Canada’s Top Ten: Where Daniel Radcliffe, Edward Burtynsky, and a Giant Computer-Generated Spider Meet

TIFF's mini-festival devoted to Canadian filmmaking offers screenings and rare conversations with Denis Villeneuve, Jake Gyllenhaal, and John Greyson.

Jake Gyllenhaal (and Jake Gyllenhaal) in Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy.

  • TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
  • January 3–12
  • 6 p.m.–11 p.m.
  • $10-$20

Not content to keep it tucked away in the fall, last night the Toronto International Film Festival revealed its slate for Canada’s Top 10, the upcoming ten-day mini-festival devoted to the year’s best in Canadian filmmaking. Artistic Director Cameron Bailey joined Canadian programmer Steve Gravestock and comedian Steve Patterson to unveil the feature and short lineups, in addition to announcing a number of related talks.

The features list is about what you’d expect if you followed the Canadian screenings at this fall’s festival. Some of our favourites here are also some of the most Toronto-centric offerings. Denis Villeneuve’s underseen mind-bender Enemy was an unexpected highlight for us at the festival—a cracked, unconscionably fun adaptation of a José Saramago novella about a college professor who finds his exact double acting as a bellhop in a B-movie. Jake Gyllenhaal, recently seen in Villeneuve’s decidedly less fun, more po-faced American debut Prisoners, is hysterical as the pair of men, but the real star is the city of Toronto itself. Never has the GTA looked quite as seedy, anxious, or strange, whether in the surreal aerial photography of Mississauga’s glass condo towers (which we at one point see stalked by an enormous computer generated spider) or in the scenes of the professor’s slow mental breakdown amidst the brutalist architecture of the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus.

Those seeking a lighter Toronto romp would do well to take in Michael Dowse’s romantic comedy The F Word. There’s not much to the story, which tracks the rocky but deep friendship between a med school dropout (Daniel Radcliffe) and a graphic designer (Zoe Kazan), who the gods of romantic comedy have deemed must also fall in love. Familiar as the story beats are, Dowse brings to them the same sweetness and good cheer he brought to films like Fubar and Goon, and Radcliffe and Kazan make a cute Toronto couple, meeting in front of undisguised, unabashedly local haunts like The Royal theatre.

Still from The F Word.

Lest one think the entire lineup is set in Toronto, there are just as many cosmopolitan English titles (including Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky’s globe-trotting Watermark) and much-lauded French Canadian films. Some of the Francophone offerings this year include Chloé Robichaud’s Sarah Prefers to Run, which is already a box office success in Quebec, Louise Archambault’s Gabrielle, Canada’s Oscar entry for best foreign language film, and Xavier Dolan’s thriller Tom at the Farm, about a big city advertising man who finds his identity erased and remade when he heads to the rural home of his deceased lover. We were delighted to see that Denis Côté’s minimalist horror film Vic + Flo Saw a Bear also made the cut. What it lacks in giant insects, it makes up for in bear traps.

Canada’s Top Ten is also a rare opportunity to catch some of the year’s best-regarded Canadian shorts. Many of this year’s titles had their debut at the festival. Among these, some of the highlights are Walter Woodman and Patrick Cederberg’s prizewinner Noah, a teen relationship drama played out entirely on a computer screen, frequent Dolan collaborator Monia Chokri’s An Extraordinary Person, about a scholar’s uneasy time at a bachelorette party, and Johnny Ma’s A Grand Canal, which repurposes a Greek tragedy through the form of a Chinese pop song.

Still from Noah.

In addition to its film screenings, Canada’s Top Ten will also offer a number of related events, including an onstage conversation with Villeneuve and Gyllenhaal on their back-to-back collaborations in Prisoners and Enemy, and a discussion between Bailey and celebrated Toronto filmmaker John Greyson. The latter should be interesting not only because of Greyson’s long career as an LGBTQ activist and storyteller and his recent, much-publicized release from a Cairo prison, but also because it marks the filmmaker’s first public engagement with TIFF since his boycott of the festival’s City to City programme for its spotlight on Tel Aviv in 2009.

For more information on Canada’s Top Ten, see TIFF’s website.

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