Monday, November 26, 2007

'Beowulf' excites but lacks dimension

“Beowulf” utilizes a sophisticated form of computer animation blended with the latest in 3-D technology to create an extraordinary cinematic experience. The catch is you need to go to an IMAX theater to experience the film as it was truly intended to be seen.

Watching the 2-D version of “Beowulf,” you can’t help feeling cheated. The film makes no attempts to hide the fact that things should be flying at you, and it is frustrating and even distracting at times.

The epic poem “Beowulf” is juiced up with violence and sex in telling the tale of the title hero and his battle with the vile monster Grendel. People are ripped in half, heads are bitten off and a copious amount of blood is spilled. Angelina Jolie as the monster’s mother is more or less, with the emphasis on the more, nude for her entire performance. If the movie were live action it would be a hard R; as is, it has managed a PG-13.

“Beowulf” is entirely animated and employs motion capture, the same technology used to create Gollum in “Lord of the Rings” and that director Robert Zemeckis also used for “The Polar Express.” Unlike a traditional animated feature, the actors not only provide their voices, but their performances are then made into computer-generated versions of themselves.

With the exception of Ray Winstone (“The Departed”), who is transformed into the muscular Beowulf, and Crispin Glover ("Back to the Future"), who becomes the grotesque Grendel, all of the cast members are animated to look as they do in real life. You’ll easily spot the likes of Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich and Brendan Gleeson.

The effect worked in “The Polar Express,” where the film adopted the drawing style of Chris Van Allsburg's book, but here, with a more realistic look, it becomes disconcerting. Many will be able to look past it, but for my money it took me out of the film. Part of the problem is inconsistency. Sometimes the characters look remarkably real, while others times they look like wax figures come to life. I wanted to see the real actors, not these dead-eyed simulations.

That being said, the world in which the characters exist and the sea creations and dragon Beowulf does battle with are amazing to look at. On the level of action, “Beowulf” delivers with visceral, well-directed sequences that blend cringe-worthy gore with pulse-quickening excitement. When focused on the action, the movie is engaging, but the dialogue and plotting is weak. The stretches between the action sequences are slow with mostly perfunctory dialogue to get you from point A to B. All the characters with the exception of Beowulf are one dimensional at best.

Beowulf is arrogant and full of pride, and that becomes his curse when Grendel’s mother tempts him with promises of power and lust. It sets up an interesting internal conflict for the latter part of the film, which flashes forward to show Beowulf as an elder king. Winstone is good as Beowulf and adds some nuance to the character during these scenes. Alas, just as the script is finally adding depth, this conflict is put aside to set up another spectacular action sequence. The action thrills, but is it asking too much to have a bit more substance with the spectacle?

As is often the case in Hollywood action films, the female characters are negligible. Robin Wright Penn (“Forrest Gump”) and Alison Lohman (“Big Fish”) as Beowulf’s wife and mistress are given nothing more than standard motions to go through. Jolie is asked only to be seductress, and she does it exceptionally well.

In his review, Roger Ebert wrote: “Am I the only one who suspects that the intention of director Robert Zemeckis and writers Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary was satirical?” He may be on to something. There are subversive touches throughout, including Jolie’s high healed feet (you read correctly) and Beowulf’s decision to do battle with Grendel in the nude, but if satire of the fantasy epic genre was their intention then Gaiman and Avary didn’t push it far enough.

The screenplay really is a disappointment, as both writers have shown wit and intellect before. Gaiman wrote the award-winning “Sandman” graphic novels, and Avery co-wrote “Pulp Fiction.” Give credit where credit is due, though, Beowulf’s temptation by Grendel’s mother, the film’s most interesting aspect, was a departure from the original story.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Merry Subversive Christmas: Alternative Films for the Holidays

December is nearly upon us and we are already thoroughly saturated with everything Christmas. Television is already clogging with holiday specials and films. Classics like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” “A Christmas Carol” and “A Christmas Story” deserve their revered status, but sometimes you need an alternative.

A little subversion of the holiday spirit is exactly what is needed to make it through the holidays. So here are five films that go down a different path. In the end they uphold the holiday spirit, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have some dark fun getting there.

