We’re in our second day of unveiling the nominees for the Plugged In Movie Awards, and we’ve hit one of my favorite categories: Best Movie for Teens. The name’s a bit misleading, because lots of other folks can enjoy these movies besides teens, of course. But by default, these tend to be where the big, four-quadrant blockbusters land: The superhero movies, the sci-fi spectaculars, the movies that make enough money to wipe out the national debt. (Well, admittedly, none of them actually come close to wiping out the national debt, but you get the idea.)
Remember, we’re looking for your opinions, too. 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.
Dunkirk: Director Christopher Nolan’s time-shifting actioner takes viewers into perhaps World War II’s darkest moment: Nazi Germany seems unstoppable and the British army, the Continent’s last best hope to combat Hitler’s ambitions, is pinned against the sea. Yes, that’s right, England’s entire army—300,000 men—is trapped on the beaches near Dunkirk, France, and it’ll take a miracle to even save a tenth of them. What happens next has been spoiled by history, of course, but it’s no less riveting or inspiring. Weaving three separate narratives together from land, sea and air, Nolan crafts what some have called one of the greatest war movies ever made. Language can be an issue in spots, and Dunkirk certainly doesn’t soft-pedal the wartime peril. Indeed, augmented by Hans Zimmer’s driving score, viewers can practically feel the bullets fly. But for all that felt tension, The Oscar-nominated Dunkirk is inspiring, surprisingly restrained and, at times, even beautiful.
The Greatest Showman: This film tells the story of P.T. Barnum, an impoverished man who rose to fame through a whole lot of tenacity and creativity. He brought together some of society’s most shunned, least-likely success stories to create what would become what he modestly called “the greatest show on earth.” Sure, the real P.T. Barnum might not have been as warm and cuddly as the movie suggests. But if we accept this toe-tapping, tear-jerking musical for what it is, we learn some pretty great lessons: that hard work and creativity pay off: that we’re stronger together than we ever could be alone: and that we should never, ever write people off just because they might look a little different. That’s a great lesson, and a biblical one, too. It reminds us that God made us all different, and that He made us all for a purpose. And when we tap into our gifts and talents and even oddities within us and turn them toward a greater, purer purpose—in the case of this movie, making people happy—we get closer to being the people that God always intended us to be.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi: The galaxy’s seen better days. The dastardly First Order has picked up where the old, fascist Empire left off, enslaving whole systems right and left. The fire of rebellion has been all but snuffed out. But all is not lost—not yet. As Leia, Poe, Finn, et al., struggle to escape the First Order’s clutches and find a new operations base, Rey tries to encourage Luke Skywalker, the legendary Jedi of yore, to join the fight. Alas, Luke says he’s done with lightsabers. “This is not going to go the way you think,” he says. For many fans, Luke was absolutely right: The Last Jedi has polarized plenty of ’em. The movie focuses in on a concept difficult to convey on screen: disillusionment. Luke has grown disenchanted with the Jedi, mirroring many a scarred believer. Antagonist Kylo Ren is determined to tear down every father figure—good or bad—he’s ever had. Even our brave heroes grapple with the hard, murky realities of rebellion. But these elements add depth and resonance to this latest chapter of the Star Wars saga, even as the movie still embraces what the franchise has always been about: good and evil, light and dark and the war inside our own souls.
War for the Planet of the Apes: Things have gotten a little … hairy on Earth. Most of humanity’s gone now, wiped out by a terrible, manmade disease, and some of those who survive are turning mute. Apes, meanwhile, have gotten smarter, and they’re carving out their own civilization. But humankind won’t go down without a fight: The Colonel and his band of zealots are determined to cleanse terra firma of its primate problem through any means necessary—forcing the apes’ heroic but increasingly disenchanted leader, Caesar, to fight back. It can’t be easy for a film to make human moviegoers to root against our own kind, but that’s just what War does, crafting a compelling story with resonant religious echoes. It positions Caesar as a kind of Moses, leading his “people” to the promised land, and it asks a pointed question of us: If we humans lose our humanity—our God-given sense of right and wrong, justice and compassion—what else do we risk? This film is sometimes bloody and certainly provocative, but this is a rare popcorn flick that sparks thought and conversation even as it entertains.
Wonder Woman: Themyscira seems like a nice place. Filled with forests, surrounded by beaches and dotted with beautiful Grecian buildings. It’s as dandy a vacation spot as you could wish for—if you could find it. For hundreds, maybe thousands of years, young Diana has called this paradise home, and her mother, Queen Hippolyta, sees no reason why Diana should ever leave. But when Diana rescues Steve Rogers, a World War I pilot who somehow crashed just off the coast, and the island’s Amazon warriors do battle with a bevy of Germans on the beach, Diana realizes that she can no longer wile away her years on the island paradise. She’s been raised and trained to fight evil, and so she shall—in a world wholly unfamiliar to her. Wonder Woman isn’t a perfect movie, naturally: It has some spiritual and sexual issues to wade through, along with the requisite superhero violence. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a silver-screen hero who embodies heroism quite so well.
(All movie capsules written by Adam Holz, Bob Hoose, Kristin Smith and yours truly.)