It’s time for our 4th Aging with Attitude Film Awards—Senior Planet’s take on the Oscars.
As in previous years, we’re nominating dramas and documentaries that embody “aging with attitude.” It turns out that as Hollywood comes under increasing criticism for being ageist—lack of inclusion, stereotypical or derogatory caricatures—we’ve had to look far and wide for films that present visions of aging with strength, style, resilience, resolve, humor and a readiness to change and try new things. Lucky for us all, independents and foreign studios have made up for Tinseltown’s slack in 2016.
Now it’s your turn. Please vote in the poll at the end of our lineup. You can stream several of the films (we’ve provided links) and watch one of them here in full.
Brazil. Directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho. With Sonia Braga, Maeve Jinking, Irandhir Santos. 2hr. 22 mins. Portuguese with English subtitles.
In the role of a lifetime, Sonia Braga (“Kiss of the Spider Woman”) is steely and fierce as Clara, a widow and retired music critic who will not be moved from her longtime apartment. “Aquarius” is director Kleber Mendonça Filho’s second 360-degree examination of class structures in middle-class Brazil and is proof that Statesiders aren’t the only people beset by rampant real-estate development. Clara is the holdout in her small apartment building, the one person blocking Aquarius, a mega-development, even as the powers that be try to drive her out with noise, vandalism and other tactics. Braga is also the picture of sexual liberation in the scene in which Clara hires a young gigolo to make a house call. Unfortunately, “Aquarius”‘s shot at a Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination was dashed when Brazil decided not to submit it for consideration. Word has it that the snub was retaliation for Braga, Mendonça and the cast’s public denunciation of the country’s new ultra-conservative, post-impeachment government last year at Cannes. —K. Leander Williams
Hello, My Name is Doris
US. Directed by Michael Showalter. With Sally Field, Max Greenfield, Tyne Daly. 1 hr. 35 mins
With Sally Field’s star turn as the eccentric Doris, a lonely clerk in her senior years who becomes unhinged after the mother she’s been caring for her entire life dies, this could have been a clichéd batty old lady indie movie. Instead it’s a multifaceted character study of a sometimes foolish, but touchingly valiant older woman who is struggling to change her life. A hoarder whose house is cluttered with junk, Doris is a fan of romance novels and dresses in garish outfits that could be considered clownish or cool, depending on your outlook. She falls madly in love with the handsome, young (very young) new art director in her office and interprets this sweet guy’s friendliness as a crush requited. Eventually—to the consternation of her friends—she gathers up the courage to stalk him at the club where his favorite rock band is performing, is a big hit with the band and winds up on the cover of their next album. Although her obsession with the young man goes awry when she posts a phony love note to his Facebook, she gains the courage to face up to her demons, accepts help clearing out her house and quits her hated job, where her ageist young co-workers treat her with contempt. “Hello, My Name is Doris“ takes on the taboo subject of love between an older woman and young man and, like the iconic “Harold and Maude,” makes it romantic instead of cringeworthy. —Erica Manfred
A Man Called Ove
Sweden. Directed by Hannes Holm. With Rolf Lassgård, Bahar Pars, Filip Berg. 1 hour 56 mins. Swedish with English subtitles.
In this quirky Swedish film, the quintessential condo commando Ove (Rolf Lassgård) is the neighbor you love to hate, the crotchety old guy with nothing else to do but enforce ridiculous rules. He’s not cute about it either; he’s downright mean, grabbing toys away from little kids and yelling at the neighbors for bothering him. When Ove is not enforcing rules, he’s telling his dead wife the latest neighborhood news at her grave—or he’s trying to kill himself. He keeps failing because his neighbors are constantly interrupting him by asking for help. In flashbacks, we see how Ove’s life was transformed by the love of the bubbly young woman and how, after many years of happiness together, her death destroys his will to live. Of course, we know he’s going to be transformed, and while his journey from curmudgeon to creampuff could have been sentimental and predictable, it winds up being funny, quirky and inspiring. As Ove, actor Rolf Lassgard embodies a complex, aging man whose integrity compels him to help the helpless despite his suicidal depression and whose repeated rescue missions wind up leading to his own rescue. When the scraggly cat who hangs out at his house, repeatedly refusing to leave despite Ove’s hatred for felines, defiantly worms his way into the man’s heart and bed, we know that Ove has learned to live again. Sometimes, aging with attitude takes a little help. —Erica Manfred
Germany. Directed by Maren Ade. With Peter Simonischek and Sandra Hüller. 2 hrs 42 mins. English and German with subtitles.