“Gremlins” (1984):
It is definitely not a holly jolly Christmas when a father comes home with a unique fuzzy little pet for his son. There are three simple rules: Sunlight kills him. Don't get him wet. Don't feed him after midnight. The rules are broken and the cute fuzz ball spawns the gross, mischievous gremlins.

Director Joe Dante makes a scary and funny homage to monster movies that features sly pokes at the holiday season like “It’s a Wonderful Life” playing throughout the film and a macabre monologue about why a character played by Phoebe Cates doesn’t celebrate Christmas. Not the most obvious choice for holiday viewing, but why not? After all surviving the holidays can be just as trying as battling a group of gremlins.

“The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993):
A Christmas film as only director Tim Burton could dream up. Instead of visions of sugarplums, Burton has visions of skeletons and ghouls. In this take on the most wonderful time of the year each holiday has its own fantasyland and when Jack Skellington, the leader of Halloweentown discovers Christmas, he kidnaps Santa and decides to take a crack at being St. Nick.

Occasionally even the most subversive of holiday films become embraced by the masses and while this is probably just as over exposed as “It’s a Wonderful Life” it doesn’t feel it. With its wonderful stop motion animation, offbeat songs and demented humor it delivers a brand of holiday fun all its own.

“Scrooged” (1988):
Bill Murray stars as a cynical TV executive that gets visited by a far more hilariously twisted set of ghosts than Ebenezer ever had to deal with. What starts out as a satire on the television industry morphs into a parody of “A Christmas Carol” and than ultimately embraces the holiday message of the Charles Dickens classic.

In description, the film sounds uneven at best, but under all the black comedy, it is surprisingly heartfelt. That it works so well is a testament to Murray, screenwriter Michael O’Donoghue (a former “Saturday Night Live” writer) and a cast that includes Carol Kane, Bobcat Goldthwait and David Johanson.

“The Ref” (1994):
A bickering married couple played by a pre-fame Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis are kidnapped by a thief (Denis Leary) on Christmas Eve. Using their home as a hideout, Leary is stuck in the middle of the deeply dysfunctional couple feud, which continues in spite of their situation. Eventually, Leary becomes the mediator for their disputes and poses as their marriage councilor when the equally neurotic in-laws arrive.

Meant as a vehicle for Leary, it is Spacey and Davis that steal the show. Think of it as a bleaker, less slapstick version of “Christmas Vacation.” Things work out in the end, but the trip there is stingingly funny and at times a brutally honest reflection of family dynamics.

“Bad Santa” (2004):
Vulgar, rude and offensive, this is a Christmas movie for adults only. A drunk (Billy Bob Thornton) and a dwarf (Tony Cox) pose as a department store Santa and elf as a cover to rob a mall’s vault on Christmas Eve. Along the way a needy kid starts following the drunken Santa home.

What follows is not heartwarming. There is no magical yuletide transformation for Thornton, but the warped friendship that develops between Thornton and the kid is sort of sweet in its own odd way. For those with a sick sense of humor and high tolerance for profanity, this is a perfect palate cleanser for an overdose on holiday cheer.

For more subversion check out last year's post on alternative Christmas songs

Friday, November 16, 2007

'Ratatouille' is animation at its best

Computer animated films are everywhere. "Bee Movie" is in theaters and "Meet the Robinsons," "Shrek the Third" and "Ratatouille" have all recently reached DVD. It would be easy to dismiss the whole lot as just kids' stuff, but "Ratatouille" is a great movie. Not a great kids movie, not a great family movie, simple a great movie.

"Ratatouille" comes from the Pixar studio and their track record remains flawless. From "Toy Story" to "Monster's Inc" to "Finding Nemo" to "The Incredibles," there isn't a dud in the bunch.

Today too many animated features go for bright colors and slapstick humor and nothing more. Pixar's films are colorful and have their share of slapstick, but their films are filled with a lot of heart and know that you don't need to condescend to children.

All of this holds true for "Ratatouille," which like all of Pixar's previous films tells a simple story, but tells it well with wit and well drawn characters. Remy (comedian Patton Oswalt) is a rat living in France whose heightened sense of smell gives him a natural talent for cooking.

Remy's idol is a chef from Paris named Gusteau (Brad Garrett) and through a series of mishaps Remy finds himself in Paris at Gusteau's restaurant. The restaurant is on hard times following the suicide of its namesake after a particularly harsh review from Anton Ego (Peter O'Toole), Paris' most feared food critic. In one of the film's more off-beat touches, the spirit of Gusteau is Remy's guardian angel, or more likely just a figment of his imagination.

