TIFF announces Canada’s Top Ten films of 2020

The annual list of the country's best features and shorts casts a surprisingly wide net, given the limited field during the pandemic


Admit it: you probably haven’t seen 10 Canadian films this year. Fortunately, the Toronto International Film Festival has come along to announce this year’s TIFF Canada’s Top Ten.

There are actually 20 titles being honoured. As usual, TIFF also offers a list of its favourite short films. And both lists are pretty strong, reflecting the range of Canadian cinema that made it to screens in this leanest of years.

(Once again, TIFF came up with the Canada’s Top Ten list internally, rather than inviting critics and industry professionals to serve as jurors as they have in the past.)

The list features seven first or second features, directorial credits for six filmmakers of colour and three Indigenous filmmakers. Forty per cent of the features, and 50 per cent of the shorts, are directed or co-directed by women. (The documentary No Ordinary Man was co-directed by trans filmmaker Chase Joynt.)

“In the wake of one of the most challenging years our industry has ever seen, TIFF is glad to celebrate these phenomenal Canadian filmmakers,” Cameron Bailey, TIFF’s artistic director and co-head, said in a statement.

TIFF breakouts are represented by Tracey Deer’s Beans, Michelle Latimer’s prize-winning Inconvenient Indian, and Aisling Chin-Yee and Joynt’s No Ordinary Man.

Favourite filmmakers like Nicolás Pereda, Deepa Mehta and Mike Hoolboom were recognized for their features Fauna, Funny Boy and Judy Versus Capitalism, respectively, while Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson and Galen Johnson (Stump The Guesser) and Igor Drljača (The Archivists) and Andrea Dorfman (How To Be At Home) got the nods for their shorts.

And then there’s Pascal Plante’s Nadia, Butterfly, which was set to screen at this year’s aborted Cannes festival and just played Cinefranco last month before arriving on demand yesterday. The film stars actual Olympian Katerine Savard as a swimmer facing the end of her career at the ripe old age of 21. Plante’s been building a solid filmography – TIFF screened his previous feature, Fake Tattoos, in its 2018 Next Wave festival – so landing on Canada’s Top Ten is a nice nod for him.

Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor (reviewed here) seems to represent the stronger-than-average run of genre cinema in 2020 that included Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli’s Violation, Anthony Scott Burns’s Come True (reviewed here), Justin Dyck’s Anything For Jackson and Jay Baruchel’s Random Acts Of Violence, and then there are a couple of genuine ringers.

It’s intriguing to see Evan Morgan’s The Kid Detective on the list, because it’s a genuinely weird character study – with Adam Brody as an embittered former prodigy whose bright future was derailed by a tragedy he wasn’t equipped to solve – that unfolds as a custody battle between Wes Anderson and David Lynch. (The film, which co-stars Sophie Nélisse, lands on VOD next week.)

And I’ll admit it: I was surprised to see The Nest (reviewed here) turn up on the list, because I keep forgetting writer/director Sean Durkin is Canadian. His family moved to England when he was very young, and he spent his teen years in America, the two countries in which his film is set. A portent-laden drama starring Jude Law and Carrie Coon as a couple whose marriage is destroyed by vanity and avarice in the 80s, is the one title on the list that feels like it stretches the parameters of what Canadian cinema should be. But it ticks the right boxes, it’s a solid work from a gifted director and it was shot right here in the GTA, so I’ll stop crabbing. Check it out, it’s good.

In addition to the titles mentioned above, the shorts are a showcase of promising young talent: I included The Archivists, Black Bodies and Benjamin, Benny, Ben in my list of the top Canadian shorts screening at TIFF in September, and Sing Me A Lullaby was the one that just missed making the list. (Scars was pretty strong too.)

Given the whole pandemic thing, TIFF isn’t announcing plans to screen the Canada’s Top Ten honourees as a festival this year, although a press release helpfully points out that both The Nest and Possessor are currently available on the digital TIFF Bell Lightbox streaming platform.

Top Ten Canadian Features

Beans Tracey Deer | Quebec/Ontario

Fauna Nicolás Pereda | Ontario

Funny Boy Deepa Mehta | Ontario

Inconvenient Indian Michelle Latimer | Ontario

Judy Versus Capitalism Mike Hoolboom | Ontario

The Kid Detective Evan Morgan | Ontario

Nadia, Butterfly Pascal Plante | Quebec

The Nest Sean Durkin | Ontario

No Ordinary Man Aisling Chin-Yee, Chase Joynt | Quebec

Possessor Brandon Cronenberg | Ontario

Top Ten Canadian Shorts

Aniksha Vincent Toi | Quebec

The Archivists Igor Drljača | Ontario/British Columbia

Benjamin, Benny, Ben Paul Shkordoff | Ontario

Black Bodies Kelly Fyffe-Marshall | Ontario

ê mîcêtôcêt: Many Bloodlines Theola Ross | Manitoba

Foam (Écume) Omar Elhamy | Quebec

How To Be At Home Andrea Dorfman | Nova Scotia

Scars Alex Anna | Quebec

Sing Me a Lullaby Tiffany Hsiung | Ontario

Stump The Guesser Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, Galen Johnson | Manitoba

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