Some critics wrote about actor turned director Tom McCarthy’s Oscar nomination for Best Achievement in directing (with Spotlight) that it came as a surprise but it highlights the good work he’s been doing for quite a few years (including sharing Best Writing, Original Screenplay 2010 for Pixar animated feature UP)
Spotlight, also a Best picture nominee, is about the Boston Globe uncovering the massive scandal of child molestation and the cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese. It is of course pretty conventional but its well done and effective. It certainly had more success than his association, two years ago, with the Adam Sandler vehicle The Cobbler (which was not a bad movie at all).
Prior to these two Hollywood backed films, McCarthy offered us 3 indie Features really worth looking out. Three feel-good movies with the same signature about solitary characters coming to life because of unexpected encounters with intruders.
1 – The Station Agent (2003)
When he inherits a longtime abandoned tiny train station on a piece of New Jersey no man’s land, a dwarf, who is a train Aficionado, becomes friends with a talkative Cuban food vendor and a clumsy depressive woman as they both slowly impose themselves on his solitary life.
If the story starts with maybe too much focus about his “condition ” as a dwarf, after a while it goes slowly but surely deeper in exploring the depth of the characters, their sympathetic and supportive friendship beautifully evolving on screen as our main hero, if of short stature, has a lot of character.
Peter Dinklage (he was the Dwarf giving Steve Buscemi a hard time in Tom Dicillo’s Living in Oblivion), Ant Man‘s Bobby Canavale (who seems to get a good warm up for the similar role of a talkative intruder in McCarthy’s Win Win) and Patricia Clackson (Shutter Island), offer skilled leads as the unlikely trio. They are very strong in supporting the film narrative by being in turn quite funny and as deep emotionally when time comes for ore serious matter. The Station Agent is a well balanced, gently paced indie comedy-drama that should have more following.
2 – The Visitor (2007)
Character actor Richard Jenkins (Step Brothers, The Cabin in the Woods), plays a college professor coming back to New York City, after several months away, to find a young couple of illegal aliens, a Syrian man Haaz Sleiman (Assassin Creed) and a Senegalese woman, Danai Gurira (Michonne in the Walking Dead) living in his apartment. Discovering a, seemingly long gone human side of himself, shadowed by a long life of solitude, he lets them stay and develop through a shared passion for music, a friendship with the young man. When tragedy strikes, he decides to take matters into one’s hands with a surprising determination.
This is a well written picture. It depicts the renaissance of a man through an unlikely friendship. A friendship growing from a mean of communication, music, which slowly seals their unlikely friendship and a tragic cause that will bond them together.
Without making lots of noise, The Visitor is a beautiful and strong drama about discovering the other but also oneself in the process.
To top this, in these Syrian Crisis times, the highly sympathetic portrayal of this Syrian young man, in an American picture, makes it timeless. This is an engaging gem of a picture about common passion and evolution. Simple but very well penned and acted.
3 – Win Win (2011)
In this drama charged with a good dose of humor,Paul Giamatti (Sideways, American Splendor) plays a struggling lawyer and volunteer wrestling coach haunted by the sudden apparition of the troubled teenage grandson of a client he has double-crossed. A grandson who is a very good wrestler…
The film has this feel-good mannerism to it but its very well made in its own terms. And again the acting is top quality. Giamatti is as good as ever and Bobby Canavale (from McCarthy’s The station agent) playing Giamatti’s sidekick best friend, brings the fun and lighter elements to the story.
As in the two other indie films by Tom McCarthy, it has formal qualities,good acting and characters coming to life because of unexpected encounters. With the exception this time, that we see things coming. But that’s what a feel-good movie is about…
It may be a bit predictable but it works.
(Note: You can access other Cinetalk articles about 2016 Oscars (Feb. 28) by clicking among the tags (below this article) on Academy Awards 2016 or Oscars 2016. More to come…)