Retiring music teacher Winfried keeps a set of prosthetic, Jerry Lewis-style buckteeth at the ready in his breast pocket to brandish on a whim, and that’s just one of his pranks. His daughter Ines, on the other hand, is an ultra-buttoned up management consultant whom we first meet awkwardly weathering a quick trip home to Munich from Bucharest, Romania, where her days climbing the corporate ladder are leavened by antiseptic nightclubbing. The tug-of-war that drives Maren Ade’s hilariously dry dramedy becomes apparent during Winfried’s first exchange with Ines and continues when Winfried shows up in Bucharest unannounced weeks later while Ines is in the middle of a major deal. As she tolerates one of her father’s ruses—he dons a weird wig and poses as “Toni Erdmann,” fictitious life-coach to the CEO of her company—the bond between father and daughter takes unpredictable twists and turns, but it’s ultimately saved by each character’s hard-won acceptance of the other. —K. Leander Williams
Where to watch: In select theaters now. Pre-order for streaming at Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes.
US. Directed by Kahane Cooperman. With Joseph Feingold, Regina Feingold, Felice Mancini. 24 mins.
This short documentary tells the true story of Joe, a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor whose violin, long an important part of his life and the object of deep memories, now sits in its case unused. When he decides to donate it to an instrument drive for NYC kids, it ends up in the hands of a 12-year-old in the Bronx, and the two form an unlikely cross-generational connection built on their shared generosity and resilience.
Florence Foster Jenkins
UK. Directed by Stephen Frears. With Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg. 1 hr. 56 mins.
Meryl Streep plays the title role with great brio in this delightful British tour de force about Florence Foster Jenkins, a deluded but courageous older socialite in 1940s New York who was determined to perform as a colaratura soprano, despite her dramatically off-key voice. Jenkins, a benefactor of the opera, was in her early 70s when she first performed publicly—she favored elaborate headdresses and spangled dresses—and started making studio recordings of her hilarious singing. It’s still up for debate whether she knew how bad she was, because her devoted husband (Hugh Grant) was determined to protect her from the truth. She finally overreached by insisting on performing at Carnegie Hall, where her performance was skewered by The New York Post. Poor Florence died five days later of a heart attack. Does daring to follow your dream no matter how old you are make you bold or silly if there is zero chance you’ll fulfill it? Maureen Lipman, who played the role onstage in London, says Jenkins’ story is one of triumph over embarrassment. Quoted in the Guardian, she says, “If you have the will and the stamina and the self-belief, you will triumph, even if, like Florence, you’ve been dead for 60 years when you finally get your true recognition.” —Erica Manfred
Abacus: Small Enough To Jail
US. Directed by Steve James. With Thomas Sung, Jill Sung, Vera Sung and Chanterelle Sung. 1 hr 28 mins.
Thomas Sung is the founder of Abacus Federal Savings in NYC’s Chinatown, which has an odd distinction. Unlike the large banks that got bailed out after causing the 2008 financial crisis, Sung’s relatively small bank, long the economic backbone of the local Chinese community, is to date the only financial institution to be prosecuted by the Justice Department. Director Steve James’s illuminating documentary follows the case and does much more. It’s a portrait of a man, his family (his daughters run the bank day-to-day) and the unfortunate biases that plague the immigrant community they serve. Sung saw the prosecution as an indictment of the Chinese way of life in America as much as a personal attack, which spurred the reserved banker to a vigorous defense. It wasn’t merely his legacy at stake; it was his people. –K. Leander Williams
Where to watch: “Abacus” is on the festival circuit and is being screened locally around the country. Click here for screenings.