The Master (Anderson, 2012)

A self-important movie about self-importance. Incomplete, beguiling, pressurized to the point where any one moment feels entirely combustible. Love this thing when it’s about the failures of communities of all kinds to prepare their members for the world beyond their ideological/philosophical borders. It’s near baffling, abstract melodrama the rest of the time. Every frame feels so extremely calibrated that there’s no room to breath, nothing but suffocation. Joaquin Phoenix is indeed astonishing, but the film around him, like Dodd and the rest of the characters, has no idea what to do with his Freddie. He’s just there, toiling in the ether. Now what?

Sunshine Cleaning (Jeffs, 2009)

sunshine-cleaning

Bryant Frazer’s review sums up this film brilliantly, yet I can’t help but hold it in higher regard than he does. Call it a sentimental streak I didn’t know I had. Despite being unfairly marketed as this year’s Little Miss Sunshine (which automatically sent up a red flag for me), Sunshine Cleaning uncovers some hefty themes – parental failure, suicide, and guilt – and for all it’s conventional whimsey and Indie quirkiness still manages to make quite an emotional impact.

Much of the film’s success has to do with Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, convincingly playing grown sisters at odds who start up a crime scene cleanup business only to find their relationship is far more fractured than they thought. Each suffers from a past trauma in very different ways, their conflict masking a place of deep childhood repression that makes the film’s light and airing surface incredibly heartbreaking. Sunshine Cleaning also attempts to bridge a commentary of class struggle with identity, but this dynamic seems too complex for the material and the film often shrugs off the difficult questions in favor of simple revelations. Whether or not you buy the scenario, it’s hard not to enjoy the wonderful interplay between actor-stars willing to infuse their characters with honest to goodness pain and anguish. It makes the sunny moments that much more authentic.

Enchanted (Lima, 2007)

phnoyurr0v82rs_m.jpg

A fun and clever homage to the expansive Disney universe, anchored by the incomparable Amy Adams, whose smile and warmth remains infectious from beginning to end. In the land of No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood and Zodiac, where menacing characters and landscapes often define the horizon, Enchanted offers a playful, joyous, and necessary respite from all the darkness.