Lasse Hallstrom’s sweet, unassuming My Life as a Dog puts the audience in a time and place that is so warm and inviting, you don’t want to leave it. That is probably the greatest accomplishment of Hallstrom’s ode to childhood innocence. Hallstrom’s breakthrough Swedish movie, which resulted in two Oscar nominations for the filmmaker (Best Director, Best Original Screenplay), perfectly encapsulates the fears, heartaches, tragedies, and triumphs of childhood. Backed up by some amazing child performances and a cast that feels as real as the small town in any country in the world, the film has a winning charm that’s hard to ignore.
Producer Darryl F. Zanuck and filmmaker John Ford’s adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath, is, surprisingly, a deeply political film and timeless in all its own ways. Ostensibly about the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, and one family’s journey to California looking for work and, in a sense, hope for their future, the film also tackles heady ideas about community and the government’s role in taking care of the downtrodden when there’s no one else there. Accused of Communism and the like in its day, the film’s themes revolving around people who society just doesn’t have room for anymore are just as vital and important today as they were when John Ford originally set out to film Steinbeck’s novel.
Henry Fonda top-lines a stellar cast as Tom Joad, a man just released from prison returning home to his family’s farm in Oklahoma, only to find it abandoned and his family ready to move on for work and the promise of a better future in California. Loaded up in a rusty old jalopy, Tom, his parents, grandparents, uncle, brothers, and sisters and the like head west, facing tragedy and hard ship all along the way. The family is met with kindness in spots but, ultimately, once they’ve reached California, find only deep corruption and mistreatment, as if they were animals rather than people by the local police and citizenry.