Things begin to turn around for the restaurant when Remy teams up with Linguini (Lou Romano), the restaurant's new dishwasher. Using Linguini like a giant puppet Remy guides him to making delicious dishes that become the toast of the town and that bring back Ego who is ready to crush Gusteau's once and for all.

It sounds like standard stuff, but it is done with a certain degree of sophistication. We all know that there will be a lesson to be who you truly are and that Remy and Linguini will win over Ego, but it is how the film does these things that is unexpected and wonderful.

There is a happy ending, but not the one you necessarily see coming. Indeed how Ego is won over is perfect and resonates emotionally in a way few modern animated films do. Ego has a monologue about food and the importance of critics that is intelligent and heartfelt. O'Toole reads it as if it is a great Shakespearean monologue.

The voice work from everyone is exceptional and while there are familiar names populating the cast, unlike so many other animated features, it is not about the actors, but the story. For decades animated features didn't cast big stars, but the voice that did the job best. That changed following Robin Williams' high voltage turn as the Genie in "Aladdin." When stars do voice work right it can be great fun, but too often it feels like just a gimmick.

In "Ratatouille" the cast's more famous actors disguise their voices and disappear into their characters. It is so much easier to get lost in "Ratatouille's" beautiful rendered Paris and into the plight of these characters when you aren't focused on the voices.

You'd be hard pressed to spot Janeane Garofalo's voice as Colette, Linguini's love interest. Garofalo gives a great vocal performance full of energy and sass and you'd never know it was her.

While there is a good degree of silly antics for children, the film also features a genuine revere for fine cuisine. The film doesn't dumb itself down and has a respect for food that may go over the head of younger kids, but which will be appreciated by adults and makes the film all the more honest.

Chatting with one of the minds behind 'Bee Movie'

About three years ago, Andy Robin, a former “Seinfeld” writer, got a call from Jerry Seinfeld asking if he wanted to help him write an animated movie about bees. Over the next few years he helped develop and refine the material that would shape the box office hit, “Bee Movie.”

“I would go down to New York a couple days a week and write with Jerry, and starting about a year or two ago I started to go out to Los Angeles to work on it,” said Robin in a recent phone interview with The Conway Daily Sun.
Writing took place in a small room with just Robin and Seinfeld one on one, but later other writers — Spike Feresten and Barry Marder — joined the team.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Robin. “There is nobody like him. He’s one of a kind. If I can make Jerry laugh, that is the best feeling in the world.”

Robin first joined the Seinfeld team through an encounter on “Saturday Night Live.”

“I had spent a year (as a writer) on 'Saturday Night Live,' and when Jerry hosted the show, Adam Sandler actually passed along a spec script that I had written to Jerry,” said Robin. "It was at a time when they were looking for writers, one of those rare times when there was a window open for writers. So they had me do a freelance script, and that was 'The Junior Mint.'"

Robin became a staff writer the following season and eventually brought on his college buddy, Gregg Kavet. Recently the Robin and Kavet writing team wrote and directed their first feature, the New Hampshire based “Live Free or Die.”

With “Bee Movie,” Robin found the writing process much more leisurely than his time on “Seinfeld,” and there was time to test the material and see how things played.

“Because it was done over a few years, you could really tinker with it a lot, see how it played for audience, see what was working and what wasn’t,” said Robin. “The animation people put together early versions of things so you could see if you liked how things were working.”

“Bee Movie” is coming into a market that is over-saturated with computer animated features and is entering the game 12 years after the groundbreaking “Toy Story” and six year’s after “Shrek” set the standard for the wink-wink nudge-nudge brand of self referential in-joke animated features that play on both an adult and kid level.

Those expecting Seinfeld to reinvent the animated movie in the same way he helped redefine the sitcom will be disappointed, but. then again, those are high expectations to live up to.

“Bee Movie” starts out with Seinfeld’s Barry B. Benson unsure he wants to dedicate his whole life to working one job for his bee hive, which is a giant city/corporation whose sole purpose is to create honey. According to Robin, it was Seinfeld’s idea to use the hive as a city allegory.

