First, I want to recommend a movie that has not met widely with acclaim, but that I think has the power to be a sleeper hit: Speed Racer.
I wasn't expecting much, after reading a few reviews, and the pleasure of being surprised was even greater for the lack of anticipation. This is a movie with a big heart. It's also a subtly graceful movie, beautifully composed and quietly hip in its pop-colored retro style.
The lily-white (sartorially and spiritually) Speed is an innocent in a corrupt world, a dreamer and a craftsman. Pure of mind and utterly incapable of devious thought, Speed thinks of nothing but his craft. The murderous plots that surround him at every turn sail, quite literally, right over his head.
But the heart of this movie is the Racer family, an entity so powerful in its unity that it very nearly generates magical powers. There is the mother with a heart of gold, who gives Speed the greatest gift of all — the power of his own virtue — simply by seeing him with clear eyes and loving him for exactly what he is. There is the well-meaning but stubborn father, who tries a little too hard to protect his family, and ends up dividing it instead (and, rather than turning on himself in his pain, learns his lesson and does the right thing the next time around). There is the errant brother who, in the throes of teenage angst, leaves home and makes the fatal mistake of throwing his lot in with the wrong crowd...or does he?
I heard this film criticized for feeling "like watching someone else play a video game". Maybe the person who wrote that review has played a few too many video games him or herself. What I saw was a sweet movie with a lot of heart, a movie with true moral fiber (in a world that has too little). It is also a sly, agile romp through some of the most stylish computer-generated cinematography I've seen in a long time. Scenes in the Racers' house belong in the sixties wing of a modern art museum, and the motor race through the desert (think The Great Race meets 007 in virtual reality) is pure magic. There's even a smart, unconventional female protagonist who speaks her mind and transcends her gender roles when everything is at stake.
Maybe the world just wasn't ready for this film, or maybe it was just made in the wrong era.And that's a shame. I'll be buying this one on DVD for Flynn.
On a very different note...
The next thing I'd like to recommend is Mariane Pearl's vivid, haunting and, ultimately, life-affirming memoir, A Mighty Heart.
I have not seen the movie version of this story, and so can't recommend it either way. But I have read the book twice now, and it has only grown in my heart and mind.
The story itself is a gruesome one, and you might shy away from it instinctively, but this book leaves you at once educated and empowered. It is not so much the fact of Daniel Pearl's murder that is at the heart of this story, but the fact of Mariane Pearl's survival in the face of the loss of that which she loved most. Her story is told with honesty, with grit, and with pure, unflinching joy. Her love of life is a force unto itself, as is the way that, through the sheer power of will, she transforms her grief into hope for the world around her and for the life of her son, with whom she was pregnant at the time. The life force shines through her every word, even in the darkest moments, and it is her eloquent and visceral pleasure in her own existence that leaves the reader buoyant, chastened, and, improbably, full of hope.