20 Contributions by: Farah Cheded On Tubi Canada

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It’s hard to overstate just how lovely — and quietly radical — this largely improvised Canadian docudrama is. The scenario (seven elderly women and their tour bus driver are stranded in the Canadian wilderness for a few days) is contrived, but the rich, lively conversations that feature are all drawn from the women’s real lives. As they hunker down and get on with the business of surviving with meager food — something they manage to do largely thanks to the bushcraft skills of Mohawk elder Alice — the strangers reflect on their long lives and open up to each other about their lingering fears and still-burning hopes.

They’re a diverse bunch — featuring Cockney transplants, lesbian pioneers, and nuns — and the film’s brief cuts to real photos from the women’s earlier years both underscore the rawness of what they’re saying and serve as testaments to the rich fullness of their lives. The Company of Strangers grants these women the kind of serious consideration and space that they’re denied in so many public spaces, but it never feels like a strained exercise in redressing that imbalance. Instead, this is simply a gentle, gorgeous, and profoundly moving portrait of women who aren’t done living yet.

Genre: Adventure, Drama

Actor: Alice Diabo, Beth Webber, Cissy Meddings, Constance Garneau, Michelle Sweeney, Winifred Holden

Director: Cynthia Scott

With Howards End, the magic trio of producer Ismail Merchant, director James Ivory, and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala converted yet another turn-of-the-19th-century EM Forster novel into exquisite cinematic form. Ravishingly shot and performed to career-best heights by many of its cast, Howards End loses nothing of the elegance we expect from a period drama, and yet it also feels thoroughly modern. The film charts the tragic entwining of three families: the progressive and intellectual middle-class Schlegel sisters, the much more traditionally minded and wealthier Wilcox family, and the Basts, a down-on-their-luck working-class couple. It’s the liberally minded Schlegels who cross the class divide of 1910 London to bring these two distant social circles so close to each other, but it’s the old-world values of the Wilcoxes that make that meeting a tragic one. Simmering with rich emotion and crackling with class politics, Howards End is the crowning glory of the Merchant Ivory powerhouse and the rare perfect period drama.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adrian Ross Magenty, Allie Byrne, Anne Lambton, Anthony Hopkins, Barbara Hicks, Crispin Bonham-Carter, Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, James Ivory, James Wilby, Jemma Redgrave, Jo Kendall, Joseph Bennett, Margery Mason, Mark Tandy, Nicola Duffett, Patricia Lawrence, Peter Cellier, Prunella Scales, Samuel West, Simon Callow, Susie Lindeman, Vanessa Redgrave

Director: James Ivory

Rating: PG

The last work by legendary American director John Huston is this exquisitely rendered adaptation of a James Joyce short story. The Dead is nestled inside an intimate festive dinner shared by the family and close friends of the Morkan sisters, two well-to-do elderly spinsters living in Dublin in 1904. The film is a family affair in more ways than just that, too: for Huston’s final feature, son Tony wrote the script and daughter Anjelica (as Gretta) was its star.

As with so many end-of-year gatherings, the prevailing mood of the dinner is one of sentimental nostalgia, as the hosts and their guests swap memories, toast each other, and tearily reminisce about the way things were. Anjelica Huston’s performance is also a quiet architect of that atmosphere, as Gretta slips in and out of dreamy reveries throughout the evening to the puzzlement of her husband Gabriel (Donal McCann) — something that surges to the fore in an astonishingly moving final revelation. Huston directed the film on his proverbial deathbed, which infuses it with significance — but, even if it wasn’t the capstone to his illustrious career, The Dead would still stand as one of the finest treatments of mortality and longing ever committed to the screen.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Anjelica Huston, Bairbre Dowling, Brendan Dillon, Colm Meaney, Dan O'Herlihy, Donal Donnelly, Donal McCann, Helena Carroll, Ingrid Craigie, Kate O'Toole, Maria McDermottroe, Marie Kean, Sean McClory

Director: John Huston

The bare bones of The Limey’s story — vengeful Cockney ex-con Wilson (Terence Stamp) flies to LA to investigate the suspicious death of his daughter Jenny — are gripping enough, but what Steven Soderbergh does with them elevates this neo-noir thriller into something utterly singular and stacked with layers upon layers of meaning. An icon of London’s Swinging ‘60s scene, Stamp is pitted against laidback symbol of ‘60s American counterculture Peter Fonda (as Jenny’s sleazy older boyfriend), giving their face-off grander cultural stakes. The extra-textual significance of the casting is deepened by Soderbergh’s ingenious references to the actors’ heyday: in flashbacks to Wilson’s happier past, for example, we’re shown the actual Stamp in his younger years (courtesy of scenes borrowed from 1967’s Poor Cow).