“He’s a New Yorker, it is what he knows best and it is easier to write things about something you know well,” said Robin. "Because bees have all these subdivisions of labor, the hive really did seem like a good metaphor for a big city.”

It has become a tradition in animated films, especially of late, to have a hero who doesn’t fit in with his family or species, but through his rebellion ultimately finds his place. This was the theme also at the core of this summer’s “Ratatouille,” a better, more tightly woven film than “Bee Movie,” but Seinfeld’s foray into animation is by no means a disaster. “Bee Movie” may not reinvent the wheel, but it at least changes the tire on some old formulas.

When Barry gets outside the hive, he meets a florist named Vanessa (Renee Zelleweger), who saves him from death by Timberland boot. Despite strict bee guidelines not to talk to humans, Barry begins speaking with Vanessa, and, through their friendship, he discovers that humans are stealing honey from his bee brethren. Barry decides to sue the entire human race.

This lawsuit premise is oddly inspired and gives the otherwise standard but fun "Bee Movie" its own flavor. It also allows for an amusing courtroom sequence featuring a broadly drawn prosecutor voiced by John Goodman and celebrity witnesses including Ray Liotta and Sting.

“Courtroom scenes are just kind of funny to us,” said Robin. “We did a few of them on ‘Seinfeld.’ It just seemed funny to have these crazy interrogations of Sting and Ray Liotta.”

And these cameo interrogations are funny for adults, but they will go over the heads of kids. The film's one-liners are almost always pitched to adults. Even so, “Bee Movie” is brightly animated with a cleverly realized hive and some fun action sequences such as Barry’s ride on a tennis ball, a couple battles with human adversaries and ride a on a windshield that features a hilarious chat with Chris Rock as a mosquito with a hunger for moose blood.

Barry and his friends and family — voiced well by the likes of Matthew Broderick, Kathy Bates and filmmaker Barry Levinson —are a cute bunch of bees, and, as Robin noted, kids want to root for them. So while the adult and kid humor aren’t always seamlessly integrated, there’s still enough here to keep just about every age group happy.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

'Gangster' recalls best of 1970s cinema

Ridley Scott’s “American Gangster” tells the true story of Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), a driver and bodyguard to Harlem’s head hood, who takes over his drug business, cuts out the middle man and corners the market.

The story is set during the late 1960s into the early 1970s, and the Vietnam War factors into the plot. After hearing news of a drug epidemic among troops in Vietnam, Frank hops a plane and meets up with a family member stationed in Asia. Frank goes directly to the source, thus returning with a product better than anything else on the street. He sells his heroin at half the price and rises above even the mob as the local drug king.

The story of Frank’s rise is paralleled by a drug task force headed by Russell Crowe who is searching for the top of the drug food chain. The racism of the era keeps this task force from even considering that Frank could be at the very top.

Washington won an Oscar for best actor when he got in touch with his dark side in “Training Day,” but he’s even better in “American Gangster.” The crooked cop he played in “Training Day” was a performance based in bravado, and, while the intensity Washington brought to the role was mesmerizing, the character lacked dimension. The film’s setup was good cop versus bad good and gripped on that level.

“American Gangster” goes deeper. Frank has bursts of startling violence that reveal Frank to be a possible sociopath, but at the same time he has a sense of family and will do anything for them. Washington has tender moments with Ruby Dee as Frank’s mother that make Frank more than just a ruthless killer.
In juxtaposition is Crowe’s Richie, a good cop who never compromises the law, but whose personal and family life is a wreck.

The screenplay by Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”) doesn’t allow its two leads to fall into clichĂ© and even plays against them. Frank is the one with the seemingly virtuous family values. On the surface, Frank looks like the upstanding citizen and Richie the deadbeat loser.

Washington and Crowe’s characters have different aspects of their personalities that pull at each other — aspects that redeem Frank and those that flaw Richie. Both actors balance these facets and are effective because they don’t play these parts of their characters as completely separate sides. Instead they use them as shadings. Crowe and Washington do not share the screen until well into the film’s third act, but it is worth the wait to watch two top actors work their craft.

Aside from the two leads, most of the supporting cast consists of stock characters, but they are given life and a lot of flavor by a cast of familiar faces including Josh Brolin (“Planet Terror”), Chiwetel Ejiofor (“Children of Men,” “Inside Man”), Ted Levine (“Silence of the Lambs”) and Cuba Gooding Jr.

