These films represent what we consider to be the best of what got released in 2014, and not just artistically speaking, but morally and content-wise, too. Our selection isn’t a stamp of approval, of course, so link to our full reviews and read them carefully before deciding to see anything we’ve listed here.
In February we’ll pick our winners. But you can do it right now! To voice your thoughts and vote for your favorite nominee for the Reader’s Choice award in each category, post a comment on this blog or on our Facebook page.
BEST MOVIE FOR TEENS (NOMINEES)
The Giver (PG-13): Emotions. Who needs ’em? That’s what the leaders of a deceptively utopian society apparently said one day. Believing that strong emotions are more trouble than they’re worth, they banished passion in favor of a more regulated society. Only one person—The Receiver of Memory—has felt all the world’s long-forgotten loves and hates. Now the time has come to install a new Receiver—the teen Jonas. But as Jonas begins to experience the culture’s collective joys and sorrows, he begins to realize how much society has lost. The Giver, based on the bestselling book by Lois Lowry, is a powerful rumination on our sometimes inconvenient feelings—how they can make life so much harder but also so much better. Along the way, it encourages us to always do what’s right.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (PG-13): Katniss Everdeen isn’t playing a game anymore. No, it’s all-out war now, with President Snow’s fascist Capitol on one side and the austere residents of District 13, led by the enigmatic President Coin, on the other. Katniss, long an unwitting symbol of the rebellion, is now being asked to take on a more active and conscious role. But while she hates Snow and would love to make the world better, her prime concern is Peeta—her in-game partner and on-camera lover—whom the Capitol holds captive and is using as a pawn. Mockingjay – Part 1 is the cleanest of The Hunger Game movies, with no language and surprisingly little violence. It’s also the darkest, but perhaps rightly so. There is no glory in war here, no promise of a happy ending. Only an evil that needs to be eradicated, no matter the cost.
Belle (PG): What’s the value of a human life? That’s the question at the heart of Belle, the inspiring story of a privileged half-black, half-white heiress in 18th-century England who influences a landmark court case about whether slaves can be insured as cargo. Belle shares cinematic DNA with traditional period-piece dramas such as Pride & Prejudice. But there’s more going on here than the typical speculation regarding who Belle will wed. The film’s romantic subplot is secondary to its main focus on themes of justice, treating all men and women with respect, and making right choices.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (PG-13): Director Peter Jackson has taken flak for adapting The Hobbit into three films and for infusing them with myriad narrative additions nowhere to be seen in J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved fantasy novel. But those who can set aside such grievances are rewarded here with a rollicking, heroic conclusion—albeit one in which many orcs fail to finish the film with their heads attached. More than just another mindless CGI spectacle, The Battle of the Five Armies offers substantive reflections on the soul-crippling danger of avarice. We see how the love of stuff (in this case dragon-corrupted gold) can corrode our souls if we fail to get a grip on our greed.
Maleficent (PG): Disney’s ultimate bad girl gets a 21st-century makeover thanks to Angelina Jolie. Here, the self-proclaimed “mistress of all evil” is more victim than villain. When a childhood friend steals her wings, Maleficent, in her hurt, grows bitter and hateful—eventually casting her infamous curse on the sweet, innocent Aurora. But when circumstances bring the cursed and curser together, Maleficent regrets her evil turn—and risks everything to set things aright. Some may be upset by the black-hearted Maleficent turning white. (Since that would seem to create gray.) But the movie ultimately shows that the healing power of grace, forgiveness and love can reach into the very darkest of souls.
Movie summaries written by Plugged In reviewers Paul Asay and Adam Holz.