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The 2009 CineRose Film Awards
By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.

Q U I C K S C A N

A Bouquet of Roses
Four Roses
Three Roses
Honorable Mention
Lie to Me
Catholic Classifications



As I consider films for the CineRose Awards, it seems that going to the movies in 2009 continued to be the one form of entertainment people indulged in above others despite the severe economic recession. Cinema profits worldwide are at an all-time high. Several factors seem to account for this: moviegoing is less expensive than family trips; a number of films attract families of all ages; other films tell important stories for our culture to reflect on—and they are told very well.

My criteria for reviewing all films—and bestowing a CineRose Award on some of them once a year—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 care for the earth; the artistry and the ability to entertain.

Not all the films meet every criterion, hence the number of roses. Of the more than 250 films released annually, many are released at the end of the year for the awards season (Golden Globes, Oscars). But of the almost 100 films I was able to experience this year, some certainly rise to the top.

Quite a few of these films are based on books and/or true stories. Animated films and documentaries got my attention as well: I will review Avatar next month. Obviously, I found much to appreciate at the movies this year.

A Bouquet of Roses

THE BLIND SIDE (A-3, PG- 13): This is the true story of the Tuohys, a wealthy, white Christian family that adopts Michael Oher, a homeless African-American teen, and shepherds him to academic and football success. It makes you want to stand and cheer. It's inspiring and funny and will garner serious attention for awards.

PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL'PUSH' BY SAPPHIRE (not yet rated, R): Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe plays the teen girl Claireece "Precious" Jones in a story about human resilience and hope. Precious, 16, is pregnant with her second child by her own father; her mother terrorizes her. With the care of teachers and a social worker, Precious reaches deep into herself for dignity and the will to live and thrive.

UP (A-1, PG): Disney wins a doubleheader with Up and The Princess and the Frog. Up is a brilliant, 3-D-animated film about having the courage to follow your dreams no matter how old you are, the generosity to share those dreams and to be a father figure—a mentor—to a child. Mature themes about life and death are finely integrated into the story as well.

THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG (A-1, G) is being celebrated as Disney's first fairy tale with a black heroine. While this is true, race didn't matter in this delightful reimagining of the basic Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast story and placing it in New Orleans. I loved it. It is unambiguous about the values of family, hard work over privilege, knowing oneself and understanding the difference between wants and needs. Lots of themes to talk about here for everyone.

JULIE & JULIA (A-3, PG-13): Meryl Streep is amazing as the renowned chef Julia Child. Amy Adams is the young woman who discovers Child's The Art of French Cooking and, over a year's time, cooks and blogs her way to maturity, to "confronting the ducks"—the challenges of her life. Wonderful.

THE HURT LOCKER (not yet rated, R): Director Kathryn Bigelow's film won the SIGNIS prize from the Catholic Jury at the Venice Film Festival in 2008 and is now on track for major awards. Based on an account by embedded journalist Mark Boal, the film follows a team of elite soldiers who defuse roadside bombs in Iraq. Incisive acting and directing and deft editing draw in the audience to experience what modern war really is and its devastating consequences on the men and women who engage in the conflict.

THE LAST STATION (not yet rated, R): Christopher Plummer plays the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy and Helen Mirren plays Sofya, his irascible but loving wife, in the last year or so of Tolstoy's life (1828-1919). It is the story of a marriage and what happens when people, religion and ideology interfere. It is probably one of the most truthful representations of matrimony ever presented on the screen. During one of their famous altercations, Sofya screams the meaning of a marriage at Leo: "You are the work of my life! I am the work of your life!"

FOOD, INC. (not yet rated, PG): This documentary reveals the underbelly of the beef, chicken and corn industries in the United States. The film's treatment of the industrialization and genetic modification of our nation's food supply—as well as the health, environmental and ethical issues these raise—are of concern to all of us and our global neighbors.

THE END OF POVERTY (not yet rated): This striking documentary explores the history of and relationship among capitalism, colonization, industrialization, consumerism and globalization, and offers feasible solutions to end world poverty consistent with Catholic social teaching.

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Four Roses

A CHRISTMAS CAROL (A-1, PG): The ninth film version of Charles Dickens's classic story of greed and miserliness, it is artistic and very faithful to the original story. Religious Christmas carols form most of the soundtrack, blending in theology with ease and beauty.

AMREEKA (not yet rated, PG-13): This small film tells the story of Muna, a Palestinian woman, and her son who immigrate to the United States and the trials they face in a post-9/11 America. They find resistance but they also find friendship. Muna is the kind of woman anyone would want for a next-door neighbor. This is a lovely film, beautifully acted.

IMAGINE THAT (A-1, PG): Eddie Murphy plays a divorced dad who learns about the important things in life from his small, imaginative daughter. I am not really an Eddie Murphy fan, but here he excels as the dad who has lost his focus. Yara Shahidi, as the child Olivia, is enchanting. Written and directed by two dads, this film has family and the mystery of childhood written all over it.

THE SOLOIST (A-3, PG-13): Based on the unlikely friendship between Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) and a homeless musical genius, Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), the film is filled with humanity, music and kindness.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (A-2, PG): A poignant, rather dark portrayal of a young boy's imaginative journey to figure out the loneliness he feels in coming home again. Based on the beloved book by Maurice Sendak (1963), the film is a meditation on redemptive leadership for all ages. The music is original and beautiful.

THE INFORMANT! (A-3, R): Matt Damon turns in a bravura performance as the conflicted, mentally ill scientist-turned-corporate executive-turned-whistleblower at ADM, a multinational agricultural corporation. Even after he is convicted of being part of the price-fixing conspiracy he reveals, he still scams the system. Who are the guilty parties here? What are the ethical dimensions and consequences of this story?

CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY (A-3, R): Michael Moore's film exposes the downside of capitalism as a political economy and the consequences on humanity. Endless, expansionist consumerism cannot endure.

THE STONING OF SORAYA M. (L, R): This is a difficult film to watch. A young wife and mother is stoned to death following trumped-up charges based on the law of shariah (custom rather than law) in a rural Iranian village in 1987. It is a film about human rights, women's rights and what people do with religion to get what they want. Strong performances all around.

MY ONE AND ONLY (not yet rated, PG- 13): Renée Zellweger excels as the 1950s mom Anne Deveraux, who takes her two sons on a road trip to hunt for a new husband to support them. Based on actor George Hamilton's teenage years (he was the executive producer of the film), this is a gentle comedy with heart that too few people saw.

STAR TREK (A-3, PG-13) and FANTASTIC MR. FOX (A-1, PG) get "three roses" just because of their entertainment value. Sometimes it is a good and holy thing to just sit back and enjoy the show.

Avatar, Brothers, 9, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Sunshine Cleaning, Knowing, District 9, Goodbye Solo.

LIE TO ME (Fox, Mondays): In a recent episode of this sophomore psychological drama, Dr. Cal Lightman (Tim Roth, The Incredible Hulk) and one of his assistants do an admirable job of explaining to a group of schoolchildren exactly what a lie is, the consequences of lying and the benefit of always telling the truth. The premise of the show is that there are people who are gifted at detecting lies and liars. They work for the Lightman Group and they are for hire.

 

A-1 General patronage
A-2 Adults and adolescents
A-3 Adults
L Limited adult audience
O Morally offensive

The USCCB's Office for Film and Broadcasting gives these ratings. See www.usccb.org/movies/index.htm.

Find reviews by Sister Rose and others at www.CatholicMovieReviews.org.

 


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