We’ve come to the end of our Plugged In Movie Awards nominations, and by now you know the drill. As I’ve said before, pick your favorite among our nominees or, if you think we whiffed on one, choose your own. Let us know your own favorites down below, on our Facebook page or on Twitter, if you’re so inclined. You’ll have until Feb. 21 to vote. Winners will be announced March 2.
All Saints: How does God move us to His purposes? That’s the question that the movie All Saints asks, and it answers it through the real life story of Pastor Michael Spurlock. When Michael and his family move to Smyrna, Tennessee, it’s for one purpose: to close the failing All Saints church and sell the property. But, in spite of those directives, Michael believes he gets a bit of path-changing guidance from God Himself. When a group of refugee Burmese farmers show up at the church door, Michael sees their need and comes up with a plan. They could turn the church property into a farm—supplying food for the families and even earning money to pay the church bills. It makes perfect sense. If they put in the necessary effort it could result in an exciting new beginning for the All Saints church. But what if that’s not what God has in mind? There’s very little here in the way of possible negative content other than a few people smoking and a pastor making what might be considered to be a rebellious choice. That said, this film is based on actual events, so there’s also no Hollywood spectacle here. The things happening on screen won’t make you gasp or cheer. But they might well make you think … about your purpose.
The Case for Christ: Award-winning Chicago Tribune journalist Lee Strobel hardly looked like a candidate for conversion to Christianity back in the early 1980s. He seemed anything but: a cynical, critical-thinking atheist whose worldview rested on the bedrock of proven facts and indisputable science. Not superstition. So when his wife, Leslie, becomes a Christian, Lee is determined to prove her wrong. His secretive quest to debunk her faith, however, takes him in some surprising directions, especially when the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection becomes harder and harder for him to deny. Eventually, he tells her, “When you became a Christian, I freaked out. I was scared. … I just had to prove the whole thing wrong. But I couldn’t. The evidence for your faith is more overwhelming than I could have imagined.” This story, based on Lee Strobel’s bestselling, autobiographical apologetics book of the same name, gives us glimpses of its main character’s hard edges, especially when it comes to his alcohol use (and misuse). But that’s the primary content concern in this film, one that tells the story of a skeptical reporter who confronts—and is in turn confronted by—the compelling claims for Christ’s resurrection.
Same Kind of Different as Me: Ron Hall had it all: a thriving business selling art, a beautiful wife, two beautiful kids, a beautiful home in Fort Worth, Texas. But beneath the surface, everything wasn’t quite so beautiful: His workaholism has all but destroyed his marriage. He was having an affair. Other secrets lurked, too. To his credit, Ron comes clean with his wife, Debby. And he commits to giving their marriage another shot. Little does he know that recommitting to Debby will require getting involved with a homeless shelter that she’s passionate about. There, Ron and Debby meet a volatile, violent man known only as Suicide. Ron and Suicide—whose real name is Denver Moore—could hardly be more different. But slowly they develop an unlikely friendship, one that helps Ron to see that the two men aren’t so different after all. It’s an inspiring story with some raw moments—especially painful scenes involving Ron’s alcoholic father and flashbacks depicting horrific moments from Denver’s childhood. But for teens on up, Same Kind of Different as Me paints a poignant portrait of the power of friendship to change people’s lives.
The Shack: What do we do with unspeakable loss? That’s the question that confronts Mack Phillips, a father whose young daughter has been kidnapped, probably raped and murdered in The Shack. Mack is understandably undone by his little girl’s unspeakable fate. That’s when he receives a mysterious letter in the mailbox from … God? Mack responds to the invitation to meet God—who goes by the name Papa here and is portrayed as an African-American woman—to talk about his loss, hope, forgiveness and heaven. This drama is based on author William P. Young’s bestselling-but-controversial 2007 novel of the same name. It includes some elements that definitely deserve a strong caution for any families with young children—namely, the abduction and implication of an assault on a young girl. That said, the film majors on themes of God’s love, goodness and sovereign nature, doing so in ways that remain true to Scripture, even if questions about sin and hell are largely minimized here. In his Plugged In review of The Shack, Bob Waliszewski concluded, “The Shack delivers significant messages about God in a world desperately looking and longing for answers. Does this story provoke valid, even significant theological concerns? Clearly, it does. But just as Mack was led in the film to discover more about God in his Gideon Bible, hopefully movie goers will respond the same way to the big-screen adaptation of The Shack.”
The Star: Have you ever wondered what the donkey who carried Mary to Bethlehem for Jesus’ birth must have thought about it all? Yeah, I’ve never wondered about that either. But The Star imaginatively retells the nativity story from exactly that point of view: that of an idealistic donkey named Boaz who dreams of bigger things than he’s experienced so far in his lowly life of servitude. Boaz is joined by Dave the Dove and Ruth the Sheep on their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem with Joseph and Mary. They play a crucial (if obviously fictional) role in dealing with a hunter sent by Herod (who’s accompanied by two mean dogs). We get a smattering of bathroom humor and some mildly perilous moments along the way. But unlike some other disappointing mainstream biblical epics (Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings come quickly to mind), this one stays remarkably true to the core biblical narrative (with the addition of those talking animals, of course).
(All movie capsules written by Adam Holz, Bob Hoose, Kristin Smith and yours truly.)