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Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Complete Tom McCarthy

Movies: The Station Agent (2003), The Visitor (2008), Win Win (2011)

Oscar Nominations: None for directing, 1 for co-writing Up (2010)

Continuing my look at the complete works of some directors, I'm now looking at a relatively new writer-director who's made a nice mark from just 3 movies-Tom McCarthy. My first instinct was to write that McCarthy directs naturalistic and realistic movies. Then I realized that his plots concern a dwarf who lives in an abandoned railroad depot, a wealthy man who ends up rooming with two illegal immigrants squatting in his luxury apartment, and a lawyer who ends up as a caretaker for the grandson of a man he swindled. On second thought, McCarthy makes movies with sitcom-like situations. He rarely shoots them like sitcoms, though, instead finding a quiet rhythm that carries the situations to their logical conclusions and takes the audience along all the way.

All three of his movies have charming performances by all the lead performers. I actually can't think of a weak acting link in any of his movies. It's important that the actors are good, because his movies are so much about relationships among the characters. I also like how he strives to look at the goodness in humanity, in many ways a polar opposite to Darren Aronofsky, who I last wrote about. In all of his movies, a person (or people) are gradually opened up by the interactions of those around them. He's especially interested in friendships that cross artificial boundaries of nation, race, age, and (in The Station Agent) size. If you're looking for a movie that will make you believe a little more in humanity without feeling manipulated, I'd recommend any of McCarthy's 3 movies.

Bonus Points: McCarthy is also an actor, must prominently playing the shady reporter Templeton on the fifth season of The Wire, the greatest TV series ever (no arguments please).

Here's how I would rank his movies:

1.) TheVisitor: The most serious of McCarthy's movies, and also the most moving. It's about an emotionally closed-off economist whose life becomes intertwined with two illegal immigrants who squat in his apartment. Richard Jenkins, an excellent longtime character actor, earned an Oscar nomination in his lead role. As wonderful as Jenkins is, he is matched moment for moment by the great Palesitian actress Hiam Abbass, who enters the movie as the mother of the young immigrant. (Slight spoiler alert) The movie doesn't end happily. There's a fair amount of anger in it, yet you are still left appreciating the connections that have been made.

Grade: A-

2.) The Station Agent: I just watched this movie again, and it really is a charming film. It takes a little while to warm up and hook the audience, but once it does it's wonderful to watch the characters interact. Peter Dinklage is an antisocial midget, Patricia Clarkson a grieving mother, and Bobby Canavale a food vendor displaced from New York. They all converge in a small New Jersey town and form a motley sort of family. Quiet, simple, funny, and very sweet.

Grade: B+

3.) Win Win: Win Win is currently out in theaters, and I think it might be McCarthy's most crowd-pleasing movie. That said, I think it's the only one of his movies where, at times, the contrivances get a little thick. As usual, though, the actors shine. Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan are wonderful as the central couple. My favorites, though, are young actor Alex Shaffer who manages to be hilarious without ever overplaying his high school athlete character, and Bobby Canavale (also great in The Station Agent), who is absolutely hilarious as a divorced man reliving his youth through coaching high school wrestling. It's also topped off with his signature amounts of heart and humor.

Grade: B

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