We’ve reached the near mid-point of this Definitive List; 20 …
Live-action family films have fallen on hard times of late. Perhaps it’s achieving that tricky balance between zaniness and feel-good that baffles filmmakers. Or perhaps they just need the right actor to blend these two elements together… like Steve Carell! Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day simply doesn’t work without his special brand of manic optimism. He effortlessly veers between the ridiculous and the poignant, elevating Alexander into a relentless gallop that every member of the family can enjoy.
With Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball) directs a tragic tale of American ambition gone awry. It’s a grave and stately undertaking that’s based on the real story of John du Pont, heir to one of the richest families in America, who dreamed of building a wrestling team around the talents of two gold medal wrestlers that came from modest means. The inequality of power pushes the tension between the three over the edge. Although the film isn’t an awe-inspiring achievement as a whole, the performances and atmosphere stimulate the senses and hold a firm grip on the viewer’s attention.
John E. du Pont (Steve Carell) speaks to his newly-founded wrestling squad about patriotic values as if reciting a sport-oriented “Star-Spangled Banner”. But du Pont is no Francis Scott Key — his words are weak, but his money is strong. This is du Pont’s America in Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher: a grand team that he’s accidentally but proudly charging through his money, a game that can be bought. Yes, the film intends to talk about America as much as it does the disquieting personalities of this bleak true story. Though saturated with grandiose metaphors and a message worn carelessly on its sleeves, Foxcatcher confirms Bennett Miller as one of the best character directors working in Hollywood.
The Way, Way Back belongs, in no small way, to the same subgenre of low-key indie dramedies like Little Miss Sunshine and Juno, small-town stories populated with well-known actors and an almost sitcom-esque quality to the dialogue. Where this film, written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, breaks free from such familiar shackles is in its impressive ensemble cast, specifically the teen actor Liam James and the raffish character actor Sam Rockwell. The Way, Way Back is maybe a touch formulaic, but it’s an assured, enjoyable, and bittersweet coming-of-age story.