We might as well get this over with upfront: this year's winner and nominees for Best Movie for Grownups constitute no laugh riot. In fact their themes seem to live, let's just say, on the downhill side of Life Mountain: the ravages of age (The Savages), the rape of a nation (The Kite Runner), the consequences of a false accusation (Atonement), the bitter fruit of corporate greed (Michael Clayton), the dying wishes of the gravely ill (The Bucket List).
But here's the good news: each and every one of these films, besides courageously facing up to some of life's inevitable god-awfulness, challenges moviegoers with compelling grownup characters, unexpected humor, and inspiring life lessons. And they're all enormously entertaining.
You might say this was the year grownup movies grew up.
What's more, Oscar winner Morgan Freeman, whose film The Bucket List is our winner for this year's Best Buddy Picture, believes there's every reason to expect that one of these days Hollywood will shift its focus from youth-oriented films to more high-profile grownup movies. At the very least, he says, it's a matter of demographics. “When the older audience outweighs the younger audience, when there are more of us than there are of them, it'll happen,” Freeman predicts. “The studios go where the dollar is.”
Best Movie for Grownups from 2007
The Savages, directed by Tamara Jenkins
It's been years since Jon and Wendy Savage have seen their father, and their reunion isn't coming under the best of circumstances: Dad is showing signs of dementia, and he's just been thrown out of the Sun City, Arizona, house he shared with his recently deceased girlfriend. Both siblings are in their 40s. Wendy (Laura Linney) is a so-far failed playwright; Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a college professor whose latest impenetrable book is one case of writer's block away from completion. They pretty much chalk up their failures to Dad (Philip Bosco), an abusive, angry parent.
Usually, movies try to tell us that our family quirks make us unique and somehow wonderful—see Little Miss Sunshine or The Royal Tenenbaums. But in a distinctly grownup (and oddly funny) approach, writer-director Tamara Jenkins refuses to sanctify her characters; nor does she demonize them. One of the lessons they learn is, you can't really undo all the nasty stuff you've done to each other. Another lesson is, get over it.
RUNNERS-UP: The Kite Runner: A childhood friendship transcends war, time, and even death…Atonement: A love story, told on an epic scale…Michael Clayton: A lawyer (George Clooney) learns you have to be a bit crazy to do the right thing…The Bucket List: Dying friends learn to live for the moment.
Best Actor 50 and Over
Chris Cooper, Breach
Not since Buster Keaton has the cinema seen a great stone face like Chris Cooper's—a seemingly frozen visage that somehow transmits a character's most secret thoughts to the audience, be it through a slight turn of the head expressing puzzlement or a twitch of the lips registering, almost subliminally, as a smile.
In Breach Cooper brings his powers to full play as the inscrutable real-life spy Robert Hanssen. Behind his stoic facade, Cooper surrenders only fleeting glimpses of the spiritual, psychosexual, and envy-driven demons that are beating their clawed wings against the inside of his skull. He makes it easy for us to believe that the single most damaging mole in FBI history could labor undetected for 16 years—yet makes us wonder how he could keep from self-destructing for so very long.
RUNNERS-UP: Denzel Washington, American Gangster: Sure, his character is a murderous drug kingpin, but you'd want him as your pal…Richard Gere, The Hoax: As Clifford Irving, his unabashed joy in pulling off the 1970s' biggest con is infectious…Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah: He's heartbreaking and heroic as a father tracking down the story of his son's death…Tom Hanks, Charlie Wilson's War: He magically morphs from lovable rascal to tower of virtue.
Best Actress 50 and Over
Julie Christie, Away From Her
It's one thing for a movie's script to tell us that a character is adored by her husband. It's quite another for the actress playing the part to make the audience fall in love with her, too…and then share in the sense of loss as she begins an inevitable decline. Julie Christie's heart-rending performance as Fiona, a woman stricken with Alzheimer's, takes the skeletal plot of Away From Her and makes it into something truly special. Fiona's husband (Gordon Pinsent) loves her to death, and so do we, but from the moment she matter-of-factly deposits a frying pan in the freezer, he and we know something is terribly wrong. And soon, so does she. “I think I may be beginning to disappear,” she tells friends. Even as she disappears, Christie's Fiona is unforgettable.
RUNNERS-UP: Sally Field, Two Weeks: As a dying mom, she paints a bravely painful portrait of a woman tying up loose ends…Vanessa Redgrave, Evening: Claire Danes plays her character as a young, flighty ingenue, but we'll take Redgrave's serene, elder version…Meryl Streep, Lions for Lambs: Head-to-head with Tom Cruise, she's a hoot as a no-nonsense reporter.
