KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–Though a critic’s best-of and worst-of lists are subjective, there is a somewhat noble reason for their construction. Sure, we movie reporters seek payback for time suffered over the past year, but today, let’s concentrate on some films that uplifted the spirit, some that gave us pause concerning social and political woes, and a few that were just plain fun. You’ll notice some below are artistically sound, yet subject viewers to immoral behavior. There’s a point to their position on this list. (See the subsequent links for full reviews.)
— “Waiting For Superman” (PG for thematic material, mild language, incidental smoking). Occasionally a movie comes along that clearly defines a threat to our culture — this is one. Waiting for Superman should be seen by all, for this well-produced documentary concerning the crumbling education system in America is the most important film of the year, and may help galvanize our nation’s citizenry. (Full review at http://www.previewonline.org/rev.php3?3603).
— “Inside Job” (PG-13 for some drug and sex-related material). I’m not sure this film, which deals with the economic crisis of 2008, offers any solutions, but a country’s citizenry needs to be aware of who has the power to govern our fate, be it financial, political or social. Inside Job will raise awareness. (http://www.previewonline.org/rev.php3?3619)
— “Lord Save Us From Your Followers” (PG-13 for thematic elements and some language) is a documentary by Dan Merchant, a Christian filmmaker who examines the question, “Why is the Gospel of love dividing America?” The film’s message: live the life and answer your opponent’s questions with an empathy that overrides the desire to win a debate. It’s one I’ll view several times in order to be reminded of that message. (http://www.previewonline.org/rev.php3?3535)
— “I Want Your Money” (PG for thematic elements, brief language and smoking) critically examines the Obama administration and its expansionistic policies. Funny, quirky, satirical — this wasn’t made by mainstream Hollywood. Big surprise. (http://www.previewonline.org/rev.php3?3612)
— Honorable mention: “Waking Sleeping Beauty” (PG, http://www.previewonline.org/rev.php3?3567). “Oceans” (G, http://www.previewonline.org/rev.php3?3552)
— Tangled (PG for brief mild violence). Disney’s retooling of the Rapunzel fairytale is classic. Where the studio’s 2009 Animated Oscar winner, “UP,” brilliantly touched the heartstrings as well as the funny bone, Tangled brings back the charm, excitement and coziness of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. (http://www.previewonline.org/rev.php3?3623)
— Despicable Me (PG for rude humor and mild action). The no-good-nic super-genius Mr. Gru is a mix of “The Addams Family’s” Uncle Fester and Mike Myers’ Dr. Evil. The comic story, the witty dialogue, and the pitch-perfect voice characterizations hold the attention of not just little ones, but their accompanying older companions as well. And finally, after several disappointing uses of 3D in “The Prince of Persia” and “The Last Airbender,” here the 3D craftsmen got it right, causing audience members to grab at approaching objects or press back into the seats with an audible “ooh” to express their sense of wonder. (http://www.previewonline.org/rev.php3?3578)
— Honorable mention: “Toy Story 3” (PG, http://www.previewonline.org/rev.php3?3573). “How To Train Your Dragon (PG): http://www.previewonline.org/rev.php3?3539
FOR KIDS OR TEENS
— “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” (PG for some frightening images and sequences of fantasy action). C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” was a step above most children’s fables as it was full of evocative analogies and spiritually iconic images. And while adventures, not sermons, took center stage, most churchgoers found that the story served to open a rewarding dialogue between parent and child concerning the Christ-like symbolism found in the character Aslan. Chapter two: “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” stressed action and style rather than ethereal analogies, but The Voyage of the Dawn Treader successfully blends both. Still cloaked in action/adventure, Lewis’ religious allegory is clear and potent. (http://www.previewonline.org/rev.php3?3626)
— Honorable mention: “Ramona and Beezus” (G, http://www.previewonline.org/rev.php3?3583).
GOOD MOVIES, BUT …
— “The American” (R). Director Anton Corbijn paid tribute to Hitchcock and several European auteurs known for their inventive technique and gripping craftsmanship of suspense. Despite its slow pace, Mr. Corbijn holds us captive to his cinematic method. And again, George Clooney proves he’s so much more than a matinee idol. He has that old-Hollywood movie star persona, but he’s also a gifted thespian who makes acting look easy. And what a pleasure to see a film where Mr. Clooney doesn’t profane God’s name (rare). Alas, for those of us uncomfortable with the overindulgent use of visceral violence and blatant sexuality in films, The American’s content is excessive. Please read the content and the DVD alternative. (http://www.previewonline.org/rev.php3?3596)
— “The Ghost Writer” (PG-13). In this pulp-ish, moody thriller, a ghostwriter completes the memoirs of a former British prime minister, only to discover that he is not all that he appears to be. In the manner of Hitchcock, this suspenseful and atmospheric tale contains, like Hitchcock’s best, an added dash of spooky smirk. It’s armrest-gripping and fun, a film, at last, for adults. No blue aliens or mad hatters, just witty dialogue, clever storytelling and solid performances. Alas, everybody in it says “Jesus” or “Christ” whenever they get frustrated, and they get frustrated a lot. Don’t want to support a film that profanes our Savior’s name despite its cinematic virtues? Pass on this one — and good for you. (http://www.previewonline.org/rev.php3?3537)
— “The Company Men” (R). After two documentaries about our crumbling economy (“I Want Your Money,” “Inside Job”), here came a dramatic version, complete with enough angst to unnerve even Alan Greenspan. It was one of the best films of the year, not just because of the incisive script and solid performances, but because of its perceptive look at how a man is defined by his vocation and how he is affected by the loss of a job. It’s an award-worthy film, but alas its R-rated content is both morally offensive and unimaginative. (http://moviereporter.com/reviews/display.php?id=1920)
The Social Network (PG-13), concerning the guys who created Facebook, defines a generation of go-getters who get caught up in the same forbidden sins as any other generation, namely boundless pleasures of the flesh and the love of money. Sadly, most stories of dramatic substance in this generation contain a generous amount of crude or obscene material. I almost accepted the profanity in this one as it vocalized the characters’ lack of moral and spiritual awareness. (I said, almost.) What impresses the main protagonists is the thought of gaining a billion dollars. Never once do they consider losing their very soul. (http://www.previewonline.org/rev.php3?3604)
So, was there an award-worthy film for grownups by a mainstream studio that I could recommend to those who do not wish to hear profanity or subject themselves to other repugnant movie-making misdemeanors? No.
And that’s the point of this piece.
Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective for Baptist Press and is the author of “Movies: The Good, The Bad, and the Really, Really Bad,” available on Amazon.com. He also writes about Hollywood for previewonline.org.