I didn’t know what to expect when I went to "Whale Rider." It’s a wonderfully intimate movie about a first-born girl of a Maori family in New Zealand. If she had been born a boy, she would have been made chief. Instead, she’s shunned. It’s striking that the family makes a big deal of tribal rules – there are almost no signs that they are in a tribe at all – they are a completely modern, albeit poor, family.
Just when you think the movie is going to drift into the usual sentimentality with the family finally accepting the girl, it takes a sharp turn in an unusual and beautiful way.
[2009: I love this movie, although I don't rewatch it very often. Maybe that helps to keep it special. Every time I watch it, I'm riveted for the entire movie and tear up at two points in the last ten minutes. Very well done.]