All this week we’re unveiling our picks for our Plugged In Movie Awards, wherein we select the movies we feel best nourish both the mind and soul. (But make sure to read our full reviews before deciding whether you or your family should see any of these!) Our four categories are Kids, Teens, Adults and Christian movies. We’d love for you to chime in, either here or on Facebook, and vote for your favorites. Then, in a few weeks, Jake Roberson and Paul Asay will unveil the winners—both our “official” selections and the top popular vote-getters—on our Plugged In Vodcast.
BEST MOVIE FOR TEENS (NOMINEES)
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2: Plugged In tends to like movies that exude a sense of innocence—particularly in a category catering to teens. But Mockingjay – Part 2—the final and brutal chapter in The Hunger Games saga—is neither innocent nor optimistic. It’s a war movie, and a harsh one. Katniss Everdeen, the franchise’s longsuffering central character, loses a great deal as she leads the final surge against President Snow and his corrupt Capitol. But while Panem’s landscape is indeed bleak, we can spot important lessons in the rubble. That war is terrible. That the lines between a righteous cause and a corrupt one can be thin and blurred. And that even when a crusade is just, it comes with a cost, sometimes a steep one. Loss is a part of life, Katniss tells us. But we can go on living—and even living well—just the same.
My All-American: Written by the same screenwriter who penned Rudy and Hoosiers, this tale of courage and tenacity tells the true story of Freddie Steinmark, a gifted athlete who dreamed of playing big-time football. But despite setting all kinds of records in high school, the diminutive Steinmark gets passed over by almost everyone … except the Texas Longhorns. Suddenly Steinmark seems on the verge of living a storybook life. He excels on the field and is deepening his relationship with his high school sweetheart. But then a nagging knee injury turns out to be something much worse: something more fearsome than any opponent Freddy ever faced on the field.
Spare Parts: In 2004, four undocumented immigrants from a Phoenix high school entered a national robotics competition in California. You wouldn’t think that they would have a chance against the likes of college teams from MIT, Duke, Virginia Tech and Cornell. In classic underdog-movie style, however, these crafty and scrappy kids (with the help of a teacher who believes in them and coaches them) challenge every assumption made about them. The result is an inspiring—and only occasionally problematic—movie about perseverance and friendship that also takes a challenging, complex look at the lives of illegal immigrants and the struggles they face.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens: A long time ago in a movie theater far, far away, a little flick called Star Wars alighted upon the masses. It’s hard to follow up that sort of success (as creator George Lucas himself discovered with Episodes I, II and III), but Director J.J. Abrams and Disney give it their best shot here with Episode VII. It’s a relatively simple story—about how a wayward stormtrooper, an abandoned scrap collector and a rolling robot helped make the galaxy a wee bit safer—and one that felt, frankly, like we’d seen parts of it before. But no matter: It’s rare to see a rollicking adventure story that’s this fun and, moreover, this clean. (The mostly bloodless lightsaber fighting and bombastic explosions are about the worst of it once you’ve had a good discussion about the Force.)
Tomorrowland: From Mad Max to Mockingjay, the cinematic landscape of 2015 was full of bleak, dystopian visions of the future. Tomorrowland sought to change that dynamic, declaring that our future need not be all sandstorms and arrows to the knee. It can be a bright, happy place—a little like Disneyland, if you squint just right. Not everyone loved this kinder, gentler tomorrow: Despite the presence of George Clooney and backed by Disney’s unparalleled marketing arm, Tomorrowland made less than $100 million at the turnstile. But for Plugged In, Tomorrowland is a welcome tonic for the stomach-churning pessimism we typically see in sci-fi. It’s got a few content issues, too, but it stubbornly shows us that the sun really might come out tomorrow—come what may.
Movie summaries written by Plugged In reviewers Adam Holz and Paul Asay.