Great stories on screen for 2009

 

Animated features, chosen by Ken Priebe, an animator and member of Cedar Park MB Church, Delta, B.C.

UP
Directed by Pete Docter & Bob Peterson
Walt Disney Pictures

Pixar’s latest computer-animated epic is one of their most entertaining films, and it works on many levels. Kids and adults alike will enjoy the exciting action scenes and the funny antics of the characters, like the dogs who talk with their electronic collars. The film is also a poignant and beautifully crafted poem on the themes of loss, relationships, and the most important people in our lives. The opening montage of the film is staged without any dialogue, yet anyone who has lost a parent, grandparent, or lived a full life with someone they love will understand it completely.

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Coraline
Directed by Henry Selick
Focus Features

Coraline is a modern stop-motion animation fairy tale, based on Neil Gaiman’s book about a girl who discovers an alternate version of her life through a doorway in her house. Although it may be too scary for young children, it has an important message for youth groups, about the self-centred lifestyle often presented by the secular world. The villainous Other Mother tries to lure Coraline into believing she can find true happiness by having everything revolve around her, but what seems like a beautiful dream can often turn into a nightmare, if our hearts are in the wrong place.

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Mainstream movies, chosen by Jennica Willems-Geddert, a culture observer and former instructor at Bethany College, Hepburn, Sask.

Inglourious Basterds
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Universal Pictures

Tarantino’s violent story earns its critical acclaim. The story is loosely inspired by WWII, but exposes ways that we are still creating “the meaning of the war” in our stories. There is more to this movie than blood and gore. For some interesting reflections on good guys and bad guys, contrast how the movie makes us feel about the German war hero and Brad Pitt’s character. This movie uses violence to connect with an audience that loves action, but gives plenty of food for thought about the limitations of categories like “good vs. bad” and “innocent vs. guilty.”

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Avatar
Directed by James Cameron
Twentieth Century Fox

Avatar explored the way scientific, religious, military, and commercial institutions interact. Despite weaknesses (familiar plot, characters lacking depth), the film moved beyond its breathtaking visual effects to prompt some interesting religious questions. What would be possible if scientists and people of faith united to save the earth from military and commercial conquest? How would the relationship between science and religion be different if faith were measurable? If religious groups are primitive and tiny compared to commercial and military might, would uniting in the face of a colossal task be effective? It’s exciting to see a movie that inspires wonder and hope for the future.

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Up in the Air
Directed by Jason Reitman
Paramount Pictures

This movie explores moments of crisis and transition from the perspective of a consultant who fires people for a living. The consultant (George Clooney) has given up on engaging with mundane details of life and long-term relationships. Instead, he finds meaning in frequent flier miles and hotel upgrades. The story provokes us to think about relationships as baggage that we gladly carry, and how to move on when our hopes and dreams must be changed because of disappointing circumstances. This movie offers an uplifting challenge to take advantage of times of crisis to create meaning in our lives.

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Independent/foreign movies, chosen by Gordon Matties, dean of humanities and sciences at Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg. To find his movies website, google Movie Theology.

The Class / Entre les murs
(in French, with English subtitles)
Directed by Laurent Cantet
Sony Pictures Classics

Through the experience of one teacher and his unruly students, we are drawn into the shape of 21st-century multiculturalism in the West. The movie is based on the memoir of François Bégaudeau, who plays himself in the film. The fictional classroom is inhabited by real Parisian students playing characters based on themselves. These bright and boisterous students will not be taken in by a system that wants to make them “French,” while relegating them to the margins of society. The outcome is a veritable culture clash of suspense and unpredictability.

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The Hurt Locker
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Voltage Pictures

“War is a drug.” Citing Chris Hedges, author of War is a Force that Gives us Meaning, the opening title alerts us to the possibility that the movie will take us into the ambiguities of war, the motivations and fears of soldiers, and, perhaps, into the pointlessness of it all. The movie portrays only a small slice of war through several well-conceived characters. It takes us into the hearts and minds of soldiers who struggle to find their way. The movie shows us, rather than tells us, about the war in Iraq. And what it shows explains a great deal about why nations seem never to run out of human resources for war.

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Goodbye Solo
Directed by Ramin Bahrani
Gigantic Pictures

In Winston-Salem, N.C., an older white American gets into the taxi of an African immigrant. He offers to pay the driver $1,000 to be driven to the top of a mountain in Blowing Rock National Park, where the snow falls up because of high winds. The friendship between Solo (the cab driver) and William embodies a stark opposition between immigrant and jaded American. That contrast urges us to reflect on several universal questions. Where does hope come from and how is it lost? Is it possible for love to be motivated by more than what’s “exchanged” in the relationship? And what does it mean for love to let go of our need for the right outcome?

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