynarski Death Plummet)
Dir. Matthew Rankin
A handmade historical micro-epic based on the final moments of doomed Winnipeg World War II hero, Andrew Mynarski, who died 70 years ago when his bomber was hit by enemy fire. Mixing aviation agitprop with classical and avant-garde animation techniques, Mynarski Death Plummet is a psychedelic photo-chemical cinépoem on the theme of self-sacrifice, immortality and jellyfish.

Sleeping Giant
Dir. Andrew Cividino
Fourteen-year-old Adam is spending the summer in a small beach community on the north shore of Lake Superior. His dull summer routine shatters when he meets local boys Foster and Rizzo, two smart alecks who fill their long days with adventures and reckless stunting. When Adam learns he is competing with Foster for the affection of his crush, Taylor, he is drawn into a dark and unfamiliar world which leads the boys to the top of the infamous Todd’s Cliff.

Dir. Slater Jewell-Kemker           
In this psychedelic thriller with a sci-fi twist, a young couple takes a walk through a wintry forest — where it soon becomes clear that their relationship is based on dangerously unbalanced power dynamics.

The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer
Dir.  Randall Lloyd Okita
A short story about two brothers who go to extremes in the different ways they live their lives — looking forward and looking back. When crisis hits, their bonds pull them back together, for better or worse.

Canada’s Top Ten Film Student Shorts

Dir. Candy Fox
This powerful documentary testimonial by Camillia Stonechild, who relates her upbringing on a Saskatchewan reserve, sheds light on the strength of survivors of family abuse.

Dinner Time
Dir. Alexander Mainwaring
A bloodthirsty wolf-man is challenged by a not-so-innocent Little Red Riding Hood, in this subversive and creative twist on the famous tale.

Akreta Saim
Prior to her death during childbirth, Akreta Saim’s cousin Ruby wrote a series of letters to her unborn child. Elpis is an experimental, moving adaptation of a mother’s words of hope.

Dir. Breanna Cheek
The slow-moving life in a pastoral village is exquisitely rendered in these animated tableaux by director Breanna Cheek, who finds beauty in the ordinary, from local homesteads to a diner, to an isolated laundromat.

La dernière danse sur la Main (Last Dance on the Main)
Dir. Aristofanis Soulikias
This animated short documents the demolition of a row of historic Red-Light District buildings on Montreal’s Saint-Laurent Boulevard, and the response by the colourful citizens who fought back.

Dir. Joel Salaysay
A young dishwasher observes his eclectic co-workers in a busy kitchen as he contemplates future career options. Director Joel Salaysay serves up an entertaining and honest slice of culinary life.

Dir. Yassmina Karajah
Devastated by the death of his newborn son, a Lebanese man living in an adoptive country is challenged by his mother’s request that he perform Islamic pre-burial rituals in the hospital.

Never Stop Cycling
Dir. Colin Lepper
In this brilliant, Tim Burton–inspired stop-motion animation, a creature in search of a vital organ must journey from his dreary apartment to a strange, exotic world.

Running Season
Dir. Grayson Moore
Anxious to sell his late father’s seaside house on Prince Edward Island after severed feet in running shoes start washing up on the shoreline and devaluing the property, Arthur must contend with the vultures circling to snap it up.

Dir. Pui Ka Wong
When an alien lands in a tomato field, he quickly discovers that idyllic farmland can be dangerous ground to an intruder.Tomonster is a stunning CGI animation that is riotous fun.

Canada’s Top Ten runs Jan. 2-11 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
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