We continue to reveal our nominees for the Plugged In Movie Awards, and we’ve reached my personal favorite category: Best Movies for Adults.
Why do I like this category so much? As much as I love and appreciate clean family movies with great messages, I also like to be challenged a bit. I like gritty stories that might come with a bit more texture and ambiguity. Sometimes, the most rewarding films I see are the ones that are most difficult to write reviews for—and the ones I find myself thinking about days afterward.
And even though Plugged In is especially geared toward families, we know our site is used by more than just parents looking to find a suitable movie for their 8-year-old. Some adults use Plugged In for themselves, and we want to honor that.
Naturally, we give these movies more leeway in terms of content issues. While this year’s crop of nominees all qualified for a PG-13 MPA rating, many still come with content issues to consider. One is a flat-out horror film. Another deals with the Holocaust. And while many of these films might be navigable for older teens, none of them come with “don’t-worry-about-it” green lights. Check out our reviews before sitting down to watch.
And a reminder: We’ll be debating all of these categories and their nominees on the March 7 episode of The Plugged In Show and picking our own winners. It always makes for a fun, robust conversation. And, of course, we want you to tell us your picks as well—even if they’re not one of our nominees!
You can cast your votes (or submit your write-ins) in the comments section of this blog below. Or comment on the appropriate posts on Facebook and Instagram, too. You can vote for anything and everything straight through February, and we’ll let you know in our March 7 episode of The Plugged In Show not only what we selected, but what you did, too. (And if you can’t listen in, we’ll be posting all the winners on the blog as well.)
And now, with all that out of the way, here are the Plugged In Movie Awards nominees for adults, in alphabetical order. (Movie synopses written by Paul Asay, Bob Hoose and Kennedy Unthank.)
The Boys in the Boat (PG-13)
Work is hard to come by in 1936 America. And Joe Rantz desperately needs to find some work if he wants to stay in college. His best last hope? Earning a spot on the University of Washington’s junior varsity rowing team—a spot that comes with room, board and a job. But dozens of other students are gunning for a seat on the boat. Does he have a chance? Spoiler warning: Yes, he does. In fact, Joe becomes a part of one of America’s most inspiring real-life underdog stories—one that ultimately leads to the Olympics in Berlin. While many sports sagas focus on individual achievement, The Boys in the Boat is all about teamwork—where eight rowers (and a directions-shouting coxswain) must work together as one. Though the film has some strong profanity here and there, Director George Clooney gives us an old-fashioned tale with an old-fashioned sense of propriety. It reminds us of the importance of both hard work and teamwork, but you won’t have to work to enjoy this film: That comes naturally.
Godzilla Minus One (PG-13)
It takes a lot of positive messages for a film about a kamikaze pilot to make the Plugged In cut, but Godzilla Minus One does it. In the movie, we follow Koichi Shikishima, a kamikaze pilot who backed out of his sacrificial mission in World War II, returning to his country in shame and guilt. Raised in a culture focused on dying with honor, Koichi yearns to know whether his honor is truly gone forever. But when the massive and radioactively charged Godzilla begins destroying Japan a couple years later, Koichi wrestles once again with whether it would be better to sacrifice himself or live on in shame. And as Godzilla Minus One stomps its way through theaters, it brings with it wonderful messages about sacrifice and how to live with honor by fighting for a future worth living in.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (PG-13)
True to its name, this ragtag team has indeed guarded the galaxy more than once. But this time around, they need to save one of their own: Rocket Raccoon, the onetime experiment of a being called the High Evolutionary. That Evolutionary values perfection, and he’s quite happy to destroy the creations that don’t live up to it. And while he’s a formidable adversary, the Guardians have some elements that even the playing field: love; family; the willingness to sacrifice for their friends—all elements that the Evolutionary cannot even conceive of. While we normally put superhero movies in the teens category, Guardians Vol. 3 contains an unusual number of issues to navigate—namely disturbing flashbacks to Rocket’s childhood. But it also comes with a thrilling number of positives, too, including some nods toward the mystery of creation, the power of love and hints of how the foolishness of God can be far wiser than the wisdom of Evolutionaries.
OK, this might not be the first film that you would expect Plugged In to point to as a “best of” movie candidate. It’s a horror flick, after all. But this movie about an AI-infused robot that will do anything to protect its child owner has some very interesting elements in its favor. This creative story draws viewers in while its unexpected humor softens the tale’s edgy violence. And while being equally cute and creepy, M3GAN also presents a distinct sci-fi cautionary tale: A declaration that technology, the internet and social media are no substitutes for parental time and love. Furthermore, it suggests that adults who lean too heavily on those things usher their family members into dangerous territory. Of course, in this case, that dangerous territory also comes with PG-13 levels of deadly encounters and just-off-screen bloodiness.
The Zone of Interest (PG-13)
Sometimes in the history of atrocity, the sheer numbers hide the humanity therein. Experts say that more than 1 million people were murdered at Auschwitz during World War II. But every one of those victims had a name, a family, a life unique. And guess what? We could say the same thing of the murderers, too. The Zone of Interest introduces us to Rudolf and Hedwig Höss: Rudolf was Auschwitz’s commandant and responsible for everything that happened there. Hedwig, his wife, built an idyllic home right next door—showing off her garden as the smoke rose from the chimneys beyond the walls. The Zone of Interest, a German-language tour de force, is not an easy film to watch. But it is an important one, and it’s surprisingly sparse on content issues given its subject matter. It reminds us that evil is real, but it doesn’t always look like a matinee monster or hooded serial killer. Sometimes it can look surprisingly innocuous—and thus hide the worst evils of all.
Freud’s Last Session (PG-13)
What if two of the 1900’s most formidable intellectuals came together and argued over the existence of God? Well, imagine no more. In Freud’s Last Session, we’re taken into the study of eminent psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud as he discusses theology with an up-and-coming author named C.S. Lewis. Based on a play of the same name, Freud’s Last Session is a fictional meeting rooted in fact. The men’s arguments are, more often than not, taken straight from their own writings. The movie has a few content issues, but it ultimately missed our top five because of its ambiguity: This is no irrefutable triumph of Lewis’ Christianity, and Freud is no straw man. He draws his share of intellectual blood. But for those who love apologetics—and for those who don’t mind being challenged a little—Freud’s Last Session is a fascinating, ultimately encouraging example of how we can stand up for our beliefs and still show kindness, compassion and grace to those who don’t share them.