Kellie Ann Benz top 12 Canadian narrative feature films of 2013

When my bossy editor here at NSI ordered me to come up with a list of the best in Canadian feature films for this year, I was a bit stumped.

Not because my boss was being her usual self*, but because unlike the list of top short films I recently posted on The Shorts Report, I really didn’t know how to quantify ‘best’ for features in Canada. (*My editor is quite lovely – as proof she lets me call her ‘bossy’ in type.)

So I set about looking at the ‘best’ allocation via a number of factors.

First, I scoured the 2013 program lists of film festivals across the country looking for titles which had been programmed repeatedly. Most festivals offered up quite a bit of information on the Canadian films they programmed: TIFF offering the most easily accessible information and CIFF offering the least.

I then checked my list of common titles against Playback’s weekly Hot Sheets and checked for non-Canadian festival releases on each title’s IMDb page, their official website or their distributor’s website. I also followed the buzz that I was hearing about certain films and dug a little deeper to find out if the hype was backed up with genuine audience interest.

Finally, awards were a factor in determining ranking position on the list with the caveat that, where it was a choice between a prestigious festival’s invite versus a smaller festival award, the prestigious festival trumped the award.

This is how I came up with the following list of the best in Canadian narrative feature films in 2013.

It’s not a perfect science but it is enough data to get the party started, as we like to say in the west. I am completely open to the realization that I could have missed a Canadian narrative feature which deserves notice, so please comment below if I did.

And now the moment of truth, based on the unofficial scientific nerdy obsession of a Canadian film fan, I present …

The top 12 Canadian narrative feature films of 2013

1. Sarah Prefers to Run (Sarah Prefere la Course)

Director: Chloe Robichaud
Producer: Fanny Laure-Malo
Distributor: Entertainment One

  • Festivals: Cannes, Atlantic, TIFF, Montreal World, VIFF, Cinefest Sudbury
  • Awards: Multiple across Canada and around the world
  • Where to see it: Keep an eye on Entertainment One or the film’s website for updates

2. Swearnet

Director: Warren P. Sonoda
Producers: Gary Howsam, Bill Marks
Distributor: Entertainment One

  • 2013 tour dates: Non-stop. Join their 79,000+ followers

This might be a good time to mention that Telefilm Canada – the funder of every single film on this list – recently came out with a new study proving that Canadians prefer raunchy comedies. 

3. Whitewash

Director: Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais
Producers: Luc Dery, Kim McCraw
Distributor: Entertainment One

  • Festivals: Tribeca, Karlovy Vary, Edmonton, VIFF, Torino
  • Awards: Best new narrative director, Tribeca Film Festival 2013; Nominated, DGC Canada 2013
  • Where to see it: Keep an eye on Entertainment One or the film’s website for updates

4. Gabrielle

Director: Louise Archambault
Producers: Luc Dery, Kim McCraw
Distributor: Entertainment One

  • Festivals: TIFF, VIFF, Whistler, Cinefest Sudbury, Edmonton, Hamburg, Locarno, Stockholm and the AFI in Los Angeles to name a few
  • Awards: Chosen as Canada’s selection for best foreign film Oscar® (it wasn’t shortlisted), according to Telefilm Canada it’s in the running for best foreign film at the Golden Globes, TIFF Top 10
  • Where to see it: Currently in theatres across Canada. Check your local listings

5. L’Autre Maison (Another House)

Director: Mathieu Roy
Producers: Félize Frappier, Roger Frappier
Distributor: TVA Films

  • Festivals: Atlantic, Montreal, VIFF
  • Awards: Most popular Canadian feature, Montreal World Film Festival; according to Telefilm Canada it’s in the running for best foreign film at the Golden Globes
  • Where to see it: You might have to wait a while as TVA Films doesn’t have it listed on their website. But since it stars Quebec’s hubba hubba Roy Dupuis, we can hope for a national release

6. The Dirties

Director: Matt Johnson
Producers: Matt Johnson, Matthew Miller, Evan Morgan, Jared Raab
Distributor: XYZ Films

  • Festivals: Slamdance, Fantasia, Locarno, Austin Fantastic, Toronto After Dark, Oldenberg
  • Awards: Next Wave Award, Austin FF; grand jury best narrative feature & Spirit of Slamdance award, Slamdance; nominated for Golden Leopard, Locarno; nominated for audience award, Oldenberg
  • Where to see it: On iTunes