The Limey is also a brilliant showcase for editor Sarah Flack’s technical inventiveness: though the narrative is largely linear, the film cuts to and from scenes and sounds at unexpected points, giving the film an almost David Lynch-like sense of eerie fragmentation. Conjuring up a nightmare LA atmosphere isn’t all the editing does, either, as the film’s puzzle pieces are expertly reassembled to reveal an emotional gut-punch of an ending. In short, this high point in Soderbergh’s filmography is a must-see for any fan of cinema.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery

Actor: Allan Graf, Amelia Heinle, Barry Newman, Bill Duke, Brandon Keener, Brooke Marie Bridges, Carl Ciarfalio, Carol White, Clement Blake, George Clooney, Joe Dallesandro, John Cothran, John Robotham, Johnny Sanchez, Lesley Ann Warren, Luis Guzman, Matthew Kimbrough, Melissa George, Michaela Gallo, Nancy Lenehan, Nicky Katt, Peter Fonda, Rainbow Borden, Randy Lowell, Steve Heinze, Terence Stamp, Wayne Pére, William Lucking

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Rating: R

Named for all the connections that form a functioning society, Threads is a harrowing look at what might happen when those ties are rent apart by nuclear war. This British TV movie — released during the Cold War — so violently seized on the nuclear anxieties of the time that its premiere was dubbed “the night the country didn’t sleep.” Depressingly, it hasn’t lost that initial resonance, and so it remains a panic attack-inducing watch.

Threads begins in the kitchen-sink vein of a Ken Loach movie. In the northern industrial town of Sheffield, a young couple from different social classes (Reece Dinsdale and Karen Meagher) discover they’re about to be parents — but looming above their small-scale drama are the clouds of war, as televisions and radios blare out the details of escalating tensions between the US and the USSR. And then, it happens: the town is strategically bombed, and Threads unfurls into an unrelenting nightmare. In the documentary-like approach that follows, it spares no graphic or emotional detail, charting both the personal devastation caused by the bomb and the annihilating impact of the nuclear holocaust on all the vital infrastructure we take for granted. In short, one of the bleakest, most terrifying movies ever made.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Science Fiction, War

Actor: Ashley Barker, Brian Grellis, David Brierly, Dean Williamson, Ed Bishop, Harry Beety, Henry Moxon, Jane Hazlegrove, Joe Belcher, Karen Meagher, Lesley Judd, Maggie Ford, Michael O'Hagan, Nat Jackley, Patrick Allen, Peter Faulkner, Phil Rose, Reece Dinsdale, Richard Albrecht, Rita May, Ruth Holden, Steve Halliwell, Ted Beyer

Director: Mick Jackson

Whether graffiti is art or not is the question guiding this fascinating documentary about the spray can-wielding artists of ‘80s New York. Wherever you come down in the debate — though this presents compelling arguments that graffiti is a medium worthy of critical attention — you’ll undoubtedly come away with a reverence for the kids who went hard with the paint on NYC’s walls and subway cars. Candid interviews with these young pioneers (whose cultural contributions are now less in contention) reveal that they’re not simply rebelling for rebellion’s sake: they’re largely motivated by a desire to make their mark on their beloved city — to stand out and have their work seen by the millions riding the subway every day.

The doc largely embeds itself with the artists, but it also interviews the “other side”: then-mayor Ed Koch and police officers, who were ramping up their aggressive “war on graffiti” campaign during filming. It’s clear that these interviewees have little interest in understanding what drives the kids to create their murals — a lack of curiosity that Style Wars blessedly counters. Not just a thoughtful contribution to its period and a fascinating time capsule, but also a thought-provoking reminder that art is art, whether it's made outside of the system or not.

