Some of the Best
The first of these films, Juno, is still playing in theaters. Jason Reitman’s story of a pregnant high school student - a sort of wise fool surrounded by adults who do not always get it - began as a limited release, but quickly moved to theaters everywhere. And it is easy to see why. The audience with which I saw it was laughing out loud and clearly enjoying the humorous moments; but when the film got serious, you could have heard a pin drop. The story is well written, with several neat turns and reversals; it is well acted, with a first rate performance by Ellen Page in the title role; it is beautifully shot; and it has a quality musical score. Finally, the film is grounded on solid philosophical and moral principles. It does not bill itself as “pro-life” or “family-friendly” and does not assault its viewer with kitch messages. Indeed, the film is very much a creature of the modern age, frankly acknowledging the reality of family life in 21st century America. But it is also a film that understands and speaks to the fundamental importance of human dignity, the value of parenting and the importance of committed relationships.
In America (2003) is the story of a modern Irish family moving to New York City and struggling along with financial and family issues. Normally a film with that description would not pique my interest; it sounds like it would either be pathetically cheesy or terribly depressing. But as Nathan (not exactly the house optimist) explained, “this is a feel-good movie I can get behind.” Unlike most films of the feel-good genre, In America is neither predictable nor poorly acted; instead, it is a highly believable story. (This is probably due, in large part, to the fact that the script was written by a real family, based on their actual experience.) In addition, the story is artfully constructed, with several thoughtful sub-themes weaving through the story of the family’s struggles.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) can be a confusing film. But fear not; the confusion is artfully handled, complementing the story, instead of leaving the viewer woefully confused. Michel Gondry’s story of love, loss and memory, like Juno and In America, avoids the formulaic, with several enjoyable plot turns and a nice interweaving of the main plot line and a subplot. Though I have only seen the film once, I have little doubt that a second viewing would reveal a wealth of carefully thought out details. But in addition to its narrative qualities (which are many), Eternal Sunshine is a beautiful piece of art. Much of the story is set in the world of memory and Gondry has done an excellent job of imaging what that might look like. (Thankfully, this does not include massive amounts of computer animation that tax the viewer’s suspended disbelief.)
There were any number of honorable mentions, but their ranks are far too many to actually mention them. Perhaps another blog post...