Unfortunately, with the exception of Dee as the mother, the women in this film are completely flat. Lymari Nadal (TV’s “Battlestar Galactica”) and Carla Gugino (“Night at the Museum”) are left playing standard wife stereotypes with nothing remotely new or interesting to say. In a movie that strives for complex male leads, it is frustrating to see the women in the film slighted.

Although set during the Vietnam War and the war being critical to the plot, “American Gangster” is not a political film. Even so, the evocation of the era still carries weight. At the beginning of the year David Fincher’s “Zodiac” was also set during the tumultuous 1970s, a decade of political and social unrest.

That filmmakers seem drawn to subject matters from this era in a way becomes a reflection and commentary of our unrest, even if it is not latent in the material. Stylistically, Scott even adopts the gritty style of crime films of that decade including “Serpico” and “The French Connection.” Crowe’s Richie Robert is a flawed hero with a strong moral code, much like Al Pacino and Gene Hackman in their respective films.

Scott is a fearless director who is willing to tackle just about any genre with a diverse resume that includes “Alien,” Blade Runner,” Thelma and Louise,” “Gladiator,” “Black Hawk Down” and “Matchstick Men.” He is a filmmaker comfortable working on a grand scale, and here he delivers a complex character study that clocks in at nearly three hours, but that grips despite its length.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Affleck brothers deliver the goods with 'Baby'

A decade ago Ben Affleck and Matt Damon won an Oscar for the screenplay for “Good Will Hunting.” Since then, Affleck — good at playing average Joes and as a supporting player — parlayed his Oscar notoriety into a misguided action-hero career.

Critics have loved to hate Affleck, and admittedly he has made it easy with one bad acting choice after another. Undoubtedly, the cynics were ready to pounce on “Gone Baby Gone,” Affleck’s directorial debut, but it may just prove to be his best career choice since he sat down to pen “Good Will Hunting” with buddy Matt.

“Gone Baby Gone” is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, the author of 2003’s “Mystic River.” As with “Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone” is set in Boston and deals with the investigation of a tragedy involving a girl. In “River” it was a murder; in “Baby” it is an abduction.

“Mystic River” was heralded for its acting, with Sean Penn and Tim Robbins both winning Oscars, and, while their performances were excellent, it was the sort of acting that screamed acting. In contrast, “Gone Baby Gone’s” acting isn’t showy, but it feels far more authentic, and because of that the film may be even better than “Mystic River.”

In a case of nepotism gone right, Affleck casts his brother Casey as Patrick Kenzie, a private detective hired by the sister (Amy Madigan, “Field of Dreams”) of the missing girl’s mother (Amy Ryan, “Capote”). The local cops, including Morgan Freeman’s police chief and Ed Harris’ investigating detective, reluctantly let Patrick and his partner/girlfriend (Michelle Monaghan, “Mission Impossible 3”) help with the case.

Patrick, who spent his whole life in the same neighbor, has connections and knows how to get people to talk who refuse to talk to the police. As Patrick keeps digging, even after the police have stopped, he opens up an ethical can of worms that makes the film more than just another crime movie.

Ben as writer and director does an excellent job at capturing the atmosphere of the neighborhood. Ben grew up in Boston and shows a feel for the flow of speech that goes beyond the familiar heavy Bostonian accent. He gets the attitude right. Ben even manages to slide in some sly commentary on the symbiotic relationship between the media and the neighborhood.

It helps that much of the cast is populated with unknowns or character actors, especially in the case of Ryan as the drug addict mother of the missing girl. Ryan is completely convincing in a performance that doesn’t feel like you’re watching acting, but rather the real thing. Drug addicts on screen can become hammy and false, but Ryan sidesteps stereotypes. Her character isn’t a sympathetic one, but Ryan, at least for one scene, makes you believe this woman’s pain.

Casey has been bouncing around Hollywood for nearly as long as his brother, but almost always as a supporting player, with the most high profile example being the “Ocean’s” trilogy. Here, though, Casey really gets to shine. His work is introspective and understated.