Genre: Documentary, Music, TV Movie

Actor: Cap, Daze, Dondi, Ed Koch, Eric Haze, Gene Anthony Ray, Irene Cara, Kase 2

Director: Tony Silver

Here’s a biopic that focuses on capturing the feel of the era it depicts, rather than all the facts — and is all the better for it. 24 Hour Party People takes the same punk approach to storytelling as its subjects did to music, playfully throwing off the dull constraints that often make based-on-a-true-story movies feel like uninspired celluloid translations of a Wikipedia page. 

In the film’s opening scene, Steve Coogan’s Tony Wilson breaks the fourth wall to address us directly and semi-spoil the movie’s ending. But it doesn’t matter, because the ride is so fun: we’re taken on an immersive trip through the heyday of the Manchester music scene: the births of Joy Division, New Order, the Happy Mondays, and Wilson’s Factory Records label and legendary Hacienda nightclub, an incubator for acid house and rave culture. The era’s hedonism is brought to life by the movie’s frenetic editing, documentary-style cinematography, and strobe-heavy visuals. For all its onscreen anarchy, though, the movie remarkably never feels loose or self-indulgent. Its irreverence is grounded by the ironic filter of the meta filmmaking, which frequently breaks the fourth wall to draw attention to its own conceits. A refreshing rejection of biopic tropes, but also a thrilling transportation into and evocation of the Madchester era.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music

Actor: Andy Serkis, Chris Coghill, Christopher Eccleston, Danny Cunningham, Darren Tighe, Enzo Cilenti, John Simm, John Thomson, Kate Magowan, Keith Allen, Kenny Baker, Kieran O'Brien, Lennie James, Margi Clarke, Martin Hancock, Naomi Radcliffe, Neil Bell, Paddy Considine, Peter Gunn, Peter Kay, Ralf Little, Raymond Waring, Rob Brydon, Ron Cook, Sean Cernow, Sean Harris, Shirley Henderson, Simon Pegg, Steve Coogan

Director: Michael Winterbottom

Rating: R

This cult classic is the first hip-hop movie in cinema’s history — and, aptly, one of the most sampled movies in rap music. With a cast drawn exclusively from the NYC graffiti, breakdancing, and rap subcultures that it spotlights, Wild Style wisely doesn’t try too hard to construct a conventional drama. Instead, there are toe-tapping scenes in neon-lit, smoke-filled clubs that stretch far beyond usual cinematic limits because they’re following the dynamic pace and infectious rhythm of the battling emcees, not film’s rules.

In lieu of a plot, Wild Style captures the singular atmosphere of the period it was filmed in, when hip-hop culture was thriving and art curators had begun to look to graffiti artists to fill their galleries. That uneasy turning point in the culture is chronicled here through the perspective of Zoro (real graffiti “writer” Lee Quiñones), a young artist who looks on with disdain as his peers embrace the commercialization of their medium by NYC’s art world. (As he shrewdly puts it, risk is central to graffiti’s identity — made for subway cars and walls, not framed canvases.) Brilliantly capturing the freewheeling spirit of NYC’s hip-hop scene, this is a time capsule that never feels dusty thanks to the appropriately off-the-cuff filmmaking.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Fab 5 Freddy, Grandmaster Flash, Lady Pink, Lee Quiñones, Patti Astor, ZEPHYR

Director: Charlie Ahearn

Rating: R

A wacky viral story — the kind that gets played for laughs at the end of news broadcasts — gets uncommonly deep consideration in this documentary gem. That’s not to say that Finders Keepers ignores the surreal comedy of the situation that John Wood and Shannon Whisnant, two star-crossed North Carolina men, found themselves in in 2007: battling over the custody rights of John’s mummified amputated leg. The humor in this bizarre tale and all the myriad eccentricities of its real-life characters is never left untapped, but to simply focus on that would add nothing new to the way the story had been told thus far. 

