I’m intrigued by the critical reception to Wes Anderson’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s novel, Fantastic Mr. Fox. It currently sits at 92% on the Rotten Tomatoes scale, with 100% of the ‘Cream of the Crop’ critics reviewing it positively. It is by far the best-reviewed film of Anderson’s career.
I don’t disagree with those critics — on the contrary, I love the film — but I wonder why it’s this film and not, say, Rushmore or The Royal Tenenbaums that has garnered such praise. Is it because of a built-in forgiveness toward quality animated films or children’s films that elevates any of them that are different and better than the norm?
An Education is one of those simple, small, lovely movies that get a lot of critical acclaim upon release but aren’t generally remembered years later. There is nothing groundbreaking here, just a smart script, understated direction and a host of strong performances all in the service of a charming coming-of-age tale. If it seems like I’m damning the film with faint praise, well, I guess I am… I’m trying to work out why a film that does so many things right hasn’t really resonated with me more.
The script was adapted from Lynn Barber’s memoir by Nick Hornby, one of my favorite authors, and he’s on his way to a Best Screenplay Oscar nomination — deservedly so. The dialogue is witty without feeling written, the characters extremely well-drawn and three-dimensional. For a film with little in the way of driving action, it has a definite sense of pace and suspense.
When the truth is found to be lies
And all the joy within you dies
Don’t you want somebody to love?
- Jefferson Airplane, ‘Somebody to Love’
So goes the song at the center of A Serious Man, the extraordinary new film by The Coen Brothers, and those lyrics sum up the plight of main character Larry Gopnik quite nicely. Gopnik is a physics professor, a few weeks short of tenure, whose life begins falling apart around him through no fault of his own. A Serious Man traces his attempt to find a way out of the darkness. Anybody familiar with The Coen Brothers’ filmography can guess how that goes.
Where the Wild Things Are director/co-writer Spike Jonze has said his film is not a childrens’ movie but a movie about childhood. It’s a distinction that sums up what’s wonderful about this adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic book. This isn’t a crowd-pleaser; it’s an art film. But it should connect with anybody who knows a child, or remembers the restless emotional energy that comes with being a child.
Sendak’s book is famously brief, made up of about a dozen pages some of which have no words. In adapting the work, Jonze and co-writer Dave Eggers smartly chose not to expand too much on the plot (which boils down to: a boy named Max gets in trouble, is sent to his room, imagines a fantastic journey to an island of scary-friendly “wild things,” then returns to the comforts of home). They have added a big sister who abandons Max for a group of her friends and they have interpreted the lack of a father in the book as a sign that Max’s parents are divorced.
I was destined to rank this movie high for two reasons.
First, it’s a girl power film. As the parents of two young girls, my wife and I have been compiling a list of movies we’ll show them when they’re old enough… movies that take on gender stereotypes and present realistic, positive female characters in lead roles. Films such as Bend it Like Beckham, Bring it On, Ever After and Whale Rider (my favorite), to name a few. And of course we have seven whole seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer waiting patiently on the shelf.
Whip It might just be the most girl-power-y girl-power movie yet. It follows small-town Texas teen Bliss Cavendar (played by Juno‘s Ellen Page) as she is awakened from a malaise brought on by her job at a dead-end diner and her mother’s fixation on beauty pageants. What she falls in love with isn’t anything glamorous or fancy, and it isn’t a guy — it’s roller derby.