It could be easy at first glance to dismiss his acting as flat, but there’s more going on here. There is a low-key charm paired with a quiet intensity. Casey’s Patrick is a pretty boy who is mockingly called Harry Potter. But his looks make him deceptively non-threatening, and Casey makes Patrick’s ability to talk to just about anyone whether cop or criminal plausible.

The veterans of the cast, Freeman and Harris, are reliably excellent. Freeman has played cops before, but here he manages to put a new spin on his traditional persona. Harris and Casey have an extended conversation about the morality of doing a wrong for a greater right that is dynamite. The scene as written is almost yelling: This is the film’s major conflict, but as acted by Harris and Casey it is hard to fault. They are near perfection.

And Ben’s direction throughout is crisp and smooth with time for characters to breathe and develop. Ben has a thing for shooting cloud-filled sunrises and sunsets that gives the film a certain beauty. There are some missteps — most notably a use of voiceover narration midway that feels clunky — but this is a strong film by any filmmaker, first time or otherwise.

Films for Turkey Day

When it comes to holiday viewing, Halloween is easy with a plethora of scary films to choose from. Christmas may be even easier with enough feel-good Christmas films to make your teeth hurt. This year’s first new offering is “Fred Claus” opening Nov. 9.

Thanksgiving Day may fall between Halloween and Christmas, but somehow it gets lost in the mix. Although they don't get the attention they deserve, there are Thanksgiving-based films — and I am not talking about “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” or some special about the pilgrims. The selection of films is much smaller, but indeed there are films with Thanksgiving at least peripherally part of their plots.

Thanksgiving is sort of the black sheep of holidays — a day created to give thanks to the Native Americans who so graciously helped those early settlers. It is a holiday in conflict with itself — after all, our ancestors would eventually drive the people we are honoring to near extinction. It's no wonder that this holiday brings out the best and worst in people. Sure people travel great distances to gather with family to pay thanks for all the good in their lives, but the minute someone leaves for the bathroom the gossip starts.

Some may say I’m a cynic, but I’m not the only one. This is the same message that comes through in so many Thanksgiving-themed films. The strength and love of family may come through by the end, but the road there is often paved with conflict and strained relationships.

In “Home for the Holidays,” Holly Hunter returns home for Turkey Day and has to deal with the dysfunctions of her family, which includes Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning Steve Guttenberg, Robert Downey Jr. and Claire Danes. Directed by Jodie Foster, the film balances comedy with pathos as Hunter tiptoes through the minefield that can be family.

“What’s Cooking?” takes a multi-cultural approach, intercutting the stories of different ethnic groups — one Hispanic, one Vietnamese, one African American and one Jewish — trying to celebrate the holiday. Thanksgiving is a holiday unique to North America, but easy to embrace by other cultures because it holds no religious affiliation, and “What’s Cooking?” takes that idea and runs with it. No matter the cultural background, tensions stir as the turkey cooks.

Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters” begins and ends with a Thanksgiving celebration. The secrets the cast, which includes Allen, Michael Caine, Carrie Fisher, Barbara Hershey, Mia Farrow and Diane Wiest, reveal at the beginning of the film, will run their course over the year leading to heartbreak, betrayal and in some cases love. The family conflicts may go beyond the actual holiday, but it gets a nod here for using the day as the catalyst and conclusion of its drama.

From the indie world, there’s “The House of Yes,” in which Josh Hamilton brings his new fiancĂ© (Tori Spelling)home to his eccentric, high-strung family, much to the displeasure Parker Posey as his Jackie-O obsessed twin sister.

If off-beat indie is not your cup of tea, or leg of a turkey as the case may be, there’s always “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” with the slapstick antics of Steve Martin and John Candy as strangers turned reluctant travel partners trying to get home for Thanksgiving. Big laughs, but writer/director John Hughes does lay the sentimentality on a bit thick at the end.

Not that I am against sentimental, as indicated by my favorite Thanksgiving film: “Pieces of April.” In this small, but just about perfect film, Katie Holmes, the family misfit, tries to prepare Thanksgiving for her family members, who are driving to her small New York apartment.

The matriarch of the family, played with an acid tipped tongue by Patricia Clarkson, is dying of cancer, but the film earns both its laughs and tears and reminds that even with all the quarrels a family can still be filled with love. This is perhaps the most heartwarming film of the list, so I guess I lied. Maybe I’m not a cynic after all.