10 Must-See Movies at the Calgary International Film Festival

10 Must-See Movies at the Calgary International Film Festival
Tonight (September 23), the Calgary International Film Festival kicks off its 16th annual edition. There are over 100 films screening between now and its closing night on October 4. To help you plan your week-plus of movies, we've offered up some recommendations. To purchase tickets or view the festival's schedule, go here.

45 Years:

As explained in our review, 45 Years sees director Andrew Haigh making "a bid for art-house legitimacy." The film, a drama about a 45th wedding anniversary and a former lover's frozen dead body, is described as a "very subtle and contained character drama." The review adds, "It's a beautifully shot and well-acted film that shows rather than tells, which is something we need more of in cinema."

Closet Monster:

Truly one-of-a-kind, Closet Monster is a Newfoundland-set queer coming-of-age story that involves everything from "Cronenberg-ian body horror" through a talking hamster (voiced by Isabella Rossellini). As our review explains, the film is "a charming slice of Atlantic Canadian romanticism" that occasionally "can veer a little too far into high camp at times." That said, it's expertly acted and directed, making it another must-see.

Dark Horse:

"Think of it as Moneyball meets Mike Leigh's slice-of-life social realism." So says our review of Dark Horse, a film about a small UK town who pool their funds to breed a winning race horse. And while it is a true-to-life documentary, Dark Horse plays out like a fun and rebellious caper.


Dry New Zealand wit, gruesome violence and shredding guitar solos come together nicely in the new horror-comedy Deathgasm. The film, from director Jason Lei Howden, follows some metal-loving outcasts who accidentally invite a demon into the world through some haunted sheet music. "Few films capture the uncomfortable reality of being a metalhead in a small town quite like this one," our review reads. "It may be worth seeing just to watch a long-haired hessian in corpse paint eat a strawberry ice cream cone alone."

Diamond Tongues:

This new film from Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson follows the misadventures of struggling actress Edith Welland (expertly played by July Talk's Leah Goldstein) in a film that our review calls a "trenchant satire of a Toronto arts scene that can quickly become cutthroat with the wrong perspective." The film's relatable to anyone whose had lofty ambitions, even if they didn't all play out the same way — unlike Edith, for example, we probably haven't all masturbated while fantasizing about a spot on George Stroumboulopoulos's talk show. For further reading, check out our in-depth interview with Goldstein about how she prepared for her first acting role.

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead:

Long before it was responsible for terrible, straight-to-VOD boob comedies, the National Lampoon was one of the most revered publications in comedy. Based on the book of the same name, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead follows the early years of this important institution. As our review explains, the documentary is "irreverent, profane and, most importantly, side-splittingly funny." Basically, it's a must-see for all comedy fans. "This raunchy history of National Lampoon is one that's not nearly as widely known as the origins of SNL, which is especially unfortunate considering that it's probably more interesting, if only because of the extent to which drugs and debauchery played a part of it."

The Forbidden Room:

What's a Canadian film festival without a little Guy Maddin? The veteran director teamed up with Evan Johnson to deliver The Forbidden Room, a film that our review describes as a "gleefully experimental, subconscious Freudian dream of a movie starts, a group of men are stranded in a submarine." In other words, it's weird as hell but you might be into it. "Despite the refusal to embrace narrative norms or tropes, there's enough eerie familiarity to generate emotional response, whether it be sheer laughter and enjoyment or a fizzy sense of disorientation."

The Lobster:

Yorgos Lanthimos follows up his cult classics Dogtooth and ALPS with his English language debut, The Lobster. The new feature stars Colin Farrell, John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw, and it's just about as bizarre as you'd expect from Lanthimos. As our review describes, it's about "an adjacent reality in which single people are forced to move into a love hotel and find romance within 45 days, lest they be turned into an animal of their choice and let loose in a nearby forest." At least, that's what it's about on the surface. It's also a stunning piece of cinema that will have you deep in thought. "This is a film that wants us to know we're watching a film and to question why everything is slightly askew; it's not satisfied with just making us laugh, which is abundantly clear when it takes several disturbing detours."


Lenny Abrahamson's Frank follow-up sees Brie Larson offering one of her strongest onscreen performances yet. The film sees her living in captivity in a tiny room with a young son, and demonstrates their uniquely intimate bond. In our review, we said it "careens seamlessly from anxiety-inducing terror to touching drama to intimate observation." Larson also opened up about the role at TIFF, explaining how she prepared with painstaking transparency.

Sleeping Giant:

There's no shortage of coming-of-age teen dramas out there, though Sleeping Giant proves that it's a theme worth revisiting. An impressive debut feature from director Andrew Cividino, the film impresses with its subtlety. As our review puts it, it's sort of like Kings of Summer but without the comedy. "Once this shrewdly observed and ultimately devastating drama starts to reach its climax, it's clear that the emotions, ideas and concepts Cividino is trying to expose in these teens — all of whom deliver rather involved and impressive performances — are far more sincere and involved than other stories with this setup could seemingly allow."