Liar Liar (1997)

“My dad? He’s… a liar.” “A liar? I’m sure you don’t mean a liar.” “Well, he wears a suit and goes to court and talks to the judge.” “Oh, you mean he’s a lawyer.” In this case, same difference: “Great news! Both my legs are broken so they can’t take me right to jail.”

Max Reede misses his dad, Fletcher even though his mother threw him out for being a self-centered, philandering liar. Max makes a birthday wish that– just for one day– his dad wouldn’t be able to tell a lie. So imagine Fletcher’s surprise when he wakes up one day blurting out even the most uncomfortable truth. “My teacher tells me beauty is on the inside.” “That’s just something ugly people say.” Of course, everything works itself out in the end but not before wreaking havoc on Fletcher’s life, both in and out of court. “Mr. Reede, one more word out of you, and I will hold you in contempt!” “I hold MYSELF in contempt! Why should you be any different?”

Kapoor and Sons (2006)

This slice of life in modern India pits family against each other as mores clash, which reminds me (in some ways) of Crazy Stupid Love: when its collision of subplots is funny, it’s absolutely hilarious; when it’s dramatic, it’s downright heart- wrenching. Regardless of where you grew up, life is complicated and people can be hard to love but learning to listen and communicate– despite obstacles– makes all the difference.

Crazy Stupid Love (2011)

It takes a delicate hand to capture modern relationships in all their complexities. That’s not to say there’s no place for humor; the skillful balance of drama–both poignant and entertaining– and humor–both silly and dark– keep this movie from being schmaltzy or condescending. Rather than resorting to flippant stereotypes, the characters are people we know (and perhaps are) and their realistic situation turns familiar tropes on their head. As they reveal what we’re afraid to admit, a little bit of honesty goes a long way and we’re all the better for it.

Storm Boy (2019)

This realistic story is a blend of healing and compromise. The infusion of a conservation theme is quite different than typical films about animals, which tend to be preachy guilt trips. In this case, a fable bonds grandfather and granddaughter, who have more in common than she realizes, and serves as a bridge between past and present, which is a change of pace from the all-too-common use of random flashbacks to interject backstory. Furthermore, great pains were taken to respect indigenous culture, tradition and, appropriately, wildlife.

Melancholia (2011)

Lush visuals mirror colliding juxtapositions as the classical score provides a romantic– nearly spiritual– quality to a poetic tragedy that unfolds without frantic energy, hence the title, which is also the name of a planet headed toward Earth. The tension lies in a clash of social expectations and emotional reactions rather than in scurrying to save the planet. Its placid unfolding allows the audience to welcome the astronomical event alongside the characters, who– whether anxious, optimistic, or in denial– have no choice but to accept the inevitable.

Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story (2005)

Yes, an unlikely competitor defies the odds by overcoming a significant injury. However, when it comes to Sonador, his main backer is a child. Though Cale Crane grew up around horses, racing is actually in her blood; the ranch on which she grew up may be empty but it hasn’t seen its last horse, yet. Training a potential champion becomes a family affair, which garners more than luck and money.

Dark River (2017)

Respectfully and effectively capturing the process of healing from childhood trauma is no simple endeavor. This depiction of a sexual abuse survivor is equal parts bitter and sweet and The Moors provide the perfect backdrop for a brooding woman to return to the scene of many painful memories. Her brother is reluctant to surrender control of their late father’s farm, especially to someone he never understood. But their differing approaches– modern clashing with traditional– leaves precious little breathing room; eventually, unexpressed questions and insightful explanations bubble to the surface.

Ricky and the Flash (2015)

When a plot is a character study rather than a tale with a definitive moral, trivia will overshadow all other aspects. In this case, the fun facts (e.g. Meryl Streep learned to play the guitar and does her own singing alongside career musician, Rick Springfield and her real- life daughter plays the part onscreen) enhance the realism that keeps it from being overly simplistic. Any humor lies in relatable and/or ironic elements, which can only be disappointing when compared to a formulaic Dramedy, in which everyone learns their lesson far too easily.

The Imposter (2012)

How does a foreign man suddenly end up a U.S. citizen, welcomed into the family of a long- missing child? While it’s impossible to fully understand the grief of those keeping vigil by the window, waiting for a phone call that may never come, it is curious that every expert agrees there are many loose ends. Is it merely that hindsight is 20/20 (as the old saying goes) or is there a more sinister explanation? Though the testimony of an identity thief certainly isn’t everything, it seems to corroborate the suspicion of at least one specialist…

Masterfully crafted, the details of this publicly documented incident are recounted chronologically by a rotation of several family members, some government employees, a smattering of friends/ neighbors and one relentless private investigator. During the lengthier portions of each person’s story, voiceover serves as narration for actors’ portrayals of the events being described. By the end of the film you have about as much information as everyone involved to decide for yourself what you think happened.

Nebraska (2013)

Family is complicated, as is small town interpersonal politics. The addition of fame and a potential fortune amplifies tensions that crescendo towards a battle for personal pride. When a hapless salesman realizes his boozy old father plans to travel cross- country to claim a non-existent prize based on a misunderstanding, it’s becomes clear he’s just […]