"Is this annoying? Are you sure you're not sick of talking about movies?" I had just met someone who worked for a production company, someone who had seen everything from the indiest indie to the biggest blockbuster, and I suddenly realized that I was maybe bombarding him with movie questions. Perhaps he didn't want to spend an hour talking about the same thing he talked about all day. He assured me that it was fine and that he actually didn't get sick of these conversations. And so I proceeded. "What did you think of 'My Week With Marilyn'? Do I really have to see 'The Tree of Life'? What are your favorite movies of the year?" We began going over our lists, and I told him how much I adored 'Beginners' and 'Midnight in Paris.' I'd have to think about the rest, I said. Then I remembered something: "You know what else I loved? 'Win Win.' Actually, that must have been last year ..." He informed me it was not. In fact, 'Win Win' -- the charming Tom McCarthy movie starring Paul Giamatti -- came out in the spring of 2011. It just hasn't been getting any attention.
Over the past few weeks, as I've scanned critics' year-end lists and followed the nominations and awards of the earlier ceremonies, 'Win Win' has gotten so little buzz that I didn't even realize it was in contention. How does this happen? How does a movie with a 94 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes get so egregiously overlooked? How does a movie called "near perfect,""just about perfect" and "everything the movie business should aspire to" simply drop out of the conversation? 'Win Win' is probably in my top three movies of the year, and it has barely made the cut for many top-ten lists.
'Win Win' follows Mike Flaherty (Giamatti), a lawyer struggling to support his wife (Amy Ryan) and kids and a wrestling coach struggling to do something with his god-awful team. The man needs a bit of luck, and he finds it in the form of a Kyle (Alex Shaffer), a troubled teen who moves into his house and turns out to be quite the athlete. The comparisons to 'The Blind Side' were inevitable, but 'Win Win' holds its own and is, in my opinion, even better. Bobby Cannavale is hilarious as Terry, Mike's best friend who admires Kyle's "man strength" and uses the wrestling team's potential success as a distraction from his failed marriage. Shaffer, an actual teen wrestler McCarthy plucked from high school, gives a subtle performance that would be impressive for even an experienced actor. And Ryan and Giamatti are, well, Ryan and Giamatti.
My parents tend to e-mail or text my sister and me when they're going to a movie so we don't call because my mom will worry and answer the phone anyway. When they did this for 'Win Win,' my response was this: "YES!!!! I approve." My sister went for more of-the-moment language: "WINNING." The characters in 'Win Win' have quirks -- Alex wants a slap in the face before each match -- but they're not so out there that they cease to feel real. In fact, that's the most endearing part of the movie. McCarthy has presented us with an ordinary family in New Jersey, the kind that will never be famous but is no less interesting as a result, and despite their imperfections, you root for them.
This week, The National made the rather long short list for the Original Song Oscar for their 'Win Win' contribution, "Think You Can Wait," and that's a start. But this movie, which was so well-received upon release, really deserves more recognition than that -- and, in a year where even the Oscar cognoscenti can't seem to agree on the nominees, it should get some. For your consideration, Academy.
[Photo: Fox Searchlight]
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