I've watched a couple of less well-known movies in the last couple of days. One is an Australian comedy called Gettin' Square, which I'd never heard of, although it's got an excellent cast - it came out around 2003. The other is a made-for-TV movie called Temple Grandin, and has a wonderful performance by Clare Danes.
Gettin' Square is a bit of an assault on the ears, since the F-word gets a thorough outing, but apart from that it has a delightfully daft performance from David Wenham, a chance for Timothy Spall to make the most of the Australian sunshine, Sam Worthington in pre-Avatar days, and a host of other well-known Aussie faces. The story, at the end, is a sting for both the audience and the bad guys (and a few of the good ones as well), but it also shows the difficulties ex-prisoners have in settling back into society without either being forced into doing more crooked stuff, or living on the dole, or being hassled by people who don't want them to 'get square.' Wenham plays a heroin addict who's been released and just can't make it without getting himself into further disasters; Worthington is the hero, of course, (named Wirth) and does his best to keep Wenham on the straight and narrow - although Wenham can help himself if he wants to by playing the fool, as a hilarious courtroom scene shows. (There are a couple of actors in tiny roles just before Wenham's court scenes; one is played by a guy with a face that looks as though it's going to fall apart at any minute, and the other mostly involves the actor eating the paper evidence before the manhandlers can get at him). Spall plays a man who has a criminal past but is trying to go straight - in general. He still has a bit of cash stowed away that he shouldn't have. Spall's character is doing Weight Watchers too, and has some novel ways to approach the difficulties of taking weight off, not all of which WW might approve.
The other film could have been a typical biopic, if it wasn't for the outstanding performance by Danes, who manages to be hectic, funny, scary, intense and a host of other things by turns - and sometimes all of them at once. (She also does a pretty good job of ageing from a secondary-schooler to a full adult.) Grandin is fairly well-known as a person with autism who was saved from institutionalism by her mother and kept from retreating from society by her mother, aunt and various encouragers along the way. She discovered that she could identify with animals, in particular cattle, and has changed the way cattle going to market are handled in a huge number of ranches around the US. She's also redesigned slaughter houses. She's not an animal rights person - she understands the need for beef - but her intent was to make the last stages of the cattle's lives less stressful by allowing them to do what comes naturally to them. It also helped that she saved a lot of ranches a good deal of money in the process.
The film avoids a lot of clichés of the typical biopic as well, and while it sometimes seems things fall neatly into place for Grandin, there are also some very low patches, and a lot of people who just don't get her illness - or don't want to. I think Danes probably shows how an actor can act the role of someone with a disability without making it all ticks and quirks (Sigourney Weaver does the ticks and quirks approach in Snow Cage). She deservedly got awards for this performance.