Unlike the many clips from news segments and reality TV that we see in the film, Finders Keepers instead looks beyond the low-hanging fruit and finds deep pathos simmering under the surface of this wacky tale. What emerges is a complex, often tragic, and very American picture of the way traumas shape our lives, the addictive pull of drugs and attention, and fate’s habit of twisting nightmares into blessings and vice versa. It’s the kind of film that makes you wonder how many other unexpectedly poignant stories have been short-changed by our impulse to be flippant.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: John Wood, Shannon Whisnant

Director: Bryan Carberry, J. Clay Tweel

Rating: R

Bad Lieutenant is no misnomer: Harvey Keitel’s policeman really is one of NYPD’s worst. Already corrupt, abrasive, and abusive at the film’s outset, the movie chronicles his coked-out descent into total depravity after he’s called to investigate a heinous crime amid rapidly worsening personal circumstances. The brilliance of Bad Lieutenant is therefore a counterintuitive one: as awful as the Lieutenant is, we can’t help but feel emotionally involved because, in Keitel’s bravura performance, we can see the glint of pain — and thus of a person — within.

Always one for provocation, director Abel Ferrara pushes our empathy to — and maybe even beyond — its natural limits, only to break with the film’s hitherto unrelenting grit and dangle the glinting possibility of transcendent redemption in front of us. Anyone familiar with Catholic guilt cinema (movies like Martin Scorsese’s Who’s That Knocking At My Door and Mean Streets) will instantly recognize the same undercurrent running through Bad Lieutenant — even if Ferrara takes the idea of juxtaposing the profane with the sacred to the extreme here.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Bianca Hunter, Bo Dietl, Darryl Strawberry, Eddie Daniels, Frank Adonis, Frankie Thorn, Gene Canfield, Harvey Keitel, Iraida Polanco, Jaime Sánchez, John Steven Jones, Leonard L. Thomas, Minnie Gentry, Paul Calderon, Paul Hipp, Peggy Gormley, Penelope Allen, Phil Neilson, Stella Keitel, Victor Argo, Vincent Laresca, Zoë Lund

Director: Abel Ferrara

Even a director of William Friedkin’s caliber had his work cut out for him with this remake of the towering 1957 drama tracking a jury's fraught deliberations in an apparently open-and-shut murder trial. Wisely, he changes little: most of the incisive dialogue remains the same, and the film still only takes place in one sweltering room on New York’s hottest day.

There are some key differences, though: namely, in a few of the characters (most notably Mykelti Williamson’s ex-Nation of Islam member Juror #10, who helps update the story to the '90s) and the intensification of the ensemble’s star power. The all-star quality of the cast is never wielded to call attention to itself, though; everyone, from James Gandolfini and William Petersen to Tony Danza and Edward James Olmos is on fine character acting form here. Replacing the unforgettable Henry Fonda is Jack Lemmon (exuding warmth and good sense) as the principled lone dissenter who calmly wages a war of words with George C. Scott’s bigoted Juror #3 to give real justice a chance. The 1957 version is admittedly a timeless classic, but Friedkin's version isn't very far off from reaching its predecessor’s dazzling heft plus, this stands as a compelling argument that every era should have its own 12 Angry Men.

Genre: Crime, Drama, TV Movie

Actor: Armin Mueller-Stahl, Courtney B. Vance, Dorian Harewood, Douglas Spain, Edward James Olmos, George C. Scott, Hume Cronyn, Jack Lemmon, James Gandolfini, Mary McDonnell, Mykelti Williamson, Ossie Davis, Tony Danza, Tyrees Allen, William Petersen

Director: William Friedkin

Rating: PG-13

There’s more than a touch of Louis Theroux to this engrossing documentary — fronted by New Zealander pop-culture journalist David Farrier — about an innocuous-seeming Internet phenomenon: the actually-sinister subculture of “competitive endurance tickling”, in which young men undergo “tickle torture” for money on camera. When Farrier unassumingly requests an interview with an American producer of tickle content, it kickstarts a bizarre campaign of harassment and opens up a rabbit hole of unbelievable twists and turns. The wild places this documentary goes are best left as unspoiled as possible, but it’s no spoiler to say this emerges from its seemingly lighthearted premise as a deeply unnerving story about money, power, sex, and shame in the Internet age.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: David Farrier

Director: David Farrier, Dylan Reeve

Florence Pugh broke through with her powerhouse performance here as Katherine, a young woman who is “sold” into a coldly transactional marriage with a cruel and impotent merchant in 1800s Northern England. Lady Macbeth seems to begin as one thing — a gloomy period tale of oppression and feminist rebellion — but, on the strength of Pugh’s performance, pivots into an even bleaker subversion of that initial impression, the kind we haven’t really seen before.

