My favorite movies for a cozy winter night—Food for the mind
As a family of story-tellers and creative thinkers, an important part of the Young Family home culture is watching weekly movies, and talking about them for days and days. But I know our family is not unique in this! Because every human plays a part in God’s grand plan, we all have this deep longing to watch how the details of life weave together to create the eternal story that began at creation.
The world right now seems so focused on numbers, quantifying everything (how viral did you go, how big is your "platform," how many people are you "influencing," how much weight did you lose, how many state capitals did your kid memorize, how many things did you fit into your schedule?) — reducing humans to mere machines! But a great story lights a fire in our imaginations, seeing the world as being full of creative possibilities and meaning!
My family gets so wrapped up in the “feeling” of a movie, we are affected by it as we go about our week. After one viewing, we can’t help but be changed, even just a little bit. So, we take the movie selection pretty seriously. (Lochlan even unintentionally memorizes entire scenes of movies he’s seen only once or twice, and can recite them back to you.)
When Jeff and I were dating in college, one of our biggest most heated *disagreements* was about movies. He would watch thrillers and some rated R movies that I felt were wrong for me to watch. I really wanted him to agree with me that even if you feel unaffected after watching something unsavory, the images stay with you long-term, and the changes come insidiously. We agreed to disagree, because he was a film-studies major, but over a two-year period, he spent a lot of time in the Bible and felt led to be more careful with what he let himself watch.
How we filter movies
With children in the house, we are even more sensitive not just to offensive images, but to the overall heart of the story being told. When raising kids, there is nothing that is neutral — everything affects them, for good or for bad. We’re not trying to raise up overly-sheltered souls— we’re aiming to shape their characters.
After we watch a movie, we want to be able to say that we became better humans because of it.
With Philippians 4: 8 in mind, we try to choose movies that honor God and inspire us to greatness!
"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."
Some of the grandest stories ever told depict true evil and genuinely scary situations, but we feel that kids need to be exposed to some level of these things before entering adult world! When they realize how dark life can be, they’ll see the value in the light that they possess. We want them to become the heroes of their own stories!
[We avoid: movies that don’t have a message or real conflict (most kids movies fall under this category of "fluff"— why waste their precious time?), movies in which the overall tone is hopelessness, movies that are made for their shock value or “art for art’s sake,” movies that glorify the disintegration of Biblical family/marriage, stories in which you get in the mind of a murderer (or other sadistic characters), gratuitous violence and sexuality, and movies made by people who advocate for any of those things.]
What makes a story GREAT?
Ah, my favorites are movies that show extravagant personal sacrifice for the benefit of others. Anyone who has done something to change the course of history for the better has had to go against the odds, experiencing pain and struggle and opposition. Anything worth doing is going to be challenging.
Beyond that umbrella, I look for movies that:
*Show persistence and hard work, overcoming odds, going against the current, resisting temptations.
*Value and honor EVERY HUMAN LIFE, at every life stage from conception to natural death, from any place, celebrating all their uniqueness and differences.
*Are Visually beautiful, inspiring creativity, or sweet nostalgia.
*Show Courage — inspiring us to confront evil, leading us to live God’s plan for our lives, encouraging us to DREAM, giving us the motivation to start a business or take a leap.
*Question cultural norms that need tearing down.
*Show the joy and beauty of a strong family, thriving marriage, deep friendship.
Here are some of our favorite movies, in no particular order. Each one falls under at least one of the above categories, but usually multiple. Jeff and I spent the last two weeks discussing this list, scratching things off and adding some on. There are a good 25 more that would get honorable mention, but the below are movies that we can confidently stand by!
Great Movies for Date Night At Home
Les Misérables (1998)A criminal who is shown radical forgiveness then extends that GRACE to everyone he meets, even to the cold-hearted policeman who pursues him relentlessly. One of the best stories of all time. Don’t bother with any other movie version of this story — this one is simply brilliantly acted.
