It’s that time of the year when we critique-ers of movies get out our venom-dipped goose quills and take revenge for all those hours stolen by filmmakers who challenged the theory, “Nobody sets out to make a bad movie.” And, oh yeah, we also enjoy reminding you of some films that are fine examples of why we love to go to the movies. Today, let’s look at the motion pictures of 2012 that either uplifted the spirit of man or entertained us so well that we forgave the high ticket prices, and the popcorn poppers who offered us that yellowish motor oil-looking substance that passes for butter. My selections are in no particular order.
After reading the synopses here, click the film titles to read the entire reviews in order to get the content (the reasons for the ratings).
LIFE OF PI
Profound and spiritual, THE LIFE OF PI is also the most visually stunning film of the year. Like Terrence Malick’s THE TREE OF LIFE, LIFE OF PI bedazzles with CGI visuals that add to and support the film’s viscerally emotional impact. As with Mr. Malick, filmmaker Ang Lee is unafraid of bringing the subjects of God, faith and the seeking of spiritual fulfillment to the cineplex. (PG)
This is based on true events surrounding one family who barely survived the 2004 tsunami that struck an unsuspecting coastal area of Thailand. Hollywood’s CGI effects at their finest, along with a riveting script and powerful performances from Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and young Tom Holland make this one of the most exciting films of the year. On top of that, it contains uplifting messages about people aiding others in time of need. It shows the compassion of the human spirit that unfortunately often needs a catastrophe to befall before it is awakened. (PG-13)
WON’T BACK DOWN
Facing a powerful and entrenched bureaucracy, two mothers (Viola Davis, Maggie Gyllenhaal) look to transform their children's failing inner city school What’s this? Hollywood made a film that challenges the teachers’ union?! I thought I was in a different universe watching this movie. Congrats to those who participated in this, one of the most courageous films ever produced in Tinseltown. (PG)
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
In IMAX and 3D, with a satisfying script that pays homage to Stan Lee’s comic book creation, plus a depth of character and all the trappings of this genre done to perfection, it makes for a fun movie-going adventure. This Spider-Man movie has humor, tenderness, life lessons (don’t be a bully, don’t seek revenge, use your abilities for others) and, of course, lots and lots of cool combat. (PG-13)
Disney and Pixar still reign as kings of animation. It isn’t just that they have all the loot necessary to bring their stories to vivid screen life; they also have most of the creativity found in Hollywood. Their writers and filmmakers possess a winning combination of whimsy and potent storytelling ability that seems to escape most filmmakers of today, no matter the genre. While so many in the film industry are unable to tell today’s stories without crudity and excess, Disney and Pixar, knowing they are aiming at the family, use wit rather than shock value to get our laughs and our involvement. (PG)
A powerful parable about healing, OCTOBER BABY tenderly reveals the psychological aftermath created by abortion. Perhaps the most effective aspect of the production is how gently Christian philosophy is intertwined within the narrative. No matter their agenda, the filmmakers never preach to the audience. Rather, they astutely import the need for forgiveness. As with the “Pay It Forward” philosophy, which suggests the need to pass on good deeds in order to turn our world from selfish narcissism to one dominated by kindness, the intent here is to propose the need for forgiving others in order to maintain peace within. (PG-13)
THE HUNGER GAMES
“In the future, the nation of Panem forces each of its 12 districts to send a teenage boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games. Part twisted entertainment, part government intimidation tactic, the Hunger Games is a nationally televised event in which “Tributes” must fight with one another until one survivor remains.”
The books address many issues and, certainly, the story itself can be seen as a metaphor for the times we live in and the political and economic powers that control our lives; but what ultimately uplifted me was the fact that the human spirit triumphs in this film. Tyranny only stands so long before righteousness prevails, as evidenced by the film’s ending, with citizens beginning to revolt against the indignities they are forced to endure. And the lead character and several others show compassion, despite the cruelty all around them. For me, the unselfish acts and love element trump the film’s tumult. (PG-13)
Nate Parker, David Oyelowo, Terrence Howard, and Brandon T. Jackson star in this tale of African-American pilots from the experimental Tuskegee training program. Over the years, I’ve seen quite a few war films that indicated the bravery, compassion, and the uniqueness of the American soldier. Sadly, there are few films that spotlight this quality in men of color. There are some, just not that many. RED TAILS does. A positive film that ultimately unites us all as Americans, it does contain some language (not much, really), but it also features reverence for God, and a couple of men of faith are depicted and we hear a prayer given. (PG-13)
A touching, sensitive, well-constructed drama, UNCONDITIONAL was a welcomed surprise. Writer/director Brent McCorkle did a fine job with the technical aspects, despite his low budget. He managed to organize a competent team of behind-the-camera folk and was wise to cast Lynn Collins in the lead role. She plays a widow whose whole life was wrapped around her soul mate, but comes to learn that we are not here just to be an attachment to another person, realizing she has purpose and that she isn’t really alone. Those who seek to reverence God and acknowledge Christ are never, ever alone. (PG-13)
An adaptation of the successful stage musical based on Victor Hugo's classic novel set in 19th-century France, in which an escaped prisoner named Jean Valjean seeks redemption, while the obsessive Inspector Javert hunts him down.
In Victor Hugo’s 1200 page novel, the villain, Javert, lives by the letter of the law in hopes of salvation, where Jean Valjean has been transformed by mercy and lives by mercy. LES MISERABLES is a parable that clearly conveys the difference between the Bible's Old Testament, where man is dependent upon the laws of God in order to find deliverance, and the New Testament’s revelation of God’s sacrifice that paid our sin debt.
Though there is some PG-13 content in the film, it is not there to be exploitive, but rather used to give credence to the story and to viscerally work on our emotions. Bring hankies as you will be wounded by the visual injustices. Gratefully, you will also be uplifted by the film’s spiritual resonance. “Les Miserables” is the most gut-wrenching, yet profound film of the year!
Go to The Bad and The Might-Have-Been Movies of 2012.
In addition to writing for Baptist Press, Phil Boatwright is also a regular contributor to "The World and Everything In It," a weekly radio program from WORLD News Group. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).