Best Supporting Actor 50 and Over
Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton
Wilkinson spends much of the first half of Michael Clayton playing a crazed, delusional attorney, off his meds and off his rocker. Then, confronted by Clayton (George Clooney), his character suddenly snaps back to lucidity, dressing down Clayton with a withering, lawyerly discourse. In a flash we see why Wilkinson (winner of our first Movies for Grownups® Best Actor Award, back in 2002) remains one of our most reliably brilliant stars.
RUNNERS-UP: Philip Bosco, The Savages: His scared, silent eyes reveal the soul of a distraught father…Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild: Fatherly, yet vulnerable, he's profoundly moving as a widower reaching out in friendship to an angry young man… Homayoun Ershadi, The Kite Runner: As a demanding yet loving father, he creates an air of honor and integrity that infuses the entire film…Andy Griffith, Waitress: He brings unexpected nuance to a businessman who takes the heroine under his wing.
Best Supporting Actress 50 and Over
Ruby Dee, American Gangster
Say what you want about Denzel Washington's ruthless drug kingpin in American Gangster—it's not his mother's fault. He was raised better than that. In one of the most powerful performances of her long career, Dee plays the adoring mom who first turns a blind eye to the ruthless way her son is getting rich. As her character comes to realize she can't ignore the truth any longer, Dee takes on an otherworldly power. Just watch her slap her beloved son and fairly spit out the words “I will leave you!” A classic case of a minor role setting the tone of an entire movie.
RUNNERS-UP: Olympia Dukakis, Away From Her: As a wife whose brain-damaged spouse falls for an Alzheimer's-stricken woman, her character's turmoil is palpable…Jane Asher, Death at a Funeral: Paul McCartney's one-time fiancée shines as the widow at the funniest funeral since Chuckles the Clown's...Fernanda Montenegro, Love in the Time of Cholera: As the mother of the handsome hero, she nearly steals the show…Vanessa Redgrave, Atonement: She appears only in the last few minutes, but her touching coda brings essential closure to the epic story.
Best Director 50 and Over
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
For his first outing as a director, Gilroy really took a leap of faith: he decided to respect his audience. His complex tale of corporate greed, stricken consciences, and murder of the most cold-blooded kind tools straight ahead at a steady, enjoyable pace, like a well-tuned BMW. It’s a refreshing change for grownup moviegoers: a film that expects its audience to view each plot twist and turn with a critical eye.
RUNNERS-UP: Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men: It's a masterwork of suspense, violence, and unexpected beauty…Paul Haggis, In the Valley of Elah: This tale of a father seeking the truth about his son's death is surprisingly poetic…Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: He seals us into the body of a paralyzed man and makes us share in his reawakening to the possibilities of life…Mike Nichols, Charlie Wilson's War: Nichols infuses his trademark mix of humor and earnestness into this jaunty, irreverent, and slyly subversive political saga.
Best Screenwriter 50 and Over
Ronald Harwood, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Impossible as it seems, the narrator of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly never speaks. A victim of a crippling stroke, he can only think, and blink with one eye. His thoughts play on the soundtrack like the words of an unseen companion, a prisoner in a nearby cell. Veteran screenwriter Ronald Harwood attacks the challenge of internal narration—in French, by the way—with a vengeance.
RUNNERS-UP: Christopher Hampton, Atonement: He cleverly assembles the varying points of view that lead to the story's great misunderstanding…Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men: Stripping down Cormac McCarthy's spare novel to its bones, the brothers find humor, pathos, and even beauty in mayhem…Paul Haggis, In the Valley of Elah: In classic Haggis fashion, regular people find a dignified voice as they sort out life's injustices…Steve Zaillian, American Gangster: His glimpse into the mind of a drug kingpin gives us chills while it thrills.
Best Grownup Love Story
John Travolta and Christopher Walken, Hairspray
Okay, half of this long-married husband-and-wife pair is John Travolta in drag. But we dare you to watch this duo dance and sing “You're Timeless to Me”—an ode to the wonderful predictability of longtime love—and tell us these two aren't hopelessly, endlessly in love.
