I gotta be honest: This might be my favorite category, in part because it triggers such robust discussions inside our little team. How do we weigh a film’s adult content against its inspiring messages? Does a beautifully made movie with just a pretty-good point outclass a just-pretty-good film with an outstanding moral behind it? These are not easy questions to answer, but boy, do we try.
This year’s crop contains some strong contenders, no matter how you slice it. And while none of them will be taking home a Best Picture Oscar, they’re certainly winners in our book.
(Remember, we want your thoughts, 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. 15 to vote. Winners will be announced Feb. 22.
Leave No Trace: A man with PTSD lives off the grid with his teen daughter—until someone finally catches them and brings them back to civilization. The girl, who’s named Tom, has lived all her life on the lam with her father, and she finds that society isn’t so bad. But can she forget her father—so strong in the wilderness, so fragile under a roof—to find another way to make a home? This film earned a 100% “Freshness” rating at Rotten Tomatoes (along with fellow PIMA nominee Paddington 2), but it was probably too small and released too early (June 29) to make a legitimate Oscar push. And that’s a shame. This film is as resonant and as beautifully acted as they come, and its tender tragic story has the power to impact you deeply. And while this film is unquestionably aimed at adults, it’s as clean and unspoiled as the scenery this father and daughter walk through. Find this movie. Watch it. You won’t be disappointed.
Mary Poppins Returns: Mary Poppins Returns brings us back to the Banks’ residence, featuring Michael Banks, a recently widowed father raising three sprightly children and working hard to support his family. He could sure use a little help … but would a spoonful of sugar do? This sequel reminds us that life is most valuable when we see it through eyes filled with wonder and joy, finding the positive in every situation. It encourages us to lean on those closest to our hearts and to believe in the impossible. A few mild British exclamations and some magically daring scenes appear, but this sequel is really all about the magic that already exists in each of our lives.
A Quiet Place: It’s only been months since a new hushed era fell upon the Earth. Horrible ever-hearing aliens took our world by storm—creatures nearly indestructible in their armored, insectile form and as fast as a whip-crack in their vicious attacks. In this new age of quiet, when the least little sound can mean almost-certain death, a fumbled board game piece will ring out like a shot. Here, Lee, his wife, Evelyn, and their kids have to navigate new whisper-silent lives. But Evelyn is very pregnant. And as we all know, babies … aren’t the quiet types. A Quiet Place is something of a horror movie, complete with horror movie scares and some terrible deaths (kept mostly outside the camera’s eye). But that said, there’s also quite a bit here to appreciate. A Quiet Place’s first-rate filmmaking panache and moments of intense familial love and sacrifice can turn a quiet night at home with nothing to do … into a disquieting cinematic consideration of the stuff we value most.
Searching: An “edge of your seat” kind of thriller, Searching is brought to life entirely through various screens—screens that may hold the key to a young girl’s disappearance, and screens that the girl’s father searches frantically in order to find her. It’s a movie that keeps you guessing, tugs at your heartstrings and makes you keenly aware of social media’s powerful and potentially dangerous impact on teens. There’s some sexual innuendo, drug references, deception and spoken violence, but nothing too graphic on screen. Parents, this is the kind of movie that will challenge you to think more deeply about the value of an emotional connection and open conversation with your tweens and teens.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?: Can we just say it again? This film should’ve been up for an Oscar. But its lack of recognition from the Academy can’t tarnish this shining example of documentary filmmaking at its best and most resonant. The movie traces the life and career of Fred Rogers, a man whose Christian faith informed his career. Indeed, Rogers injected a sermon of sorts—love yourself, be kind to others and always try to do the right thing—into every television show he made. Rogers believed passionately in loving everyone just the way they are. In an era filled with cinematic superheroes, Neighbor gives us a real one—a man who fought not with a hammer, but with kindness and mercy, a man who spoke firmly and forcefully without ever raising his voice.
(All movie capsules written by Adam Holz, Bob Hoose, Kristin Smith and Paul Asay.)