August 16, 2022

Aside from one movie, which this text will get to quickly sufficient, the filmography of Tom McCarthy is likely to be one of the vital constant of this century. From Highlight to Stillwater, virtually each film he’s made is value seeing, and most of them are value seeing greater than as soon as: not as a result of they’re essentially dense or layered, however as a result of it’s value delving into the craft of his writing. His dialogue is never flashy. He doesn’t hand out juicy monologues left and proper like Aaron Sorkin. He does, although, possess an uncanny ear for the rhythm and cadence of pure dialogue. His characters all the time sound like actual individuals, having actual conversations; they all the time have attention-grabbing issues to say, however the phrases by no means name consideration to themselves. That form of self-discipline is an enviable high quality for a screenwriter, particularly one who additionally directs, and it’s a part of what makes McCarthy such an ideal filmmaker. From his one misfire to his biggest achievement, right here’s each Tom McCarthy movie, ranked.


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7. The Cobbler (2014)

What makes The Cobbler such a baffling misfire is that it didn’t have to be rubbish. It might have been a superbly pretty piece of magical realism, a Jewish fairy story set in a New York neighborhood that also has a little bit of Outdated World folklore within the air. Even the presence of Adam Sandler isn’t essentially deadly, as he’s confirmed himself to be a superb dramatic actor in films like Uncut Gems and The Meyerowitz Tales. However Tom McCarthy’s story of a cobbler who can remodel himself by carrying different individuals’s footwear makes the worst potential choice at each flip. Broad, hacky comedy? Syrupy sentimentality? Pernicious racial stereotypes? A scene the place Sandler’s Max Simkin transforms into his estranged dad to go on a date along with his dying mom? All that, and a 3rd act twist that’s solely the second most infuriating factor about this film — apart from the truth that the nice Tom McCarthy was chargeable for it.

6. Stillwater (2021)


Fortunately, there’s an unlimited leap in high quality between McCarthy’s worst and second-worst films. Stillwater is on no account a nasty movie: it’s the form of character research McCarthy does so properly, however with a extra uneasy, ambiguous tone than normal. Loosely based mostly on the Amanda Knox case, Stillwater facilities on an oil rig employee from Oklahoma (Matt Damon in blue-collar drag) who travels to France to free his daughter (Abigail Breslin), who he believes was falsely imprisoned for homicide whereas finding out overseas. McCarthy flirts with Trump-era subtext by placing Damon’s red-state dad in another country, stubbornly refusing to study the language; fortunately, he doesn’t belabor the purpose, as an alternative specializing in the dynamics between Damon’s Invoice, Breslin’s Allison, and a translator named Virginie (Camille Cottin). If there’s one main grievance, it’s that Stillwater doesn’t do justice to the real-life case it’s based mostly on: whereas it’s principally freed from ripped-from-the-headlines sensationalism, the implication that Allison may not be completely harmless does a disservice to the fully acquitted Knox.

5. Win Win (2011)


McCarthy made his profession out of understated character research, however even by his requirements Win Win is low-key. It’s set in Rhode Island, maybe the least picturesque state in New England; its solid is populated by dependable, non-flashy actors like Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, and Bobby Cannavale; the game at its core just isn’t soccer or baseball, however the unglamorous, singlet-clad world of highschool wrestling. Win Win lacks the whimsy or the excessive stakes of McCarthy’s earlier two movies, and whereas it’s hardly ever boring it does generally really feel as if it’s cooking at a naked simmer. All the identical, this story a few lawyer/wrestling coach and the troubled grandson of a person he’s exploiting for a paycheck is considerate, humorous, and deeply human; it understands its characters’ imperfections however by no means judges them too harshly. An trade between Mike (Giamatti) and younger Kyle (Alex Shaffer) illustrates Win Win’s forgiving, humanist coronary heart: you shouldn’t smoke, however in the event you do, do it outdoors.

