July 27, 2006 -- I'd heard the good buzz, but I wasn't expecting "Little Miss Sunshine" to be this good. Orson Welles would have to come back to life for this not to make my year-end Top 10 list.
Greg Kinnear is an obsessed motivational speaker, and we follow his family of losers on a cross-country trip in their VW bus. Even the bus is a loser. The clutch goes out and they have to get out and push to get it started. Every time.
Abigail Breslin plays the awkward 7-year-old who's on her way to a beauty pageant, and Alan Arkin is her grandfather. Either could be Oscar nominated. And you might not recognize Kinnear's suicidal brother-in-law through his thick beard, but that's Steve Carell -- the guy who gets waxed in "The 40 Year Old Virgin" -- and he gives a breakthrough performance. He's a real actor.
You'll be glad you brought a hanky, but "Little Miss Sunshine" has some of the biggest and best laughs of the summer. It's a serious comedy, and that sounds like an oxymoron, but that's the toughest and best kind. And despite the title, it's not for kids.
Prediction: It's a truly original screenplay, and will earn an Oscar nomination. The film is that good. And it's funny. Grade: A.
'Miami Vice': Retro Name, Digitized Future
"Miami Vice" has nothing to do with the TV show, except for the names "Crockett" and "Tubbs," the cops that turned Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas into style icons of the 1980s. In this film, the guys wear socks, and there's not a pastel sport coat in sight.
"Miami Vice" might also turn out to be the most important movie of the summer -- and it could change the way movies are made -- because it was shot entirely on high-definition video. And while it's not the first, it's the one that proves the technology has come of age.
This is a move toward digital moviemaking, and you can not only see the differences, sometimes you can feel it. Film buffs and filmmakers may not be pleased, because the look is often too real.
But the real reason this may be the future of movies -- money. For distribution alone, a studio spends $5,000 to $6,000 in 35-millimeter film for each copy it sends to a theater, and when you open in 3,000 theaters, that's a $15-million-to-$20 million expense.
When you produce a movie digitally, you can send it out by e-mail, and that's free.
Through it all, "Miami Vice" is still fun. Michael Mann did well in casting three of the most arresting stars in Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx and Asian superstar Gong Li. The story is completely incomprehensible -- and less than half the action takes place in Miami -- but the actors and the technology kept me going.
So, I've seen the future, and it's not so bad. Grade: B.