When her disinterested husband takes a long leave of absence to tend to some business affairs, Katherine does more than just defy his command that she stay indoors: she begins an unabashed affair with one of her husband’s gruff groomsmen (Cosmo Jarvis), who ignites in her an obsessive passion that brings out her dark side. She’ll stop at nothing to remove any obstacles in the couple’s way — but, while her initial targets are arguably quite deserving of their fate, her scheme soon implicates the innocent. The creeping revelation that all the cruelty Katherine has been subjected to has brutalized her in turn comes as a shock, but this dramatic overturning of our expectations is made chillingly real by Pugh’s fierce, unfaltering performance.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Bill Fellows, Christopher Fairbank, Cliff Burnett, Cosmo Jarvis, David Kirkbride, Florence Pugh, Golda Rosheuvel, Ian Conningham, Kema Sikazwe, Naomi Ackie, Nicholas Lumley, Paul Hilton, Rebecca Manley

Director: William Oldroyd

Rating: R

2005 was a banner year for British period dramas, apparently: first, there was Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice (still arguably the genre’s crowning achievement), and then came Under the Greenwood Tree, a delightful made-for-Christmas-TV romance loosely based on the eponymous Thomas Hardy novel. Anyone familiar with the author’s typically tragedy-tinged stories — think Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Far From the Madding Crowd — will find themselves surprised by the light, pleasant tone of this one, in which the closest anyone gets to violent revenge is sabotaging a church organ by pouring a flagon of cider into it.

The romance here is threefold: when Keeley Hawes’ spinster schoolteacher Fancy Day (genuinely her name) arrives in an English village, she ignites a rivalry between wealthy farmer Shiner (Steve Pemberton), haughty clergyman Parson Maybold (Ben Miles), and James Murray’s die-hard romantic Dick Dewy (again: the names in this are a choice). The trio’s simultaneous attempted courting of Fancy doubles as both the entertaining will-she-won’t-she stuff of romantic dramas and a conduit through which the movie explores the class dynamics in England during the 19th century. It’s this deft intertwining of satisfying romantic period drama tropes with genuine reflection on the historical period itself — all while remaining lighthearted — that makes this underseen adaptation worth watching.

Genre: Drama, Romance, TV Movie

Actor: Ben Miles, James Murray, Keeley Hawes, Richard Leaf, Steve Pemberton, Terry Mortimer, Tom Georgeson, Tony Haygarth

Director: Nicholas Laughland

Taking place almost entirely in a single classroom, the two-hour-plus runtime of this French drama breezes past thanks to its sheer unrelenting energy. You’d be forgiven for assuming The Class is a documentary, so fly-on-the-wall is the filming and so naturalistic the dialogue, much of which was improvised from loose guidelines.

Unlike so many cinematic teachers, Monsieur Marin (played by co-screenwriter François Bégaudeau) doesn’t pull off any educational miracles with his class of backchatting 15-year-olds at an inner-city Paris school. Although the French literature teacher does make some inroads with disaffected kids like Souleymane (Franck Keïta), what really boosts The Class’ grade is its refusal to valorize its central figure. There are no rousing Dead Poets Society-style scenes here — in fact, the film builds from free-flowing lively debates to a tense climax that stems directly from a grave faux pas committed by none other than the teacher himself. Crucially, though, The Class is evenhanded in its treatment of its characters, recognizing both how complex each of these kids is underneath the blunt assessments contained on their report cards and how difficult and thankless the role of a teacher is.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Damien Gomes, Esmeralda Ouertani, Farida Ouchani, François Bégaudeau, Louise Grinberg, Rabah Nait Oufella, Valérie Benguigui

Director: Laurent Cantet