It's A Wonderful LifeThis is my all-time favorite movie. A man doesn’t realize how much his life of sacrifices has deeply impacted nearly everyone around him. When his evil foe tells him he’s worth more dead than alive, he contemplates suicide, but is rescued by an angel who shows him his real worth. There is so much good to the movie, I glean something new every time.
The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)An innocent man is sent to prison, betrayed by his best friend. Thanks to a priest who believes God has a plan for this poor soul, he escapes prison, finds treasure, and goes back to reclaim his lost love. This story is TIMELESS — my great-great grandchildren will love it like I do.
Joyeux NoelSoldiers in battle in WWI recognize the humanity of the “other” side, seeing that both sides are simply blindly following orders, and they all come peaceably together on the battlefield to celebrate Christmas together — they share stories, share food, play games. I LOVE that these soldiers see beyond war and the insanity that it is, and instead embrace camaraderie by befriending their enemies. If you've missed this one, you'll really need to add it to your yearly Christmas movie line-up. (The fast-forward button will be needed for one short scene between a reuniting husband and wife.)
The Hundred-Foot JourneyA family from India opens a restaurant in the French countryside (you’d have me based on the words “restaurant” and “French” alone), 100 feet across the street from an established Michelin- starred restaurant. The two restaurants compete, until the son in the Indian family begins to outshine everyone with his amazing cooking ability. It’s a beautiful movie that makes me want to cook more, savor more, start a business, be creative, and move to France!
Anne of Green GablesThis series is so good, our family watches the whole thing once every six months at least! An orphan girl who has never been loved uses her vibrant imagination to make life livable. She is serendipitously adopted by a grumpy elderly sister and quiet elderly brother, and she eventually charms them with her passion for seeing beauty where others are blind to it. Anne gives me the desire to slow down and soak in this beautiful world like she does!
Sense and SensibilityIn a time when you chose your spouse based on their status in society—instead of for love—Elinor and Marianne had an uphill battle, as their father has died and they're left in financial ruin. Selfless and motherly Elinor is in love but is crushed to learn her man is already pledged to marry another. Her sister Marianne falls deathly ill when her love interest leaves abruptly. The story gets good when you learn how all the characters' stories weave together. An amazingly written adaptation of a classic novel—it's captivating even for a male to watch!
The Lego MovieSurprisingly more for grown-ups than kids! Lego blocks are designed to create. However, they generally come with a step-by-step instruction manual so that everyone builds the same thing. This satire shows us that the only escape from the robotic society we have become is in creative freedom. This story shows us that we can all be useful to those around us by being original. The movie is hilarious too.
Dan in Real LifeA widowed father of three girls, who has given up on love and works as family advice columnist, joins his extended family’s annual retreat to a cabin in the Northeast. This just has a cozy fall feeling to it, and I love stories that showcase tight-knit families (flaws and all) and believable challenging parenting moments.
The HelpA young writer secretly interviews and compiles the poingnant, painful stories of the "help" in a Southern, racist community — and publishes them, in order to open people's eyes to these women's immense value. One of the most entertaining movies, both in humor (when the most evil woman of the town gets deservedly hilariously humiliated for her hatred) and in power (one of my favorite storylines is how one of the women raises up the racists' children with as much love as if she were their own mother).
FireproofMarriage is a promise and a lifelong commitment, but it requires going all-in, resisting your personal temptations and the fleeting allure of freedom. This is a Christian movie about a couple who've lost the desire to put any effort into their marriage, and have chosen selfishness. Thanks to a "love-dare" from the husband's father, the husband commits to 40 days of selflessly pursuing his wife's heart. Some of the lines and acting may seem a little cheesy, but the story is excellent!
Pursuit of HappynessA father’s drive to be a role model for his son brings them both to extreme poverty while he works an unpaid internship clinging onto the hope for a better life for them both. A powerful rock-bottom scene where he and his boy spend the night on the floor of a train station bathroom will live with you forever. A father's sacrifice, hard work, perseverence, creativity — this film contains so many of my favorite qualities.
