Last week, Christianity Today Movies managing editor Mark Moring and I compiled a list of particularly inspiring films, called The 10 Most Redeeming Films of 2004 (a claim that, I'm sure, is open to debate). This week, a CT Movies panel put together their Critics' Choice Awards for 2004—a different kind of list, focusing on artistic excellence rather than uplifting or inspiring effect.

And, as is their peculiar obsession, critics are publishing their own different lists of favorites. My own personal list of 20, or so, is at Looking Closer. Here are some lists from other religious press critics I monitor for Film Forum material:

Hide … Don't Seek this De Niro bomb

The actor who became a legend in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver now has a career that's gone off the road.

Hide and Seek, the latest movie starring Robert De Niro, might be the box office champion, but critics and DeNiro fans agree—this once-great actor's career has become an embarrassment. This paranormal thriller, which also stars young Dakota Fanning (soon to co-star in Spielberg's War of the Worlds), is getting panned by critics, including those in the religious press. DeNiro's participation fails to elevate the material; in fact, it sounds like his work makes it worse.

Russ Breimeier (Christianity Today Movies) says DeNiro "comes off as cold and boring from the very first scene. [The] question we all should be asking is, 'How did this stinker attract such a big name cast?' No thriller cliché goes unused in this movie, relying once again on cheap jumps to frighten the audience: the leaping cat, the quickly whisked shower curtain, the overly loud sound mix, the extreme close-up. Yet as reliable as these usually are for a few flinches, rarely have they been executed with so little effectiveness."

Breimeier went on to say that Hide and Seek "has more red herrings than an Agatha Christie novel combined with the aquarium downtown." The "red herring" theme was also popular with at least two more critics.

"One can only wonder if [DeNiro] actually read the script before signing on," says David DiCerto (Catholic News Service). "The cliché -ridden script lacks any real suspense, let alone the faintest semblance of logic. What it does have is more red herrings than your local fish market and a ridiculous twist ending which elicits more snickers than surprise."

Tom Neven (Plugged In) calls it "a psychological thriller with two big twists—blink and you'll miss the second one—and enough red herrings to stink up an entire fish market. . . . [U]ltimately the film proves to be like one of those Rube Goldberg contraptions: a whole lot of moving parts to accomplish very little.

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) calls DeNiro's performance "bland and unremarkable," adding that the "by-the-numbers script . . . telegraphs its secrets and often unintentionally borders on and occasionally crosses over into camp. For anyone familiar with the genre, the only thing surprising about the ending is the fact that it was used . . . again."

If you see this movie, you'll be Alone in the Dark

You could read about director Uwe Boll's new sci-fi action film starring Christian Slater and Tara Reid—Alone in the Dark—or you could just pretend the movie doesn't exist. The critics who have seen it wish they had ignored it.

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) calls it "an insufferably inane sci-fi action film which could possibly be one of the worst movies in recent memory. And don't just take my word for it. During an advance screening, the movie was met with bursts of unintended laughter and when a faulty projector twice interrupted the viewing the audience actually applauded."

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Christopher Lyon (Plugged In) says, "Slater and cast appear uncomfortable and perplexed while uttering ridiculous lines and running to and fro in the dark."

Aliens of the Deep—Amazing 3-D Discoveries

Annabelle Robertson (Crosswalk) has discovered the new 3-D IMAX film from Titanic director James Cameron, and writes, "There is no shortage of life at the bottom of the ocean—it's just getting there that's the problem. With his bevy of scientists and camera-laden submersibles, however . . . Cameron has done just that. And the results are certainly worth exploring. With such amazing, vibrant footage, you'll be more than happy to stay underwater . . . especially with the mesmerizing, lifelike, 3-D images that envelop you."

More reviews of recent releases

These films have been covered more extensively in previous editions of Film Forum.

Les Choristes (The Chorus):Annabelle Robertson (Crosswalk) writes, "We all long for that perfect combination of direction and acceptance from those in authority, which some call 'mentoring.' I believe it's a hunger for God which He gives us, so that we will seek out not only Him, but others who mirror these godly qualities. And so, it is no surprise that another film which deals with teachers and students, and the powerful relationship that they can have, has once again become a favorite. Even those who abhor subtitles will appreciate this film, which can open up interesting avenues of discussion about the role of the arts in education, our local communities and even our hearts."

Are We There Yet?:Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says, "Are We There Yet? is a movie that asks the wrong titular question. After sitting through this film the question that comes to mind is 'Why did we go at all?' It is based upon an old, tired concept that has been seen many times before."

Coach Carter:Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) compares it to Million Dollar Baby (and gives away the ending to that film, so beware!). He says, "Coach Carter is definitely rougher around the edges, but it just might inspire some young viewers to think about improving their lives."

Million Dollar Baby:Josh Hurst (Reveal) addresses the controversy over the film, saying, "Some of the characters make some particularly bad choices. While many religious critics are accusing Eastwood of advocating a certain unethical action, the film is not endorsing any kind of misbehavior. For discerning moviegoers, Clint Eastwood has created a film that should be seen, discussed, and then seen again, one that takes some of the darkest questions of the human soul and writes them in blood—a sort of modern-day Psalm for the broken-hearted skeptic."

Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films—Beware! Plot spoilers!) references other controversial films and compares Million Dollar Baby to them. He concludes, "In spite of its offensive finale Million Dollar Baby is an engaging film that even well-formed Catholics, despite their reservations, might care about in a way that they probably wouldn't care about, e.g., Kinsey or The Cider House Rules."

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