Welcome to the Second Annual CineRose Awards. As I write this column, many of the best
films of 2004 are being released, in time for Oscar consideration but too late for my awards.
Some of the most interesting and well-made films of 2004 deal with life issues from an
intensely nihilistic perspective, such as Million Dollar Baby, Vera Drake, The Sea Inside,
Closer, Kinsey. (Some of these will be reviewed in my upcoming columns.)
This may seem a disheartening trend at first glance, yet these are films that have the
potential to launch a million conversations because they deal with profound issues. Such
movies offer people of faith and good will opportunities to share values through respectful
listening and dialogue: Our neighbors need the insight of our human and faith perspective.
My criteria for selecting CineRose winners include the degree to which the filmmaker tells
the story through the creative use of image and sound; how well the main character grows
as a person and member of the human family; the promotion of the gospel values of human
dignity, family and community, justice, peace and fair representation of cultures, races,
genders, ages, religious faiths and spiritualities; and the ability to entertain. Not all
the films meet every criterion, hence the number of roses—from a full bouquet to none.
A Bouquet of Roses
Finding Neverland (A-2, PG) is the story of the family that inspired Sir James
Matthew Barrie’s classic play, Peter Pan. It is beautifully told and acted
by an ensemble cast of known and little-known actors, headed by Johnny Depp in an Oscar-worthy
performance. Neverland is in everyone’s imagination; to go there, you just have to
Hotel Rwanda (A-3, PG-13): For the 100 days in 1994 when Hutus slaughtered almost
a million Tutsis in Rwanda, most of the world ignored the situation. But Paul Rusesabagina
(Don Cheadle), the manager of a four-star hotel in the capital city of Kigali, turned the
hotel into a refugee camp. With the help of his wife, Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo), Paul saved
over 1,200 lives by bargaining with the militia and calling in favors.
Cheadle’s performance as Rwanda’s version of Oskar Schindler is extraordinary.
The story reminds us of the situation in Darfur, Sudan, which has been going on for over
20 months without assistance from world governments. Africans are people, too.
The Passion of the Christ (A-3, R): In the most significant phenomenon in movie
history, Mel Gibson’s startling, inspirational, violent and controversial portrayal
of Jesus’ passion and death became a classic overnight. The film got everyone’s
attention and has touched people the world over. It has opened doors in Hollywood to producing
programs and films about religion and spirituality.
The Phantom of the Opera (A-2, PG-13): In terms of story, music, art direction,
staging, editing and cinematography, the grandest theatrical film of the year belongs to
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom, directed by Joel Schumacher. Based on Gaston
Leroux’s 1908 novel, this film version of one of the most memorable musical plays
of all time provides a close glimpse of the scarred and lonely man who haunted and terrorized
the Paris opera house.
The Aviator (A-3, PG-13): Director Martin Scorsese has made a fascinating
film about the life of Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio), an eccentric industrialist, aviator
and moviemaker. The film follows his romances and the progression of his obsessive-compulsive-paranoid
The Motorcycle Diaries (A-3, R): Social-justice themes permeate this finely acted
film with beautiful cinematography about Ché Guevara’s Latin America road
trip in the early 1950s, where he sees the suffering of the people and decides to do something
to change it.
The Polar Express (A-1, G): This lovely animated film focuses on a boy at
the crossroads of doubt and belief, not only in Santa Claus but also in the magic of the
imagination. With a touch of The Wizard of Oz, it is an expression of cultural diversity,
music and the gifts of the Spirit.
Spider-Man 2 (A-3, PG-13): This commendable sequel is exciting and entertaining
comic-book fare about character, as well as what it means to be a good and responsible
Danny Deckchair (A-3, PG-13): With a helium balloon tied to his chair, Danny (Rhys
Ifans) lifts up from his porch and lands in a small town to find the woman of his dreams.
This low-budget Australian film is quirky, touching and funny.
Maria Full of Grace (A-3, R): A single and pregnant Colombian woman becomes a drug
mule to make money. She ends up in New York and makes a choice for life. This difficult
but hopeful movie has social-justice themes.
Napoleon Dynamite (A-3, PG): When his friend needs him the most, Napoleon comes
out of his nerdy shell and does something extraordinary that transforms himself, his high
school and the audience. This low-budget independent film will grow on you and make you
13 Going On 30 (A-2, PG-13): This thoughtful movie surprised me. Instead of a ‘tween-queen
theme, as the previews made it appear, Jennifer Garner plays Jenna at 30, and she is not
what she seems. The film is about growing up, changing from a child to an adult and from
being selfish to caring for others—even if it takes until you are 30.
Spanglish (A-3, PG-13): At last there’s an Adam Sandler movie that is not
about Adam Sandler! This sensitive story focuses on women and the mothers who raise them.
James L. Brooks, who wrote and directed As Good As It Gets, shows insight about
the experience of U.S. immigrants and the people who hire them.
The Incredibles (A-2, PG): This O.K.-film is filled with clever animation that
makes fun of comic-book heroes. While it does promote family unity, it is just so incredibly
long (121 minutes).
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (A-2, PG): This worthy cinematic
interpretation of the first three of the very popular and dark series of books lacks benevolence
to balance the inadequacy and downright evil of the adults. The anachronisms provide some
Along Came Polly (L, PG-13): This popular though ultimately unsatisfying comedy
missed the mark because the characters are never willing to sacrifice anything for each
Paparazzi (O, PG-13): This revenge thriller lacks any redemptive qualities: An
actor systematically kills off the paparazzi responsible for a terrible accident that put
his wife and son in the hospital.
Film and TV talents who died in 2004 include: Elmer Bernstein, Marlon Brando, Ray Charles,
Alistair Cooke, Arthur Hailey, Howard Keel, Alan King, Janet Leigh, Ann Miller, Jerry Orbach,
Jack Parr, Tony Randall, Christopher Reeve, Peter Ustinov, Paul Winfield, Noble Willingham
and Fay Wray.
DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES (ABC, Sundays): This prime-time soap opera for mature audiences
is about four women in the prime of their lives who live in suburbia. Narration is by a
fifth woman who has committed suicide: She knits the plot together while commenting on
the morals and consequences.
Housewives makes for mesmerizing viewing. The show, produced by men, has high ratings
balanced by lots of negative press (due to fear of the potentially unhelpful influence
caused by the mostly unwise choices the characters make). Teresa Blythe, writing for www.Beliefnet.com,
says that these women, like all of us, get into desperate situations and are in serious
need of spiritual direction. What counsel would you offer them if you could?
Knowing and understanding what people are watching permits us to converse with relevance
and share our gospel values about the stories TV provides. This medium can serve very effectively
as a moral laboratory as well. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “That which we call sin
in others is experiment for us.”
LOST (ABC, Wednesdays): An assorted group from diverse countries, cultures, social
strata, ages and races is formed on a Pacific island when their jet crashes. It forces
them to struggle together to survive.
Besides the personal belongings they salvage, each character carries emotional baggage
and is in need of some type of redemption or healing.