I tried writing a screen play once. I tried writing a play too. Neither turned out very good. But I learned, if nothing else, what not to do. Fortunately, some writers have got this writing thing down. Recently, I was talking with some friends and told them, I let my children watch movies that are not specifically targeted for children. After all, it’s my role as the parent to set foundations upon which my children can build their lives. And too often, children’s programs and movies fall short. You don’t need crude humor, lame jokes or stupidity to be entertained.
Very early on, I realized I needed to take charge of what my children watch. Why not teach them and let them be entertained at the same time? Why not lay foundations built on qualities that encourage them to both think outside of themselves as well as reveal different aspects of the world? I have a tween and a teen child, as well as two adult children. And I have had some great conversations on humanity, integrity, honesty, social inequality, etc. because I let my children learn and grow by watching age appropriate movies. Fortunately, I found a site that takes the guess work out of children’s ratings. Let’s face it—our current rating system fails on so many levels. A great site to go to for advice on movies is CommonSenseMedia.org which gives movies an age rating rather than a general PG. I have seen PG-13 movies that are okay to watch with the children provided there is a little adult explaining and intervention, and PG movies that were absolutely atrocious and distasteful, and I wished I had never watched them.
This is where common sense should come in. But let’s face it. Some people don’t have it. I have known parents who have let their early elementary children watch R-rated movies with rape, incest, violence and horror. Who knows what this can do to developing psyches?
A child should never watch a movie if they haven’t yet reached an age of understanding regarding an adult concept in that movie. Don’t let small children watch graphic sex when they cannot understand the difference between right and wrong, yes and no, and what constitutes rape, molestation and/or abuse. It’s hard to do in today’s society when sex is a normal part of primetime television. Take my advice. Avoid the program. Plain and simple. Do you, as the caregiver, want to be the one to pick up the pieces later if they mess up?
For my family, I have found some programs that I feel teach value and integrity while both educating and entertaining. These movies instilled morals in my children. And what’s more, they were so influential that later my children would bring up an aspect of the movie that stood out to them and talk with others about it.
I heard my young daughter educating a friend on slavery and racism from the movie Belle. After watching The Book Thief, she and my son told an adult friend of mine of the consequences of WWII. In The Hundred-Foot Journey we laughed about the father who said, “I will turn down the music, but I will turn up the heat.” It was delightful how he turned the tables (pun intended) on the restaurant across the road. And to top it off, by watching it my children were taught the value of working hard to get what you want and not giving up on a dream. There is some quality writing in these shows. And I love, absolutely love, that they don’t talk down to children. Good writing is just good writing. Enjoy it. Or write it. Perhaps you will have more luck than I did. I don’t expect to try my hand at another screenplay anytime soon.
Friends, my children and I compiled this list of some of our favorites to share with you, in no specific order. I hope you will like them as much as we do.
- The Book Thief—who is the narrator? This is incredible. I don’t want to give it away but find I must say that this is simply masterful writing. Enough said, watch it yourself. Or read the book. Books are almost always better in my opinion.
- Woman in Gold—Mmm, Ryan Reynolds, cute, just cute. *eh, uh, clear throat* No seriously, this movie is Gold! Helen Mirren is a superb actress and she beautifully portrays the story of an octogenarian woman who takes on the Austrian government to recover the painting of her beloved Aunt Adele. One she believes was unrightfully stolen from her family.
- The Hundred-Foot Journey—another great by Helen Mirren. The story, the plot, the rivalry and the ending are all good in this film.
- Secondhand Lions—by far one of my favorite movies of all time. Action, adventure, mystery and three great actors to boot. I could go on, but I won’t. Watch this for yourself and let me know what you think of it. I would be interested to hear.
- The Help—a civil rights tale that both educates and entertains. Its chock full of great writing, nuanced characters and seasoned actors. I both read the book and watched the movie and still find myself surprised that author Kathryn Stockett’s book was turned down 60 times before it was finally published. It just goes to show you that perseverance pays off, and sometimes a good thing doesn’t always go through the first go round, or the twentieth, thirtieth, fiftieth . . .
- The Blind Side—Sandra Bullock in one of her finest performances. Based on the true story of football player Michael Oher, this is a compelling and uplifting show. And who doesn’t need something to lift their spirits now and then?
- Intouchables—a winner of 32 awards and nominated for 38 more, including a Golden Globe, this is one show to watch. There are some positive elements and worthwhile lessons but be aware it is an R-rated movie. Commonsense.org parents say this is a 16+ age rating while commonsensemedia.org kids give it a 14+.
- Belle—what if racism didn’t exist? Now take that concept to 18th Century England and watch how the story of Belle influences politics and society at a time when slavery is a societal norm. Then think about the fact that this is based on the real-life story of Dido Elizabeth Belle and how one person can influence change. A powerful story.
- Terms and Conditions May Apply—who says children can’t enjoy documentaries and be informed in the process? This is an eye opening, and some would say frightening, documentary on how digital companies store, collect and use personal data. In this age of information where not having a social media presence is virtually unheard of, students and parents need to be well informed. Documentaries are important. Make this one to watch.
- The Ultimate Gift—there are some positive morals here that can lead to great discussions on wealth, friendship and the value of being given the ‘gift of nothing.’ More mature audiences may have to overlook the obvious stereotypes and the ‘I saw that coming’ of the plot to some degree but it is worth the watch.
- October Sky—based on the true story of Homer Hickam who wanted to reach for the stars and escape his coal mining town to work on rockets for a living. The lesson here is simple: don’t be afraid to follow your dreams.
And here are some shorts we loved. Simply click on them to watch them. I have provided the links so you can enjoy them as much as we did.
- Alarm—because it’s just so funny. “Who hasn’t wanted to shoot the hell out of the alarm clock?”
- Signs—A 2009 Cannes Lion winner. This film is simply enjoyable.
- Paper Man—By Walt Disney Animation and directed by John Kahrs. Entertaining and delightful.
- The Maker— Director Christopher Kezelos says, “The Maker explores the preciousness of our moments on earth, the short time we have with loved ones and the enjoyment of ones life’s work and purpose. In their fleeting existence our characters experience joy, love, hard work, purpose, loss and loneliness. As the tagline suggests, ‘life is what you make it’ and we are all makers in this world.”
Which one is your favorite? Do you have a quality movie that I didn’t mention to add to the list?