This will be the first of periodic posts I’ll be doing about movies I see. I will begin with Little Miss Sunshine, which I saw last week and today received a surprising four Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture.
The film tells the story of a dysfunctional family whose members have serious issues–ranging from bankruptcy to drug addiction to a failed suicide attempt to extreme teen angst–and what happens when they all have to pile into a van for a road trip to California so that the little girl can compete in the child beauty pageant that gives the movie its title. Various challenges and hijinks ensue, but (spoiler alert! though not much of one) predictably they all come together and stop hating each other by the end.
The ensemble cast includes Greg Kinnear as the overbearing father and Steve Carell in a dramatic role as the uncle who tried to kill himself, a change of pace from the silly roles he’s known for. Paul Dano plays the disaffected teen, who refuses to speak to anyone, and I spent the whole movie wondering where I’d seen him before (the answer, for me, was The Girl Next Door). The two acting nominations the film garnered from the Academy went to the supporting roles filled by Alan Arkin, as the drugged up grandpa/pageant coach, and to the cute little girl, Abigail Breslin.
It’s a quality movie, both funny and touching, and I can’t really get into why it is without giving away what happens, so it’s probably something you will just have to see. I’ll just say that I particularly enjoyed grandpa’s words of wisdom for Dano’s character and the scene involving the ice cream shortly thereafter. Most people over on the IMDb like the movie too, putting it in the site’s all-time top 250 list, though some message board commenters do raise what I see as valid criticisms that the plot is largely a formula that borrows heavily from National Lampoon’s Vaction (yes, really). I would say it’s more like a somewhat more serious and realistic version of Napoleon Dynamite, with an outcast kid and screwed up family finally getting along and finding some happiness.
That all adds up to an enjoyable viewing experience, but it’s really not Oscar material in my estimation. I think it’s pretty clearly the fifth entrant in the Best Picture category; the tip off could be that it’s the only one of the five that isn’t also up for Best Director.
As an aside here, how can you really judge how good a job someone does as director separately from the overall quality of the movie? The fact that these categories overlap so much suggests that often having a good director and a good movie are the same thing. Can we really say that Paul Greengrass did a better job directing United 93, but that this movie was better in spite of inferior directing?
The fourth nomination is for the screenplay, which I think is a more plausible choice (also considering 10 movies get nominated in the screenplay categories, five each for adapted and original). Generally, I find that I like movies with nominated screenplays more than I like movies nominated for other categories, even best picture. That’s probably an indication that I’m more into snappy dialogue than pretty scenery and costumes, so that will be a tendency of mine that I’ll explore in later movie posts.