4. Timmy Failure: Errors Have been Made (2020)

Picture by way of Disney+

The primary movie McCarthy directed after the Oscar-winning triumph at #1 on this checklist was… a youngsters’ film? A youngsters’ film a few Segway-riding beginner detective and his imaginary polar bear pal? It’s not as a lot of a departure as one would possibly suppose. McCarthy had already dabbled in child-friendly media – he helped formulate the story for Up, and co-wrote 2016’s Christopher Robin and the supply materials for Timmy Failure: Errors Have been Made performs to McCarthy’s strengths. An imaginative, abrasive younger boy who mistrusts authority and does battle with invading Russians, Timmy is a pint-sized model of previous McCarthy curmudgeons. Performed by Winslow Fegley, he behaves in an uncommon, often off-putting approach as a result of he’s full of a lot emotion and uncertainty that he has to direct it someplace. Errors Have been Made is humorous, unusual, and insightful. Refreshingly, it doesn’t finish with the standard coming-of-age goodbye to infantile issues. As an alternative, Timmy’s off on one other journey, his trusty polar bear by his aspect.

3. The Customer (2007)

the visitor
Picture by way of Overture Movies

The Customer might have been a white savior narrative, a magical minority narrative, or a mealy-mouthed message film. As an alternative, it’s a quiet, grounded, deeply unhappy image of New York within the wake of 9/11. It achieves this by merely treating each character as a human being, and never as a logo. Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins, a treasure) isn’t supposed to face for all white individuals, and even all rich white New Yorkers: he’s simply Walter Vale, a lonely, brittle widower who finds an immigrant couple dwelling in his unused Manhattan condominium. A friendship develops between Walter and Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), not as a result of the plot calls for it however as a result of it makes good sense for these two individuals to hunt friendship with one another. The plot progresses from there, however it by no means seems like a tidy film narrative: characters drop out with out closure, and one thing horrible occurs with out warning. The Customer touches on political themes, however it doesn’t puff its chest with its personal capital-I Significance. It simply tells an ideal story.

2. The Station Agent (2003)

The Station Agent

By way of sea-change films whose journey started on the Sundance Movie Pageant – Clerks, Little Miss Sunshine, Get Out The Station Agent is never talked about. Whereas it was solely a modest field workplace hit, its mix of mild quirk and emotional earnestness helped codify what is called a “Sundance film”. Even when it didn’t straight encourage films like Backyard State or, certainly, Little Miss Sunshine, it did straight encourage one other film: Up, which was modeled after The Station Agent even earlier than Pixar introduced McCarthy on board.

The narrative is a well-known one, not less than in broad strokes. Fin (Peter Dinklage), a withdrawn man with dwarfism who has an abiding ardour for trains, inherits an out-of-use practice station in suburban New Jersey and makes his house there. It ought to come as no shock {that a} small group of mates helps him decrease his defenses and let love into his coronary heart, however The Station Agent by no means feels sappy or manipulative. A part of it’s McCarthy’s dialogue, which is simple, pure, and by no means calls consideration to itself. One other a part of it’s the solid, all of whom put in nice work: Dinklage, Bobby Cannavale, Michelle Williams, and particularly Patricia Clarkson, who’s beautiful as an artist battling melancholy.

1. Highlight (2015)

Picture by way of Open Highway Movies

In some methods, Highlight was one thing of a departure for Tom McCarthy. After a profession consisting of small-scale, understated dramas, right here was a film about nothing lower than the publicity of widespread sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church. It was additionally his first film based mostly on true occasions, in addition to his first film the place he wrote the screenplay with another person (on this case, Josh Singer.) A film about investigative journalists uncovering systemic abuse appears like prime Oscar bait, however the stakes had been nonetheless excessive for McCarthy: coming off The Cobbler’s catastrophic failure, he wanted every part to go proper.

That’s precisely what occurred. Highlight not solely received McCarthy an Oscar, it was additionally his largest success on the field workplace. All that thought-about, it’s his finest film throughout. It’s clear that there’s one other prepare dinner within the kitchen as, as an illustration, there are extra huge, showy monologues, however every part nice about McCarthy’s type is right here. There’s his dialogue, which is as lifelike and sharply noticed as all the time. There’s his skill to collect a incredible solid, bringing on Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, and Mark Ruffalo. There’s his underrated skill to evoke a way of place, with the fluorescent-lit workplaces of the Boston Globe including to the tense, airless environment. And as all the time, there’s his humanist worldview: as an alternative of lionizing them, he portrays the flawed, exhausted members of the Highlight group as nothing extra and nothing lower than people always. Isn’t that sufficient?


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