Last week's announcement of the Academy Award nominations brought several Best Picture nominees back to theaters, with the three that Christian critics liked least bringing in the most business. The box office also picked up this President's Day weekend with a quartet of new releases, even though critics panned them all as mediocre offerings.

The Whole Nine Yards ($16.1 million)

Bruce Willis plays a hitman who, on the run from mobsters he testified against, moves in next door to a straight-laced dentist (Matthew Perry). The odd-couple story drew praise from Christian critics for Perry's acting and for his good-guy persona. Perry "recalls the best comedic performances in screwball comedies from Hollywood's Golden Age," according to Movieguide.

Movie Parables was impressed with the dentist's nobility of character: "The Whole Nine Yards retains a certain degree of sweetness because at the center of it all is a genuinely nice guy who is motivated not by greed, not by vengeance, but by love." But even those who found him charming weren't impressed with the film as a whole.

The Movie Reporter acknowledges that the filmmakers "try to make [Perry] the innocent in all of this, but even he commits adultery. … The overall message is one of unfaithfulness, deceit, and murder."

The U.S. Catholic Conference also criticized it for being "off-putting in its breezy treatment of crime." And although the movie has some "ingenious one-liners" ( Childcare Action), critics felt the humor was mediocre overall and only "provides short-term amusement" (John Evans of Preview).

Hanging Up ($16.1 million)

Tying for the number one slot this weekend was Hanging Up, the story of a middle child (Meg Ryan) who takes on the burden of caring for her senile father (Walter Matthau) since her self-obsessed sisters (Diane Keaton and Lisa Kudrow) refuse to help. Despite an interesting premise about family dynamics, the movie has received stinging criticisms from nearly every reviewer. The U.S. Catholic Conference calls the movie "manipulative" and charges that its "approach to familial relationships relies on stereotypes of sibling rivalry." The Movie Reporter's Phil Boatwright said he was "squirming in my seat from the pretentious and often supercilious attempts at humor." Mary Draughon of Preview was annoyed by the ceaseless ringing of cell phones, used as a plot device in the film. "If cell phones annoy you now," she writes, "by the end of the movie you may positively hate them." Christian Spotlight guest reviewer Hillari Hunter was disappointed that "not much … is known about these characters, other than what is seen on the surface. The result is a bland movie." J. Robert Parks of The Phantom Tollbooth was similarly concerned with the one-dimensional character played by Ryan, whose "constant whining" leads the audience to "grow progressively less sympathetic" with her plight.

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Snow Day ($14.8 million)

In this popular family comedy, a heavy snowfall promises to cancel school for the day if only a group of kids can stop the dreaded Snowplow Man (Chris Elliott) from clearing the streets. Several reviewers found the movie inappropriate for families: Preview's Mary Draughon was disturbed by the characters' "tearing down [of] others, particularly authority figures," and Movieguide likewise felt the movie presented "some bad role models for children." But The Movie Reporter says these negative elements are no reason to stay away. "Rather than deem such a film unsuitable for children," he writes, "I think parents should discuss why little ones should show respect not just for people they like, but for everyone." Bob Smithouser of Focus on the Family suggested paying more attention to the movie's positive elements, saying that "even the disrespect shown to certain authority figures is balanced by decent, loving (if somewhat slow to discipline) adults in the home." But most everyone agreed the movie isn't that enthralling. Christian Spotlight guest reviewer Douglas Downs says it's "worth seeing [but] not a great film," and Movie Parables offers the dismissing remark that "there are far better things to be done on a snow day than to watch this."

Pitch Black ($14 million)

Newcomer Vin Diesel introduced himself to audiences in two movies this weekend (he's also featured in Boiler Room), and the strong opening for this sci-fi thriller suggests we'll be seeing more of Diesel soon. In Pitch Black he plays a felon who turns into an unlikely leader when his spaceship crashes on a remote planet inhabited by deadly creatures. The U.S. Catholic Conference was more impressed with the lead actor than the derivative film itself, saying that "the menacing Diesel anchors a murky movie that seems a patchwork quilt of Alien, The Birds and Lost in Space." Paul Bicking of Preview found it intriguing that Pitch Black displays a spiritual awareness, unlike many other genre films—although when the religious character "frequently talks about God's provision … he refers to Allah." The Movie Reporter suggests an earlier sci-fi film, Forbidden Planet, as an alternative with far less "blood, violence, and bodies."