7. Empire of Dirt

Director: Peter Stebbings
Producers: Avi Federgreen, Jennifer Podemski, Geoff Ewart, Heather Dahlstrom
Distributor: Mongrel Media

  • Festivals: TIFF, Whistler, Cinefest Sudbury, Atlantic, Ottawa International, 2014 Palm Springs
  • Awards: Best Canadian feature and special jury citation, Toronto International Film Festival
  • Where to see it: Follow their Twitter for screening updates

8. Rhymes for Young Ghouls

Director: Jeff Barnaby
Producers: John Christou, Aisling Chin-Yee
Distributor: Entertainment One

  • Festivals: TIFF, Montreal World, VIFF, Cinefest Sudbury, Winnipeg Aboriginal, imagineNATIVE
  • Awards: Best Canadian first feature, Vancouver (tied with That Burning Feeling);  TIFF Top Ten 2013
  • Where to see it: Follow their Facebook for updates

9. All the Wrong Reasons

Director: Gia Milani
Producers: Gia Milani, Tony Whalen, Phyllis Laing
Distributor: Pacific Northwest Pictures

  • Festivals: TIFF, Atlantic, VIFF, Cinefest Sudbury, Silver Wave
  • Awards: Discovery Award, TIFF; viewers choice, Silver Wave
  • Where to see it: Follow their Twitter for updates

10. Cas and Dylan

Director: Jason Priestly
Producers: Mark Montefiore, Bill Marks, Emily Alden, Marina Cordoni, Ira Levy, Steven Denure, Peter Williamson
Distributor: Pacific Northwest Pictures

  • Festivals: Atlantic, Cinefest Sudbury, Madoc Art House Film Series, Windsor, Whistler, North of 7, Fort St. John’s Film Society
  • Where to see it: Follow their Twitter. Looks like it will be released in 2014

11. Stress Position

Director: A. J. Bond
Producers: David Amito, Amy Belling, Jessica Cheung
Distributor: Self distribution

  • Festivals: Cyprus, Lady Filmmakers, Oaxaca, Arizona Underground, Las Vegas, Northwest Tracking Series, Cine Gear Expo Film Competition (finalist), Paramount Studios Backlot screening series, Sci-Fi-London
  • Awards: Best experimental film and best supporting actor for A.J. Bond at the 2013 Lady Filmmakers Film Festival LA;  best cinematography and best supporting actor for David Amito at the 2013 Las Vegas Film Festival; nominated for best editing at the 2013 Canadian Cinema Editors Awards; one of three finalists for the Cine Gear Expo Film Competition at Paramount Studios, LA

12. The Husband

Director: Bruce MacDonald
Producers: Daniel Bekerman, Cher Hawrysh, Bruce McDonald
Distributor: XYZ Films

  • Festivals: TIFF, Torino
  • Where to see it: Keep an eye on their Facebook. Based on the amount of reviews this Canadian icon collects with each new release, you can bet they’ll find a way to get this film to Canadians.

• • •

But those aren’t all of the films.

There were a number of fresh titles that either won or were honored at their respective festivals. Or, in some cases, caught a lot of heat at one festival but were otherwise absent.

Like I said off the top, this isn’t a foolproof system for determining which films lit up Canadian imaginations this year. It’s really just a jumping off point for pooling the accomplishments – and diversification – of Canada’s modern cinema.

So keep an eye on these titles too. You might hear more about them in the new year.

As for why none of these titles are in your local movie house? Well, that’s a complicated, uniquely Canadian problem that doesn’t seem to be getting fixed anytime soon. All the more reason to become a member of your local festival society in order to see the best in Canadian cinema when it’s in your town.

Congratulations filmmakers and viva la Canadian film!

• • •

Editor’s hat tip to NSI alumni: many of these films were made by NSI alumni including Jennifer Podemski (NSI Global Marketing, Telefilm Canada Spark Plug program); Mark Montefiore (NSI Totally Television); A. J. Bond (NSI Features First); Amy Belling (NSI Features First); Daniel Bekerman (NSI Features First); Cher Hawrysh (NSI Features First); Michael Dowse (NSI Drama Prize); Jay Dahl (NSI Drama Prize); Jason James (NSI Totally Television).


  1. Hey Warren – hellzyeah you belong there! Viva Canadian film – in all its forms!

  2. Warren P. Sonoda

    Thanks Kellie! — I dunno if we belong on such an acclaimed list, but people gots to laugh, right? GO CANADIAN FILM & FILMMAKERS! Huzzah and see y’all in 2014!… WPS

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