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The 2008 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
LIFE ON MARS
TV COMMERCIALS
CATHOLIC CLASSIFICATIONS



American cinema is a commercial enterprise. Its purpose is to turn a profit by entertaining audiences. It has often been called a “dream factory.” Yet cinema is also an art form and is most authentic when it tells stories that integrate truth, beauty and goodness.

Films in 2008 were often bleak; they told dark stories with and without the truth of hope. Many focused on war, questioning its morality (Stop-Loss and Body of Lies). Some mocked war as an economic colonizing force (War, Inc.). Others tried to assuage our anxiety at the United States’ growing military-industrial complex (Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk). Still others dealt with humanity’s inner darkness and the struggle to find light, love and truth (Slumdog Millionaire).

However gloomy the 2008 stories were, some evoked reflection by the way they unsettled banality (Revolutionary Road and The Dark Knight). Beautifully rendered movies can move us, but then devolve into existential nothingness (Seven Pounds) or meander the realms of boredom, as did the artfully overindulgent The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

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.

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A BOUQUET OF ROSES

WALL•E (A-1, G): I wonder if Disney/Pixar realized that their clever animated tale about a robot cleaning up the earth is one of the best commentaries ever made about the spiritual and practical consequences of consumerism run amok. This brilliant film engages our consciousness through Disney’s predictable cuteness. Let us hope it spurs us to change our ways. This is a dark film with a light beyond the dump; I can see a green earth from my spaceship window.

YOUNG@HEART (A-3, PG): This documentary about a choir of senior citizens is a witness to living each day to the fullest and dying well. Overflowing with humor, humanity, music and joy, this is one of my favorite films of the year.

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (A-3, R): Danny Boyle breathes new life into cinema with this story of a poor slum kid in Mumbai who becomes a winner. Jamal (Dev Patel) never loses hope on his tragic, heartfelt way to a quiz show’s hot seat.

DEFIANCE (L, R): The fourth Holocaust-based film this year (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The Reader, Valkyrie) is based on the true story of Jewish brothers who saved more than 1,200 Jews in the Polish ghetto by building hidden villages deep in the forests and fighting the Nazis. Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell are excellent as the brothers in this deeply human and moving story. As expected, the war violence is intense.

THE DARK KNIGHT (A-3, PG-13): Batman (Christian Bale) goes up against The Joker (Heath Ledger) in a forceful struggle between greed and hope, criminals and heroes, virtue and human weakness. The superb cast is overshadowed by Ledger’s exceptional performance.

THE VISITOR (A-3, PG-13): Director/writer Tom McCarthy tells the story of a dispirited widower and his unlikely friendship with two undocumented immigrants to the United States. The film makes the case that we are all visitors and neighbors, and all that this means, no matter where we come from, where we are or where we are going. Richard Jenkins gives an award-worthy, heartfelt performance.

BOLT (A-1, PG): Bolt (voice of John Travolta) is a dog that acts in his own TV show but thinks his TV world is the real world. When he becomes lost, a streetwise cat shows him the difference. This interesting cartoon shows the difference between reality and fantasy. It is an excellent media literacy opportunity to talk about the nature of television with children.

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (L, R): This is a de profundis film of the highest order, based on the 1961 novel by Richard Yates. A young married couple (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) build a life for themselves in 1950s Connecticut suburbia. With prosperity, however, often comes superficiality and ennui, resulting in boredom and restlessness. In their search for meaning, they do not listen to each other and tragedy ensues. This film is a tour de force performance from the ensemble cast and a bold commentary on post-World War II upwardly mobile white America that seems to explain why Woodstock and the subsequent social revolution came about.

DOUBT (A-3, PG-13): John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play is forcefully interpreted for film by Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman. A nun suspects a priest of pedophilia in a New York parish in 1964. The play explores the ethics and morality of power and the power of doubt on every level: Church, rectory/convent, parish/school, education, community, individuals, and between adults and children.

FROST/NIXON (A-3, R): Director Ron Howard may well win an Oscar for his masterful rendering of writer Peter Morgan’s award-winning play into a riveting post-Watergate film. Frank Langella portrays former President Richard M. Nixon in all the complexity of a personality that lacks integration. Michael Sheen, who played Tony Blair in The Queen, is superb as Sir David Frost, the British talk-show host who nailed the interview of a lifetime in 1977.

THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX (A-1, G) is a banquet of virtues for catechists and homilists. Despereaux is a mouse who has no fear and refuses mousy behavior. He believes in courage, kindness and a plethora of other qualities, including that we can be more than the sum total of our circumstances and birth. At first glance, this excellently animated film seems familiar. But the theme is darker and more mature than it appears, for it deals in loss, grief and deep forgiveness.

THE CLASS (ENTRE LES MURS) (not rated yet, PG-13): French novelist François Bégaudeau plays himself as a teacher of multiethnic inner-city ninth-graders in Paris. The film follows the power struggles among races, cultures, social class, teacher and students. It’s about the ultimate question of who decides what is “normal.” This fascinating film won the Golden Palm award in Cannes.

FIREPROOF (A-2, PG): Christian actor Kirk Cameron plays a firefighter addicted to Internet pornography whose marriage is threatened. Though somewhat stilted because of the filmmaker’s preference for an evangelical message over art, this important and watchable film offers many themes for people who care about the integrity and beauty of marriage to talk about.

IN BRUGES (L, R) focuses on honor and generosity among assassins as they hold out from their boss in this beautiful city in Belgium after a child is killed by mistake. This difficult and violent but brilliant film demonstrates that everyone has the capacity for goodness and redemption.

MILK (L, R): Sean Penn gives an award-worthy performance as Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to hold elected office in San Francisco. Milk ran so that gays could have jobs and housing without discrimination based on sexual orientation. Directed by Gus Van Sant, the film marks the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Milk and Mayor George Moscone (Victor Garber) by a disgruntled city official.

SON OF RAMBOW (A-3, PG-13) is a coming-of-age movie set in the early 1980s about two English boys who make an adventure movie inspired by the Rambo character in First Blood. This low-budget film highlights the creative power of friendship.

QUANTUM OF SOLACE (A-3, PG-13): I revisited my review of this film because someone pointed out to me that I had missed the subplot about the impact that unguided globalization has made on the availability of clean and adequate water for people in developing countries. The film deserves kudos for integrating this moral dimension.

Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who!, Australia, Appaloosa, Changeling, Man on Wire

LIFE ON MARS (ABC, Thursdays): In this U.S. adaptation of a BBC show, Jason O’Mara plays a New York City detective who finds himself transported from the present day to 1973, where he joins a murder squad. This standard police procedural with a twist also stars Harvey Keitel, Michael Imperioli and Gretchen Mol.

TV COMMERCIALS: Here is some interesting media literacy trivia: Did you ever count how many commercials air during a one-hour prime-time network program? At my last count there were between 49 and 53. A one-hour drama or game show actually lasts only about 43 minutes.

Television is not sponsored and brought to us by advertisers. We, the audience, are bought and sold to the advertisers by the networks. Commercials sell back to us the products and services we work to provide in the first place.

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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