We’ve hit the third day of our four-day swing through our Plugged In Movie Awards nominations, and we’ve come to the category that engenders the most passionate discussion amongst Plugged In staff members. It is, in many respects, the hardest and the most fun category to fill.
Why? Elementary, my dear reader. In choosing movies for kids and teens, the content in our selections is typically age-appropriate and, at least for many families, navigable. But when moms and dads are selecting movies for themselves … well, that’s a different matter, isn’t it? We must balance the need for wise discernment with the reality that great messages can sometimes be found in difficult movies. And that dynamic always makes this an exciting category to talk about.
Our list this year includes some Oscar nominees and some films (with all due respect to the Academy) that should’ve been. And as always, we want to hear what you think, too. Vote for your favorite nominee (right here on the blog, or on Facebook and/or Instagram), and we’ll unveil your selections, along with our own, during our Feb. 6 podcast at thepluggedinshow.com. (We’ll follow that up with a blog as well.) And if you don’t see your favorite on our list of nominees, tell us what you would’ve chosen instead. (All movie capsules written by Paul Asay, Emily Clark, Adam Holz, Bob Hoose and Kristin Smith.)
1917 (R): Lance Cpl. Blake and his friend Lance Cpl. Schofield are just two British grunts trying to make it through the incredibly deadly and destructive days of the First World War. Millions have already died in the bloody conflict and millions more might die before it’s over. But on a warm April day in 1917, Blake and Schofield are tasked by their General to make a way through no-man’s-land and stop a misguided British attack before 1,600 men walk into an enemy trap and their certain deaths. And Blake’s older brother is among that number. This R-rated film is about men in war, so it’s explosively and realistically violent and riddled with the shrapnel of coarse language. But it’s also an incredibly well-crafted film that movingly and vividly illuminates self-sacrifice and courage, and shows men giving every ounce of themselves to save the lives of others.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (PG-13): Reporter Lloyd Vogel was way past the age when Mister Rogers and his neighborhood had any appeal. He’d seen too much, been hurt too often. But when his editors at Esquire magazine insist that he interview Fred Rogers for a short piece in its “heroes” edition, Lloyd reluctantly agrees—even if he would say that “playing with puppets for a living” makes anyone a hero. But as he talks with Rogers, Lloyd discovers something unexpected about the children’s television show host: He walks the walk. He treats everyone he comes in contact with with kindness and grace. And as he tries to get under Fred Rogers’ skin, he finds that Rogers is getting under his—in the best of ways. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood has a bit of language and a bit of violence, but this movie does something remarkable: It makes you want to be a better person. And that’s as rare as a rainy day in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.
The Farewell (PG): Death is difficult. There’s no way around it. Unless, of course, the person who’s dying doesn’t know she’s dying—even though everyone else does. That’s the intriguing premise behind The Farewell. Here, an elderly Chinese matriarch has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer—information her sister has withheld. To give the woman’s loved ones a chance to say their farewells, family members stage a fake wedding. The core of the story turns around a young Asian-American named Billi (played by Golden Globe winner Awkwafina) and her relationship with her dying grandmother, Nai Nai. Billi struggles with the ethics of the elaborate deception when she flies to China for the “wedding.” But she’s not the only one. As family and friends pretends to celebrate, they’re all secretly grieving the impending loss of their beloved Nai Nai. All in all, this PG-rated drama offers a poignant character study, one that reminds us of importance of family even when things get really messy.
A Hidden Life (PG-13): Nazi Germany may rule over Austria during the opening days of World War II, but you’d never know it looking at Franz Jägerstätter’s farm. It’s a simple slice of heaven there, and he and his wife Fanny live a quiet, pious life. But it’s only a matter of time before the Nazis draft Franz into their ever-hungry war machine and, when that day comes, Franz—uncomfortable with swearing allegiance to Adolf Hitler–has a grave choice to make: literally fall in line like everyone else or make a stand against Hitler and his immoral Nazi regime. “If God gives us free will, we’re responsible for what we do, what we fail to do, aren’t we?” a troubled Franz asks the presiding bishop. “I want to save my life, but not through lies.” This might be one of Director Terence Malick’s most accessible works, and most spiritual. It reminds us that even under the starkest of conditions, we always have the ability to make the right choice—even if the cost of that choice is impossibly high.
Just Mercy (PG-13): It’s 1991—nearly 130 years since the Civil War, about 30 since the Civil Rights movement, and Walter “Johnny D.” McMillian still can’t get a fair trial in Alabama. Accused of killing a white woman five years ago, no one seems to care that there’s no real physical evidence to support it, or that dozens of witnesses saw Johnny D. at a church fish fry at the same time the murder was supposed to be committed. The convicted felon’s no angel. But did he commit the crime that he’s on death row for? Not a chance. Hot-shot Harvard lawyer Bryan Stevenson is determined to give Johnny the justice denied him, but it won’t be easy. This movie, based on an unforgettable true story, is deeply inspirational—and one that subtly weaves elements of faith in its fabric, too. The language can be harsh at times, but the strong messages of justice, fair play and redemption feel far stronger.