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Here’s a quick list of some good films/television shows I saw this year. (Asterisks signify availability on Netflix Instant View.)
I just watched this for the third time. Yes, it’s that good. I paused it a few times when we watched it as a family—mainly to point out where I thought George dropped the ball with his marriage. (The film gives the impression that his marriage was already doomed and he would be better off abandoning it. Obviously that doesn’t jibe with what I want to teach my kids.) Other than that, it’s storytelling at its best: funny, heartbreaking, imaginative, entertaining, inspiring. Re-reading this, it’s a good time to point out that every one of these films probably has moments that might offend more sensitive viewers. Please don’t throw a brick through my virtual window. I’m a bit neurotic about recommendations like this because I’m a pastor’s kid who’s always assuming that something he says will get him into trouble. I’ll do my best to voice any caveats you should know about if you plan to watch these with your family. There. Disclaimer over. I exhaust myself, honestly.
I’m a big fan of Wes Anderson films (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Life Aquatic, The Royal Tennenbaums, The Fantastic Mr. Fox), and if I had to give one reason is this: he’s a great storyteller who seems to care about the audience. His attention to detail is staggering, and it feels like he’s bending over backwards to delight us with his stories. That said, most of his films have a moment or two that make me shake my fist and say, “Now why did you have to go and do THAT?” Moonrise Kingdom, in addition to having one of the most magical titles ever, is the perfect vehicle for Anderson’s prowess. But it has one scene that, frankly, ticked me off and, in my opinion, kept it from being the classic it might have been. Anyone who’s seen the film knows exactly what I’m talking about.
The BBC knows how to do television. There are two three-episode seasons of Sherlock so far, and each episode is about 90 minutes, which gives the story time to develop in ways most feature films only dream of. From a parental perspective, these are probably PG-13, though the first episode of season two, with the Irene Adler storyline, was racy enough that I fast-forwarded quite a bit of it. You wouldn’t be missing anything to just skip it altogether. I watched the last two episodes of season two with my teenagers and we loved them. The ending is ridiculously good.
This might be hard to believe, but Warrior might have been my favorite film of 2012. The first thing I should point out is that it’s about MMA (Mixed Martial Arts), but it isn’t at ALL about MMA. It’s about two brothers, their father, and the redemption of their relationship. The fighting is brutal, so if you’re squeamish you shouldn’t watch it. But I basically forced Jamie to watch it and, though she closed her eyes for a lot of the fighting, she told me the next day that she couldn’t stop thinking about it. The last scene made me blubber-cry all six times I watched it this year. The National did a few songs for the film, and from the moment the final song begins to the credits is—and I’m not exaggerating here—one of the most emotionally resonant things I’ve ever seen in a movie. The whole Moby Dick subtext is brilliant, and Nick Nolte’s performance deserved the Oscar nomination he got. I just finished reading Mere Christianity again this year, and I kept thinking about Warrior in the final chapters where Lewis talks about the lengths to which God will go to make us into who he wants us to be.
I can pretty much guarantee you’ve never seen a movie quite like this one. It’s half-documentary, half-drama, and tells the true story of something pretty crazy that happened in an East Texas town several years ago. It made me glad all over again that I grew up in the south, where it seems that anything can happen, and usually does. I think Flannery O’Connor would have liked this one.
Forks Over Knives*
My wife is a food nut. This is one of my favorite things about her. She’s determined to create a healthy eating culture in our home, and I’m confident that we’ll all be happier and live longer because of it. Films like this are really interesting whether or not you agree with their conclusions, but their evidence for vegetarianism here is pretty strong. There are all kinds of takes on the veggie story in Daniel 1, but it’s hard to argue with the idea that vegetables are good, and too much meat is bad. I don’t know that I’ll ever give up my dad’s famous ribeye steaks, but I’m done with pigging out on meat at every meal.
My brother recommended this BBC series to me. Once again, those Brits prove they know good stories. Detective Foyle is solving cases in England during WWII—so imagine all the intrigue of a good Father Brown or Sherlock Holmes story with the historical atmosphere of the German air raids. Throw in the occasional Nazi spy and you’ve got Foyle’s War. I haven’t finished it yet, but I watched quite a few of these with my sons and we had a blast.
I knew almost nothing of the Korean War before I watched this film. It’s a documentary about one of the most famous battles in any war, told by the Americans who fought it. Like Band of Brothers (which I loved), the best part of this documentary is the first-hand accounts by these beautiful, broken old men who survived something I can’t imagine.
This film should have been a gigantic success. Something went wrong (I’m reading a book called John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood which chronicles the making and subsequent bombing of what was actually a really good movie), and for some reason the studios declared it a flop before it even made it out of the gate. My brother described this to me as “The best Star Wars since Star Wars,” and I think he’s spot-on. It’s not perfect (neither was Star Wars), but it made me feel like I was ten again, and woke in me the most delightful longing at the end. Not only that, director Andrew Stanton tweeted Pete’s Rabbit Room post about it, which is cool.
Life of Pi
I loved this book. I loved this movie. As Thomas McKenzie more or less said in his review, “No, the theology proposed isn’t orthodox, and no I don’t agree with it. Moving on.” It was one of the most beautiful looking films I’ve ever seen, and the story is so good that it’s worth your time. As a Christian, I enjoyed the way it made me think on God, and I can imagine that whoever sees it, regardless of their beliefs, will spend more time than usual considering his existence. With both the book and the movie, the story talks about God and Jesus in a way that isn’t belittling or cynical; it takes for granted that at least some kind of theism is normal and even laudable. That strikes me as surprising in this day and age. The next step, that of believing in Jesus, is another story, of course, but it’s good to start somewhere. Our family conversation on the way home from the cinema was wonderful. Here’s a link to a painting by my son Aedan after seeing the movie and reading the book.
Some more that I liked this year, though I’m fresh out of writing energy: The Pirates!, Brave, The Birds, The Hobbit, The Avengers, Lincoln. Let the listing begin!
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