Movies of 2012 - The Might-Have-Beens
by Phil Boatwright

The Might-Have-Beens: Great movies all, but…

Concerns a group of British retirees (Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson) who decide to move to India for its exotic culture and cheap prices. It’s a gentle, charming film, and for me, a true pleasure as I am always amazed when watching the gifted Judi Dench. The film’s theme has to do with people finding worth, satisfaction, and peace within themselves. For me, however, this is where the film falters. Though a couple of characters tour the local temples, none seem to be looking for spiritual fulfillment. I understand non-Christians will have little problem with that omission, but for those of us seeking to draw closer to Christ Jesus, this spiritual exclusion when portraying an aging group of life travelers causes the film to lack the depth the story deserved. In a communal this size, you’d think the filmmakers would allow for at least one Christian character. Instead, the producers sought to incorporate a closet homosexual as the production’s token figure. Indeed, movies with token gays abounded this year. (PG-13)

A compelling documentary concerning a 1970s Bob Dylan/Harry Chapin/Jim Croce-type musician named Sixto Rodriguez whose albums failed to sell in the U.S. but who achieved enormous success halfway around the world, completely unbeknownst to him. He was a legend and never knew it, living simply and quietly for the next 40 years as a humble day laborer and family man. SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN is an absorbing, moving documentary, one that spotlights the positive character of a man at peace with himself. The film doesn’t tell us if he is a man of faith, but it reminds us that peace within is found through the awareness of something outside ourselves. This search, like our trek through life, is a daily one. The picture would have made my “Best List” but for the profaning of God’s name in a song sung by the central figure, as well as the obvious acceptance of drug use, which also permeated the ‘70s hippy/dippy music. (PG-13)

This LINCOLN stresses the Great Emancipator’s savvy political agility, at times causing us to forget that this is a film by Steven Spielberg, not telestorian Ken Burns. (Burns’ lengthy documentary on the Civil War is the quintessential examination of the War Between the States. It is a moving learning experience about the foibles and nobility of the human spirit.) But that’s not to say that LINCOLN is a boring history lesson. Though long at 150 minutes (John Ford told his Lincoln story in 100 minutes back in 1939), it reveals the political process of wheeling and dealing within the political community (little has changed). The only fly in the ointment for me is the 12 uses of God’s name followed by a curse, two by the lead character. Should we support a resonate salute to a historical figure who helped change the world? Or do we refrain from attending a movie that profanes God’s name? Your call. (PG-13)

One of the best morality tales since the first WALL STREET, this intense drama grabs you by the gut and doesn’t let go. Sadly, it’s full of foul verbiage (a total of 80 obscenities and 6 profanities). Had the writer and director intended to make a statement about the film’s main character’s character by having him use such irreverent language, then it could be argued that its inclusion was a use of language. But, everyone in the film is free with the f-word or the uttering of Christ’s name as if it were a mere expletive spoken solely for the purpose of relieving frustration. This causes the stark and draconian language to lose its biting edge. It no longer indicates the darkness of one man’s soul, but merely bespeaks of the numbing down of our culture and our society. (R)

Includes two of the best screen performances I’ve seen in decades. Joaquin Phoenix gives a penetrating performance as Freddie Quell, a disturbed young man with aggressive, often violent behavior patterns, who has connected with religious cult leader Lancaster Dodd, played with equal dimension by Philip Seymour Hoffman. I simply can’t remember two more brilliantly fleshed-out screen characters than these, nor two more award-worthy performances. Like last year’s THE TREE OF LIFE, this is more than a movie. It’s a true work of art. Unlike TREE OF LIFE, which was an impressionistic, thought-provoking hymn to life, THE MASTER fails to use its artistic cleverness to uplift the soul. I’m sure everything included in the script can be defended as revealing of the characters’ true nature, but the content (the reason for the rating) continues to desensitize moviegoers, and further coarsens down the culture. Art was intended to uplift the spirit of man, its true purpose not merely to show what we are, but ultimately proposing what we can become. (R)

Why Speak of R-Rated Movies?

THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST. SCHINDLER’S LIST. DEAD MAN WALKING. TSOTSI. Each was rated R. But each was profound and ultimately enriched the film viewer. Seldom can this be said of R-rated movies. Too often R-rated motion pictures, and movies in general, seem geared more to satisfying the physical and mental aspects of the human condition, while ignoring the spiritual element that completes mankind’s nature. But since this rating category dominates the multiplex theaters, it can’t just be ignored. The impact of these films on the culture and therefore the society needs to be addressed. We Christian critics aren’t just being pious by exposing the content of films; we are addressing an issue that Hollywood (who loves to address every other issue) ignores.

I’ve raised this question before: have we evolved into beings capable of processing any amount of abuse Hollywood puts before our eyes and ears? Evidently, for there seems to be no excess moviegoers are willing to walk out on. But is that what our Creator desires for us?

The most endearing films, like Bible parables, nourish the spirit as well as entertain, and I maintain that if the cinematic art form is to better the culture and the society, it needs to feed the soul, not just satisfy our baser instincts. And younger generations need to be reminded of what the Bible says concerning what we put in our heads: Philippians 4:8: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things." Psalms 101: "I will set before my eyes no vile thing." Ephesians 5:11: "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them."

Go to The Good and The Bad 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 ( ) and in your email (