To be blunt, I really liked this movie. For what it aimed to accomplish, The Savages was close to flawless in its execution. Everything from the writing, the acting, the tone, the camera work, hit the right note, which is somewhat ironic as the music choices were at times bizarre, and thus the only minor criticism I’d make. As two siblings forced to deal with their father’s rapid downward spiral towards death, Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman are so genuine in their conflicted emotions and seem so true to real life.

The script, which is where the film is most likely to be recognized, reminded me much of The Squid and the Whale, because of its raw honesty in how it dealt with all the main characters. While both Linney and Hoffman had their problems (she being emotionally immature and needy, he’s a tad on the selfish side), they both clearly love each other and, to some minor extent, their father. In the scenes where the two fight each other over how to care for their Dad, there is some method to their madness, and the authenticity is a debate that I’ve never been a part of, but rang true nonetheless. That’s actually a lot of what I thought was missing from Juno, which I’ll get to in my review of that, but the advanced quirkiness of everyone, from Ellen Page to J.K. Simmons to Jason Bateman, was distracting and diminshed my enjoyment of an otherwise great film.

The screenplay will have some stiff competition, what with Michael Clayton, Devil Knows Your Dead, and Juno (natch) as near-definites (in my view), but thats a strong pedigree for a year when most critics have flocked toward the Adapted movies for their end-of-year love.

Maybe it’s the Gen X crankiness, but I find it amazing how many of this year’s movies could be subtitled “Screwed Up Adults and The Parents They Blame For Their Problems.” From Devil Knows Your Dead to Into the Wild to Savages to Margot at the Wedding, screenwriters are really pissed off at their parents. And even then, it’s usually misplaced and shallow anger at that. You never really saw any evidence of parental neglect, and in Into the Wild, it’s inserted after you’ve seen them in a much more positive light. In the end, that may be intentional as a way to mock their own peers, but it’s an intriguing meme nonetheless.

Even though it’s unlikely to happen, I’d like to see director Tamara Jenkins get some recognition as well. She contrasted Sun City, Arizona beautifully with Buffalo, to perhaps underline how disoriented Philip Bosco (playing the father) must have felt in his detoriated state. I don’t know how Jenkins did it, but there was a recognizable sense of urgency throughout the first half of the movie. Linney and Hoffman had no real desire to come to their father’s help at that point, and from shuttling him through the hospitals to the nursing homes…all the camerawork seemed sped up, and it worked to great effect.

Again, this is likely for naught, but I thought Hoffman was great in this role, better than Devil Knows Your Dead. It was fun seeing him in a “good guy” role for a change, and it suited him well, especially paired with Linney, who was equally strong as her usual neurotic/in-denial self. I’d love to see Philip Bosco nominated, but I think Julie Christie will take the coveted “dying senior citizen” nomination.

Lastly, the score by Stephen Trask was haunting and memorable…but there were times when he tried to hit home the infantilization of the elderly…and the carnival-like music was simply jarring. Nice work all around though…a very affecting and impressive movie.