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The Tigger Movie ($10.5 million)

Christian critics reserved their highest praise for this Winnie the Pooh story that finds bouncy Tigger searching the Hundred Acre Woods for a tigger family. Reviewers were enthused about the lessons the film could teach children. "It is good for young minds to see their favorite characters working together, caring for each other, and even showing respect," wrote Douglas Downs, guest reviewer for Christian Spotlight. Preview's John Evans added that "children will learn the value of family and friends in this lively, heartwarming story." Movieguide echoed those sentiments, calling it "a fun picture with strong characters whose message of caring friendship and sacrificial love will delight media-wise parents." Other reviewers noted the sense of nostalgia the film delivers, being the first Pooh feature in 23 years. "The Tigger Movie is a purist's dream," writes Steven Isaacs of Focus on the Family, "returning audiences to the simple beauty of those classic shorts." Movie Parables agrees, saying "There's certainly a sentimentality to the picture that adult audiences will appreciate." Not everyone fell head over heels for the story, though. Matthew Prins of The Film Forum warns that the movie "gives characters qualities they never should have had. … The Tigger Movie may not be Disney on autopilot, but it's perilously close." World was also disappointed, saying it's "too bad what Tigger gets for a story is a threadbare bit of cartoon-character anxiety."

Rounding Out the Top Ten

Scream 3, the concluding chapter in the horror series, dropped to sixth place this weekend. Christian critics have been pleased that the violence was toned down for this installment; Movieguide notes that "Scream 3 has slightly less blood, less gruesome deaths and no sex or nudity." Nobody has recommended the film, though. "Is Scream 3 redeeming?" Movieguide asks. "Clean? O.K. for your teenager? Definitely not." Christian Spotlight guest reviewer Hillari Hunter was concerned more with the lack of narrative punch in the film: "The red herrings have become too familiar and the cleverness that was apparent in the first Scream has grown thin."

Seventh-place finisher The Beach finds Leonardo DiCaprio as a bored American in search of an island paradise where he can leave civilization behind. Hollywood Jesus connects this quest with our spiritual hunger: "Here is a film that explores the inner desire to return to Paradise in all of us. Unfortunately, the evil serpent always awaits." J. Robert Parks of The Phantom Tollbooth agrees with the sentiment but not the execution. "Director Danny Boyle, who made the groundbreaking Trainspotting, has a knack for ethical questions," Parks writes. "In The Beach, he wants us to think about how a desire for paradise undermines its own foundation, how our hopes and dreams can never be enough. Unfortunately, this film is too diffuse to be successful." John Adair of Preview similarly states that the movie "starts with an interesting premise [but] trails off into an odd and confused mishmash in the second half, leaving the audience dissatisfied in the end." Movie Parables blames the lack of exposition: "If some of these characters had been fleshed out or given a bit more substance, the film may have been able to evoke something more out of its audience than unintentional laughter." Christian Spotlight guest critic Seth T. Hahne instead points to the "erratic pacing … and saccharine conclusion." Between the two, "there is naught but eye candy remaining to recommend the film." The Movie Reporter singles out the movie's absurd extremism: "There's nothing like drinking the blood of a snake to show rebellion against the establishment." Movieguide, however, says the film's conclusion is more dangerous that mere mishmash. "There will be many who will get excited by the theological implications," they write, but "The Beach does not reject sin or paganism, nor does it really lead its audience to forgo the hedonistic pleasures of a pagan paradise lost."

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Landing in eighth place is Vin Diesel's other film, Boiler Room, which also stars Giovanni Ribisi and Ben Affleck. Ribisi plays a young stockbroker named Seth who becomes suspicious of his trading firm and discovers corruption within the ranks. The U.S. Catholic Conference says it's a "derivative drama … that gradually becomes predictable while losing credibility." Preview's John Adair agrees that "it falls apart in the second half and ends up as a cheap imitation of better movies." He credits the film, though, with clearly labeling sin since "love of money really is the root of evil in the story." Movieguide likewise praises the movie for "condemn[ing] the fast living and dishonesty it dramatizes," but ultimately feels the movie teaches nothing. "Seth rights some of his wrongs, but his motives seem to pivot more upon winning his father's love than upon moral ideals."

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In ninth place is American Beauty, earning another $5 million in the wake of its eight Oscar nominations. Christian critics were split sharply between those who loved the movie and those who hated it—some said the movie celebrates the selfish behavior of the characters while others said it shows that selfishness holds no rewards.

Tenth place was a tie between two other Best Picture nominees. The Cider House Rules cracked the top ten for the first time; previously it had received little commercial or critical attention. Christian reviewers in general found the story quite moving but were dissatisfied with its approving portrayal of abortion and the implication that people should live by their own rules. The Green Mile also placed tenth, also dividing critics. Many felt that the miracles performed by the character of John Coffey were a clear depiction of God at work, while others thought he represented of a murky, feel-good spiritualism. (The other two Best Picture nominees, The Insider and The Hurricane, received far more enthusiastic responses from Christian critics. See our earlier coverage from Nov. 9 and Jan. 19 to read the reviews.)

Steve Lansingh is editor of, a weekly Internet magazine devoted to Christianity and the cinema.