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The Online Film Critics announced our picks for the best of 2009:
Best Picture: The Hurt Locker
Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Best Actor: Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
Best Actress: Melanie Laurent, Inglourious Basterds
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Best Supporting Actress: Mo’Nique, Precious
Best Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Best Adapted Screenplay: Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on a book by Roald Dahl
Best Documentary: Anvil!: The Story of Anvil
Best Picture Not in the English Language: The White Ribbon
Best Animated Feature: Up
Best Cinematography: Robert Richardson, Inglourious Basterds
Best Score: Michael Giacchino, Up
Best Editing: Chris Innis and Bob Murawski, The Hurt Locker

Take a look at Phil Hall’s great list of the most important religious films of all time from website Film Snobbery. My favorite film about the life of Jesus, “The Gospel According to St. Matthew” is number 2 on the list. I was pleased to see some provocative and even irreverent titles including “The Life of Brian” and “Dogma.” The list includes well-known crowd-pleasers like “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Chariots of Fire,” and “Ben-Hur” along with some almost-unknowns like “Plan 10 from Outer Space” (“Trent Harris’ low-budget underground comedy reimagines Mormon history with a singing Karen Black as the extra-terrestrial wife of Brigham Young”) and “Man in the Fifth Dimension” (“Billy Graham’s film essay on the spiritual dimensions of the human condition had its premiere at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. It is also noteworthy as the only non-theatrical film shot in the widescreen Todd-AO process”). It has a number of films that are truly inspiring. It includes some movies that frankly explore the mistakes, arrogance, and corruption that have been committed in the name of religion. It has documentaries, fact-based feature films and fiction, movies from the early silent era to a 2007 documentary. It includes films about Christianity, Judaism, Catholicism, Islam, and Buddhism, films about saints, sinners, and a pair of friends who happen to be a tomato and a cucumber. And it has one of the funniest movies I know, “The Mad Adventures of ‘Rabbi’ Jacob.”

Plato’s Pond – US Edition is a great new mystery book for middle schoolers that lets them solve the crime as they learn something about science.
Watson and Crick (those names are a tribute to the scientists who discovered the double helix structure of DNA) and their friend Rosa try to catch a stray dog and find themselves on the other side of a gateway to a different world. In order to find their way back, they will need to solve a mystery. And in order to help them solve the mystery, the readers of the book have to perform some safe and simple experiments with materials found in the home (magnifying glass, soda bottle, vinegar, steel nails, etc.).
The Plato’s Pond website has more resources and information. And I have one copy of the book for the first teacher who writes to me a moviemom@moviemom.com with Plato in the subject line. Good luck!

When things go very, very wrong in this movie, as they so often do, we get to see a series of television news broadcasts from around the world showing the destruction of various iconic monuments, as we so often do. And then something different happens. One of the newscasters points out that this particular un-natural disaster seems inexplicably and improbably primarily directed at national landmarks. So this is a movie with a sense of humor about itself and its audience.

As long as you don’t expect it to have much to do with the story or illustrations in the classic book by Judi and Ron Barrett, you can settle in for an entertaining and, yes, delicious family film. In the book, instead of rain and snow, food falls from the sky in the town of Chew and Swallow. In this movie, we get to see how that came to be.

It begins, as so many stories for children begin, with a kid who feels like an outsider. Flint Lockwood (as an adult the voice of Bill Hader of “Saturday Night Live”) is a curious kid who likes to invent things but does not always think things through. His spray-on shoes are so indescructable they never come off. His gadget to allow Steve the Monkey to speak works perfectly well; it’s just that Steve doesn’t say much worth hearing. His mom believes in him, but after she dies he just has his dad, all eyebrows and mustache (and voice of James Caan) thinks he should just give it up and come to work with him in his sardine shop.

Sardines are the sole product of Flint’s town, called Swallow Falls. But then, disaster happens. Everyone figures out that sardines are yucky. And so the town falls on hard times. Can one of Flint’s inventions save the day?

Well, not really. An invention to turn water into food goes awry when it is shot into the air and the next thing the town knows, what once was rain, snow, fog, and hail is now pancakes, sushi, BLTs, and jellybeans. The mayor (voice of B-movie star Bruce Campbell) sees this as a chance to revitalize the town’s economy through tourism. And as a chance to eat a lot of food and get very fat. The former mascot of the town’s previous sardine industry, the now-grown “Baby” Brent (voice of SNL’s Andy Samberg) sees this as a threat to his popularity. And a junior employee at the Weather Channel who wants to be a newscaster (Anna Feris as Sam Sparks) thinks she has to hide her brains and curiosity to get people to like her and sees this as her chance to show what she can do.

That is a lot to sort out, not to mention a fabulous mansion made of Jell-O and some action sequences involving space travel and a peanut allergy. But it is all handled well without getting frantic or losing its sense of fun. This is a fresh and clever film, with both wit and heart, a family delight, more fun than a hailstorm of jellybeans followed by pizza flurries.

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