Even without kids to worry about, the couples in antiromantic comedy The Break-Up, current upscale drama The Painted Veil, and French marital fry-up Gabrielle can hardly get away from each other fast enough.
What little sentimentality there was to be found in these areas came in suspect packages. Aaron Eckhart's divorced tobacco industry public relations whiz in Thank You for Smoking may be a slimebag and a tool (and know it), but hey, he still wants his kid to look up to him. It's the one plot point this movie doesn't treat with total sarcasm which only makes the ersatz heartwarmingness queasier. Fairly straight-up family values could be found in movies as diverse as World Trade Center, Apocalypto, The Fountain, and Rocky Balboa but the one thing uniting those titles is that in important ways they're all psychologically bogus.
Things look a lot better in the realm of alternative family setups, which this year encompassed such genuinely adventuresome movies as Quinceañera and Shortbus. In less politically correct realms, substitute dads were where you found them in the mob boss (The Departed), crackhead teacher (Half Nelson), or suicidal gay uncle (Little Miss Sunshine) but despite their flaws, they were still better than the real, biological item. On the other hand, sometimes the replacement parent is bad enough to make a child's mind disappear into CGI fantasyland (see Pan's Labyrinth). As far as the '60s and '70s went, institutionalized alternative families don't look so hot in retrospect: check out the documentaries Commune and Finding Sean. Not to mention the one about a little place called Jonestown.
Children are the future, natch, and no movie made that future look scarier than Jesus Camp whose little Christian soldiers are being homeschooled into a rigidity of science denial, social intolerance, and street-hassling recruitment. It was also the film, fictive or documentary, that saw narrow-gauge family values in their most aggressive practice. When and if these kids start questioning their parents' judgment, we may see nuclear family meltdowns of hitherto unknown toxicity. Or worse, if they don't: god help the rest of us when these know-nothings with a programmed agenda reach voting age. *
DENNIS HARVEY'S TOP 10 THEATRICAL RELEASES
(1) Quinceañera (Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, US)
(2) Shortbus (John Cameron Mitchell, US)
(3) Little Children (Todd Field, US)
(4) Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Larry Charles, US)
(5) The Queen (Stephen Frears, UK/France/Italy)
(6) Ondskan (Evil) (Mikael Hafström, Sweden)
(7) El Cielo Dividido (Broken Sky) (Julián Hernández, Mexico)
(8) United 93 (Paul Greengrass, US/UK/France)
(9) The Puffy Chair (Jay Duplass, US)
(10) Evil Aliens (Jake West, UK)