to being a film reviewer is choosing films from the past year that you think
deserve special recognition. I’ve bestowed a CineRose Film Award on the following
films. (Most were previously reviewed in this column.) Since there is no patron
saint of the cinema yet, I went with the obvious: my name.
My criteria 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 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, gender, age, religious faith and spirituality; and the ability
to entertain. Not all the films meet every criterion, hence the number of roses—from
a full bouquet to none.
Whale Rider (A-2, PG-13) is my favorite film of the year
for its gentle, mystical story of a young girl’s coming of age in
a Maori family and tribe in modern-day New Zealand. It addresses
themes of family, leadership, respect, honor, dignity and male and
female roles in a culture. It’s an excellent film for Confirmation
The Station Agent (A-3, R): A close second, this touching
story focuses on a dwarf who inherits an abandoned train station
and a passenger car. It shows how much people need people because
no one walks this earthly journey alone. Themes of community, self-sacrifice,
tolerance, diversity and caring offer filmgoers a chance to contemplate
what it means to be a good neighbor.
Pretty Things (A-3, R): This is the one film I truly hope
wins an award. A small hotel in modern-day London is the place and
metaphor for the pretty facade that hides the nefarious trafficking
in human organs so that stateless people have a chance to live in
freedom. Probably few people in the United States are aware of this
problem. The light in this dark tale is a tender love story tempered
by sacrifice. Issues include themes of cultural diversity, justice,
love and the kindness of strangers, displaced persons and the effects
of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (A-2, PG-13):
This was the most entertaining film of the summer, with excellent
cast, special effects and production qualities. But the film belongs
entirely to Johnny Depp as the screwball Captain Jack Sparrow. A
great film for discussing the injustices of colonization.
Finding Nemo (A-1, G): This fishy tale broke box-office
records and swam its way from the screen to DVD release in record
time. This film about love between a father and son encourages embracing
life, even when you are afraid. But I had a problem with the portrayal
of females: Coral, the mother fish, is killed in the beginning;
Dory is a ditz and Dora, the dentist’s niece, is the pet owner from
hell. One catechist told me kids don’t notice these things—they
just enjoy the movie. Maybe, but Catholic social teachings and media
literacy remind us that it is never too early to teach and learn
about fair representation, especially in movies.
Bruce Almighty (A-3, PG-13): Morgan Freeman played a God
to whom I could relate in Tom Shadyac’s hit comedy. I could also
relate to Jim Carrey’s poor Bruce, who thought God hated him because
everything was going wrong. When Bruce takes over God’s job, he
becomes a man who finally sees the needs of others. There’s nothing
like using comedy to explore theology and one’s image of God as
well as God’s sense of humor. This is also an insightful examination
of what arrested faith development looks like in a 40-year-old.
Seabiscuit (A-3, PG-13): This inspiring film won the Catholics
in Media Award for best film of the year. The story focuses on three
men during the Great Depression whose lives were changed when they
encountered the horse that had enough heart to become a winner.
This film is bound to receive award nominations because of the high
quality of its stellar cast: actors William H. Macy, Chris Cooper,
Jeff Bridges and Tobey Maguire, and director Gary Ross.
Under the Tuscan Sun (A-3, PG-13): I am not sure if Diane
Lane will pull off an Oscar nomination for this lovely film because,
though her acting was excellent, the script was not as smooth as
it could have been. But the engaging story offers women in particular
a way to hope when they are in danger of not recovering from what
life hands them.
Mystic River (A-3, R): This dark story is about the consequences
many years after one of three boys is kidnapped by pedophiles. This
film is Oscar-worthy because of the excellent performances of the
ensemble cast and Clint Eastwood’s nuanced direction. There is much
sacramental imagery in the film, but the grace that is offered is
ignored. Choices and their consequences are worth talking about.
Bend It Like Beckham (A-2, PG-13): This story of two British
teen girls who love to play soccer is entertaining and a good film
for parents and catechists. Themes to consider include the commandments
(the fourth and eighth, with hints about the sixth), sportsmanship,
teamwork and cultural diversity. This was my favorite positive film
about young women until Whale Rider came along.
The Matrix Revolutions (L, R): Although nothing can compare
with the original film of this violent sci-fi trilogy (The Matrix,
1999), the final installment offers further considerations of philosophy,
theology, literature and the possible effects of artificial intelligence.
It goes a step further, however, into the realm of soteriology:
the theology of salvation. Neo (Keanu Reeves) emerges as a Christ-figure,
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (A-3, PG-13):
I admire Peter Weir’s work (Gallipoli, Witness, The
Truman Show). But this film is just too long and the battles
are too intense. Russell Crowe is brilliant as the British Captain
Jack Aubrey, fighting Napoleon’s navy in 1805. Themes of friendship,
duty vs. pride, and how authority and power can corrupt did emerge,
as well as the interest in evolution. But these were quickly submerged
by lengthy and gory battles.
Daredevil (A-4, PG-13): Ben Affleck plays a blind
martial-arts expert in this futuristic comic-book tale of a flawed
Catholic superhero who seeks justice within a framework of his faith.
I look forward to a likely sequel.
X2: X-Men United (A-2, PG-13): A sequel to X-Men,
this sci-fi comic-book tale comes to life through film. Catholic
imagery and redemption themes are front and center.
The Cat in the Hat (A-2, PG): This much-awaited Dr.
Seuss classic was a disappointment. It’s a clone of The Wizard
of Oz (the cat sounded like Bert Lahr, the Cowardly Lion). The
attempt to integrate kid and grown-up humor was crass rather than
smart. I would have appreciated more of Dr. Seuss and less of everything
else. The original book ended with a question that invited children
to think. (How would you tell your mother about what happened?)
There are several morals in this film, but it went for the obvious
and lost much of the story’s charm. Youngsters may enjoy it but
parents will snooze.
Love Actually (L, R): I was ready to like this film
from the previews. It had true and touching moments: the relationship
between Daniel (Liam Neeson) and his stepson, Sam (Thomas Sangster);
Sarah (Laura Linney) caring for her sick brother over romance; and
middle-aged Harry (Alan Rickman) tempted to cheat on his wife, Karen
(Emma Thompson). The film promises that love wins but mixes up bawdiness
with romance too often. The love story between two soft-porn actors
and the vulgar humor of the aging rocker (Bill Nighy) put it way
over the top for me. Billy Bob Thornton as the American president
to Hugh Grant’s British prime minister was an imaginative touch.
the Cut (O, R): This erotic and violent thriller stars Meg
Ryan as a teacher who becomes both suspicious of and sexually involved
with a homicide detective. Someone has to analyze director Jane
Campion’s fascination with cutting up body parts (The Piano).
Gifted film and TV talents who died in 2003 include: Art Carney,
Elia Kazan, Donald O’Connor, Gordon Jump, John Ritter, Charles Bronson,
Bob Hope, John Schlesinger, Buddy Ebsen, Katharine Hepburn, Hume
Cronyn, Gregory Peck, David Brinkley, Robert Stack, Fred Rogers,
Nell Carter, Richard Crenna and Michael Wayne.
ANTIQUES ROADSHOW (PBS): When people first told me that
PBS’s Antiques Roadshow was their favorite program, I laughed.
Then I watched it and got hooked.
People bring their family heirlooms and treasures to
sites in major cities to be appraised by experts. Fascinating items
include a Navajo blanket handed down through the family of Kit Carson,
toys popular a century ago and a statue worth thousands of dollars
that was used as a doorstop. One person bought a table for $5 at
a yard sale that was made during the Revolutionary War. The monetary
worth is often surprising but the real value is in the stories.