Best Comedy for Grownups
The Darjeeling Limited, directed by Wes Anderson
Three oddball brothers embark on a train trip across India in what's defined loosely as “a spiritual quest.” That slight plot leaves lots of room for exploration of the unique dynamics that churn among grown brothers, played here by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman. A feast for the eyes, Darjeeling also asks questions about brotherhood, parenthood, and whether it's wise to smuggle a poisonous snake onboard a train.
RUNNERS-UP: Dan in Real Life: Fortysomething widower Steve Carell discovers that the woman of his dreams (radiant Juliette Binoche) is his brother's girlfriend…Death at a Funeral: It's all veddy British and veddy funny when a dead aristocrat's gay lover (the hugely entertaining Peter Dinklage) turns up at the funeral…Juno: Her first mistake was looking for prospective parents for her unborn baby in the PennySaver…Wild Hogs: John Travolta is a stitch as the head of a middle-aged cycle gang.
Best Intergenerational Movie
The Namesake, directed by Mira Nair
Raising their children in the New York 'burbs, two parents from India find their traditions clashing with U.S. culture. Both sides eventually awaken to a comforting understanding: where we're from, and where we live, are always trumped by who we are.
RUNNERS-UP: The Great Debaters: The debate coach at a black college (Denzel Washington) inspires his team to greatness…3:10 to Yuma: A father puts his life on the line to teach his son a life lesson…The Savages: Selfish grownup kids learn that a parent's mistakes are no license to screw up their own lives…Juno: A pregnant teen and an adoptive couple have a lot to learn from each other.
Tie: In the Shadow of the Moon, directed by David Sington
Sicko, directed by Michael Moore
In some ways, you couldn't imagine two more radically different films. In the Shadow of the Moon is a triumphant retelling of America's Apollo program, the crowning human technical achievement of the 20th century. Michael Moore, however, worries in Sicko about America's scandalous inability to provide quality health care coverage for all. Still, both films may well leave an audience muttering, “We can put a man on the moon, but…”
RUNNERS-UP: Run, Granny, Run: At 94, Doris Haddock runs for the U.S. Senate…For the Bible Tells Me So: The two sides debate the Bible's take on homosexuality, through true stories of parents with gay and lesbian children…Hear and Now: Director Irene Taylor Brodsky's deaf parents have surgery to experience sound for the first time, in their mid-sixties.
Gena Rowlands, Screenwriter, Paris je t'aime
The 77-year-old acting legend had agreed to appear in a segment of this anthology film of love stories set in Paris, but she and her costar, Ben Gazzara, couldn't find a script they liked. So Rowlands, who'd never written a screenplay in her life, sat down and created an exquisite scene, the story of a long-married couple on the eve of their divorce. Sparely written and wonderfully realized by director Gerard Depardieu, the scene creates in the viewer the discomfort of overhearing a too private conversation in too public a place.
Best Foreign Language Film
My Best Friend (France), directed by Patrice Leconte
A solitary middle-aged antiques dealer (Daniel Auteuil), challenged by an acquaintance to make at least one friend in the next month, engages a friendly taxi driver (Dany Boon) to help him. It's a wonderfully warm meditation on the isolation felt by so many in the second half of life…and how the best way to find a friend can be to simply sit still and let friendship find you.
RUNNERS-UP: After the Wedding (Denmark): A man who runs an Indian orphanage visits his mysterious Danish benefactor…Vitus (Switzerland): A young boy who is a piano prodigy is rescued from crushing parental pressure by his loving granddad…La Vie en Rose (France): Singer Edith Piaf (Marion Cotillard) lives a life and a half…Persepolis (France): Animated but not for kids; a young girl grows up in Iran.
Best Buddy Picture
The Bucket List, directed by Rob Reiner
Not since Bing and Bob headed off for Morocco have two stars as watchable as Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman hit the road together. The poignant plot—two cancer-stricken guys trying to cram a lifetime of adventure into a few months—can't mask the delight of watching two pros in their prime.
Best Movie for Grownups Who Refuse to Grow Up
Enchanted, directed by Kevin Lima
Longtime Disney animator Lima makes this story of an animated princess stuck in real-life New York City both cute and cutting-edge. Check out the scene where the princess summons Manhattan's ''forest creatures'' to help her clean house. You'll never look at a skittering cockroach in quite the same way.
RUNNERS-UP: Ratatouille: A rat in the kitchen? C'est magnifique!…Mr. Bean's Holiday: Hilariously ageless…Knocked Up: Too crude for kids, but a thoughtful morality play…The Simpsons Movie: And you think your family's dysfunctional?