There's no broncs nor blood nor steers nor mud, but we still call this thing an Oscar Rodeo. Next we have the indie sensation, Little Miss Sunshine, a movie that simultaneously evokes As I Lay Dying, The Grapes of Wrath, and Don't Sweat the Small Stuff.
Nominations: Four. Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Alan Arkin), Best Supporting Actress (Abigail Breslin).
Plot Summary: Greg Kinnear is a struggling motivational speaker. His homosexual brother-in-law, Steve Carrell, comes to stay with the family after attempting suicide. His son has taken a vow of silence, his father was botted from his retirement community for snorting heroin, his daughter Olive is obsessed with beauty pageants, and his wife is pretty normal, aside from her secret smoking. When Olive qualifies for the Little Miss Sunshine pageant in California, the family decides to hit the road.
Title of the porn version: Barely Legal Miss Sunshine
Strengths: Excellent ensemble cast. The yellow van is possibly the funniest cinematic vehicle of all time, thanks to the relay-style pushing the van into gear, and the unstoppable horn. There's a satisfying ending, the characters ring true, and it's funny throughout.
Weaknesses: Kinnear seems awkward and somewhat false at the beginning of the film. Steve Carrell is maybe a little too quick to bounce back from his suicide attempt.
Drug use: Grandpa does a lot of heroin.
Physical or mental impairments: Just color-blindness.
Portrayals of real people: Nope.
Cute children: Not only is there an adorable child, but they counter it with pageant contestants so artificially cute that they are completely horrifying, thus making the primary cute kid even cuter by contrast.
Physical transformations: Steve Carrell grows a beard. Abigail Breslin wears a fat suit. (Really!)
Does a man cry?: I don't remember for sure, but I think both Kinnear and son shed tears.
Box office: $60 million against a budget of $8 million
Running time: 101 minutes.
Feels like: 105 minutes.
Eerie similarity to the author's own family: I saw this movie with my sister Molly, and we both saw parallels to our own lives. The Keane family drove a highly-unreliable VW van throughout my childhood. We never had to push it, but the sliding door was broken for years, and we had to climb in through the shotgun seat. Also, my parents decided on a sun roof instead of an air conditioner. That meant our summer choices were to swelter in the back or endure the mini-tornados caused by opening the roof. Until the handle for the sunroof broke off, that is.
Greg Kinnear dresses like my father. The son constantly writes in a pocket-sized notebook, just like I do. I also wore a Nietzsche t-shirt in high school, and dressed as if I was color-blind. At various times in their lives, each of my sisters has dressed a lot like Olive. Megan had the same glasses. Also, both of my grandfathers were kicked out of their retirement homes for snorting heroin and later went on to choreograph dance routines for ten-year-old beauty pageanteers.
Favorite scene: When the family accidentally abandons Olive at a gas station, then has to go back and pick her up, without stopping the van, my sister and I were laughing so hard we could barely breathe.
Least-favorite scene: I think this is the fifth or sixth movie I've seen where someone gets pulled over by a state trooper, and the big twist is, that state trooper is a huge pervert! That being said, the constantly-blaring car horn is the real star of that scene.
Overall theme: Sure, there is a lovely message about the importance of family, the awfulness of beauty pageants, and the value of a nine-step personal improvement plan, but it all comes down to this one crucial message: Fuck a lot of women. Not just one. A lot of women.
Irony: A movie about the horrors of making little girls compete in superficial talent competitions has led to a little girl's nomination for Best Supporting Actress, and subsequent participation in a superficial talent competition. It will all be worth it if Breslin wins, and the orchestra plays "Super Freak" as she goes up to accept the award.
Prediction: Best Original Screenplay is often the consolation prize for the best indie movie of the year, that doesn't win Best Picture. As such, I think Sunshine will take this one for its only win. I think it's probably the #2 candidate for Best Picture, but it's a bad sign when the director doesn't get nominated. Alan Arkin has about a 30% shot at stealing the Oscar away from Eddie Murphy. Ultimately, I think the film will take home only one Oscar.
Deserves: Best Picture, Original Screenplay.