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The "A" Movies from 2007


For reasons I can't quite put my finger on, when I look back at 2007 I can't recall much that I saw in theaters that left me truly excited. As I write this in the third week of January 2008, the first awards from various organizations are being bestowed on movies like Atonement, No Country for Old Men, and There Will Be Blood. Not surprisingly, you can tell from the titles alone these films are not ones you will likely be scrambling to put in the family room when they release on DVD. Like past years, award movies are becoming the near-exclusive domain of R-rated fare.


(Even last year's animation category is being threatened by edgier titles like Beowulf and The Simpson's Movie.)


Yet, as I scrub through my database and look at what we did review throughout 2007, I'm realizing more than perhaps other recent years that good movies with worthwhile messages are often those you have to dig a little harder to find. And, sure enough, even during a lackluster year like the one that has passed, there are a few gems that are worth feeding into your DVD player.


So, in answer to the many who find me at a party and invariably ask "What was your favorite movie from last year?", here is a list of those we found to be the most worthy of your undivided attention at Parent Previews. And to make it a little more interesting, I'm including the grade we gave the film at Parent Previews so you can compare that with the percent of critics who "approved" of the movie's artistic qualities (courtesy of RottenTomatoes.com).


Freedom Writers -- Parent Previews: A-  Rotten Tomatoes: 69%

Opening in the first week of January 2007, we were thrilled to see a great movie about teens during what is usually a time of the year devoted to slasher films and studio dump offs. (Go see One Missed Call, the first major release of 2008 and you'll get my point.) Starring Hilary Swank playing real life teacher Erin Gruwell, the story details how Gruwell used The Diary of Anne Frank and the terrors of the Nazi holocaust to teach students about the destructive future gang violence holds for them. We gave this film an A- grade, but do have warnings for parents: The language isn't pretty (although in reality it likely would be much worse) and the first few minutes of the film illustrate situations of gang violence. But, in the end, there's a powerful story that may make some young viewers reconsider a gang lifestyle. (Parent Previews Freedom Writers movie review.)


Miss Potter -- Parent Previews: A  Rotten Tomatoes: 71%

If it has been a while since a "Chick Flick" has occupied that beautiful flat screen television you talked your wife into buying, here's a chance to gain some restitution. (Of course, for the women reading this, you may want to just put a copy of this movie into the DVD before he finds the remote...) Starring Rene Zellweger and Ewan McGregor, Miss Potter tells the warm and gentle story of Beatrix Potter, the author of the beloved series of children's books featuring Peter Rabbit and a host of other creatures. Other than a slightly tipsy moment involving a cup of "spiked" tea, there is no content in this film that should pose much of an issue. However, I'd recommend grabbing a box of tissues and putting the kids to bed prior to starting this slow moving story -- and maybe your husband as well. (And before anyone sends me letters, I love a good chick flick, and this is one of the best!) (Parent Previews Miss Potter movie review.)


Amazing Grace -- Parent Previews: A-  Rotten Tomatoes: 71%

All right, I admit my fondness for movies about true stories (my other reviewer, Kerry Bennett has a similar bias). Following in the theme of the previous two titles on this list, Amazing Grace reveals the events leading up to the abolishment of the slave trade in Britain, led by parliamentarian William Wilberforce (Ioan Grufford). This film had a very limited release in North American theaters, and is a great lesson about standing up for what is right even when it feels as though the world is against you. Thankfully, content is limited to the point where even older children can enjoy this important story. (Parent Previews Amazing Grace movie review.)


Nancy Drew -- Parent Previews: A-  Rotten Tomatoes: 49%

Don't believe the artsy critics: Nancy Drew is a fresh movie that got lost in the rush of summer and was quickly swept under the home video carpet. Emma Roberts plays the female sleuth in a quirky wholesome way that is surprisingly genuine given that her character has been transplanted to present day Los Angeles. Thankfully, unlike some other family remakes we've seen in past years, the creators of this movie allow nice girls to finish first, and Nancy is a positive role model. While a murder mystery is included in the plot, there is little content of concern in this film. Instead we get some great lessons and tongue-in-cheek comedy. I hope this franchise comes back for a second try! (Parent Previews Nancy Drew movie review.)


Evan Almighty -- Parent Previews: A-  Rotten Tomatoes: 24%

This time the critics had a point -- this remake of Noah and the Ark does have some artistic leaks, but it still is worth a DVD rental. If parents were a little hesitant about having the 40 Year Old Virgin teach their children bible stories, you can be assured I was just as surprised as you to discover Steve can do a family movie. It's not a masterpiece, but it didn't stink badly enough to sink as quickly as it did. (Parent Previews Evan Almighty movie review.)


Mr. Bean's Holiday -- Parent Previews: A-  Rotten Tomatoes: 50%

If you were put off by the first Mr. Bean movie a few years back (as was I) you may want to give this British comic one more chance as this is one of those very rare movies -- a comedy with nearly no objectionable content. In this outing, the bumbling Bean wins a church raffle and is awarded a vacation to the South of France. But, as is the case in any road trip movie, getting there is all the fun. Rowan Atkinson says this is Mr. Bean's last movie. If that's the case, at least he went out with a big laugh. (Parent Previews Mr. Bean's Holiday movie review.)


Resurrecting the Champ -- Parent Previews: A-  Rotten Tomatoes: 62%

Before you say you hate boxing, let me reassure you this movie is much more about father / son relationships and honesty than it is about boxing. When a newspaper reporter   discovers a former boxing star living a homeless life in a back alley, he knows he has a big scoop on his hands -- mainly because everyone thought the "Champ" was dead. I enjoy movies with protagonists that recognize their own flaws and learn something by the time the credits roll, and this movie delivers that experience with a knockout punch. Starring Josh Hartnett, Samuel L. Jackson and Alan Alda. (Parent Previews Resurrecting the Champ movie review.)


Moondance Alexander -- Parent Previews: A  Rotten Tomatoes: Not Reviewed

This last title is one you will have to dig for. Releasing on DVD on April 29, 2008, Moondance Alexander didn't really get a theatrical run, but made it's way through the film festival circuit. At first, it appears to be your typical girl-and-her-horse movie, but the intelligent script offers much more as it delves into dealing with peer pressures and learning how to work for those things you desire most. And it stars Don Johnson, who many of us will recall from his Miami Vice days. Finally, I must admit a conflict of interest: This movie is shot where I live, and it looks absolutely gorgeous! Give it a rent and see what Southern Alberta Canada looks like. (Parent Previews Moondance Alexander movie review.)

Of course there were a few more greats from '07, like Ratatouille (which received a 96% rating from the artistic critics), Bridge to Terabithia, Enchanted and Meet the Robinsons. However, it was very satisfying to give some of the lesser-known releases of the past 12 months one last shot at the spotlight.


Ladies and Gentlemen, I proudly present the Parent Previews Picks of 2007.


Rod Gustafson


Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.

Parenting and the Media by Rod Gustafson

The Parents Television Council - www.parentstv.org

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