The NotebookThis is one of the few cases in which the movie far outshines the book itself! This movie is just visually beautiful to watch, with vibrant old-fashioned costumes, set mostly in the humid South. The young couple’s love story set alongside the elderly couple's love story, and the way they converge at the end, is just…sweet.
Amazing GraceJohn Newton, who committed some of the most atrocious acts to other human beings during the slave trade in England, became a Christian and radically changed his life. During that time, he wrote the song "Amazing Grace" and pastored a young William Wilberforce at a critical stage in his adolescent life. William Wilberforce, through extreme perseverance and dedication, helped establish a law ending the slave trade in England. Our redemption sometimes comes from those we invest in. This film motivates me to pour into others and to continue to fight for what I know to be right.
Chef(With caveats — lots of R-rated stuff — we are currently using VidAngel for movies like this.) From childhood, I’ve had this strong desire to start a restaurant. The creativity of cooking combined with the honor of serving and impressing strangers with something so intimate as food, is the stuff my dreams are made of. The main character is a sell-out chef, who’s ready to be Great again, so he starts over as the owner/chef of a traveling food truck.
LionA little boy in India falls asleep on a train and lands far from home, completely lost, and can’t communicate where his home is. He becomes one of the thousands (an estimated 80,000 kids go missing every year in India) of lost kids, fending for himself and running from kidnappers, and eventually becoming adopted by an Australian family. Gut wrenching and painful, but once you’ve seen it, you can’t erase how thankful you feel to have the family you do, and how much you want to scoop up all those little ones and provide for them! I was weeping and shaking at the end.
Great Movies for the Entire Family
Nativity StoryI admit — I usually avoid movies about the Bible! They are almost always botched, boring, and badly acted. God's power gets watered-down. But this is more in the league of "The Passion of the Christ" — it's good enough to bring tears to my eyes and makes me want more. I reference this one all the time to my kids when I'm reading the Gospels to them, because it shows the humanity of Joseph and Mary. You get to envision what it would feel like to be pregnant with God's son! No matter what happens in your pregnancy — you know he's going to live and reign forever — what an exciting position to be in!
The Sound of MusicA would-be nun falls in love with a hardened widower and his seven kids, who've all had to live a cold life of regimen and lacking the beauty of music. It's set in Salzburg, Austria — definitely one of the most stunningly beautiful places on earth — at the beginning of the Nazi takeover in Europe. The movie is not as much about music as it is about overcoming the pain of loss and the chains of rules (including those of the 3rd Reich), and moving in the risky direction of freedom in love. The entire family must attempt to creatively escape Austria, as the Nazis come to force the father into enlistment in their Navy.
Father of the Bride (1991)A father must let go of his only daughter, giving her away in an elaborate over-the-top wedding at their stunning suburbian home, even though no man is ever good enough for your innocent baby girl! The father-daughter relationship, the celebration of marriage and wanting the best for your children, and the classic beauty of the wedding reception itself, all make this one of my all-time favorites.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The WardrobeTo protect them from the dangers of war, a mother sends her four kids go to live with their uncle in a vast old mansion with endless empty rooms. Through the wardrobe in one of the rooms, the kids find a door to another world, one with new creatures, and a grand war between good and evil. The children find that they are the missing piece of this land's story — their part in the war has been foretold. They must rise up and be the heroes!
PollyannaAn orphan girl is sent to live with her rich, selfish, unmarried aunt, who rules her town – even the church – with her money. Pollyanna was taught (by her father, who tragically died) to see the good in all situations, and transforms the community with her optimism. When tragedy strikes Pollyanna herself, the town gets to show her how much she’s helped them.
National TreasureThe founding fathers hid a treasure far from anywhere the British could have found it, and left clues in the most mysterious places — one on the back of the Declaration of Independence. This film strikes the adventurous chord in all of us, as the modern day treasure hunters decode the puzzle, using their knowledge of history. We all want to see the different artifacts in person now! Oh, to leave such a legacy for the next generations.
