Note: I promise that this is the last tie on the list. Really.
Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale (#9 - tie) is one of those films that I missed out on during the Toronto Film Festival. I had come across the write-up in the program booklet, but immediately dismissed it as one of those family breakdown-dysfunction movies we've been bombarded with of late (you know, along the lines of Imaginary Heroes and the lot). It seemed incredibly unappealing on paper, and Laura Linney or not, it seemed like it would die a quiet death during the event. It was not long before I learned of my mistake - after its premiere, crowds were buzzing about the film, Baumbach's phenomenal screenplay and its incredible cast. It was rare that I did not hear about Squid in lineups for other films thereafter, and I could have kicked myself for having initially skipped it (especially in favour of duds like Bee Season and North Country). Thankfully, I did not have to wait long for the distributors to release the film in theatres, and - much to my surprise - the hype was justified.
The key strength of this screenplay is its ability to make us consider the viewpoints of all the major characters; although fans have argued reasonably about who the true lead of the film is (Jesse Eisenberg's Walt or Jeff Daniels's Bernard), it seems like a moot point to me. Baumbach is able to make his audience get inside each of the figures (perhaps with the exception of Laura Linney's Joan, who is sadly underwritten), and how the divorce impacts them (whether they are aware of it or not). It is a film about transformation, forgiveness and (lost) youth, and yet manages to avoid a single cliché or a contrived moment. There are some flaws, such as the inclusion of a few distracting characters/subplots (like Anna Paquin's; the actress has played this role before), but they are not too damaging. In my time celebrating this feature, I have not shied away from stating that the film is in many ways a reflection of my own childhood. Owen Kline, in the film's best performance (and that is quite the feat, considering Daniels is in career-best mode), is stunning as the youngest child who suffers the most. I behaved pretty much the same way when my parents got divorced (minus the oddball masturbation habits and the alcohol addiction - I had other abuses). The Squid and the Whale ranks among one of the best films made about family, about sons and fathers, about sons and mothers. It is probably the best film I've seen so far about the devastating effects of divorce on children.
Link to original capsule Review