The Secret Garden (1993)A little girl has been neglected by her partying wealthy parents, and when they tragically die, she must go stay at the austere mansion of her uncle, who himself has succumbed to life-consuming depression since his wife has also died years before. The angry little girl hears crying in the night and is surprised to find another child just as loveless and neglected as herself. The girl happens upon a mysterious garden, which has a story all to itself, and hope is found in nurturing life and friendship.
Beauty and the Beast (1991)I'm not a fan of animated movies, since many of them seem to condescend to children instead of giving them something to aspire to. But the warmth and timelessness in the way the animated Beauty and the Beast tells its story (and its perfect soundtrack) make it a grand exception to my rule. Belle is beautiful both outside and in, as she works on her character by endlessly reading books, caring for her quirky outside-the-box inventor father, singing joyfully, and turning down the advances of local brute, Gaston. When her father is taken captive by a cursed man-beast, she heroically offers herself up as a substitute prisoner for him. In this mysterious castle, her sacrificial love warms the heart of the beast, inspiring him to become a new man.
Little Women (1994)Four sisters and their strong mother create a full, imaginative life in New England while their father is off in the Civil War and while they struggle financially. The girls write and act out plays, write their own newspaper together, sew their own clothes, school themselves at home. This story (both from the book and the movie) has shaped so much of who I am. Many parts are worth mentioning — their giving of their own Christmas breakfast to a poor family, the loss of their dear sister Beth, the struggle of Jo’s desire to find a place in the world as a woman with huge dreams. I can’t imagine anyone NOT loving this movie.
October SkyFeeling trapped in a small, depressed West Virginian coal-mining town, a teenaged boy motivates three other classmates to build a rocket with him. I love seeing intrinsic motivation like this — the boys end up learning and using calculus just for their rocket, they are seen as rebels and irresponsible, yet they press on in their strong desire to create!
Cheaper by the Dozen (1950)This was my mom's favorite movie when I was growing up, because it made having a dozen kids look crazy fun! She had five kids, and our chaotic, loud, loving home (and my mom's composure in the wildest of times) seemed a lot like this movie. (It was only in the past five years that I had to rethink having that many kids myself!) Though set in the early 1900s, many of the movie's good parenting moments seemed applicable to today. In the end, when tragedy strikes, the family shows what a loving foundation and excellent example has been set by these two parents.
Swiss Family RobinsonWhen I was little, this movie made me want to get shipwrecked on an island so I could build a tree-house as elaborate as this family's. Every kid's imagination really gets going when they visualize how much fun could be had on a tropical island full of wild animals! I think Americans especially love the idea of pioneering an uninabited land, being self-sufficient, and starting something new!
HookLegendary Peter Pan has grown up into a deadened work-absorbed lawyer, who has completely lost his sense of wonder. He's a terrible father and undevoted husband. When Captain Hook kidnaps Peter's children to bait him into a fight, Peter must relearn how to use his imagination and regain his childlike belief in achieving the impossible. Some of my favorite scenes are him imagining a glorious colorful food feast and food fight, and his return home with a new awed perspective of his children (and throwing his cell-phone out the window).
Cinderella (2015)Rather than a naive unintelligent doormat (that Cinderella is in the animated Disney version), this Cinderella is a woman rooted in virtue. She responds to her stepmother's hatred toward her not with more hatred, but with forgiveness and pity. She willingly serves the stepmother and stepsisters, without complaint. To the man who must tell her that her beloved father has died, she selflessly empathizes with HIM, saying, "That must have been very difficult for you." And she is an optimist — the movie begins and ends with "she saw the world not always as it was but perhaps as it could be..."
Meet Me In St. LouisIn this cheerful musical, you meet a Victorian family living in a stunning mansion, with gorgeous period costumes, at the advent of the telephone and the World's Fair. You're taken through the different seasons and holidays and experience them as a Victorian — the summer party they host with ruffly swirly dresses and dancing, the hilarious five-year-old "Tootie" riding the ice-cart, Halloween with the kids throwing flour in the faces of their neighbors as their "trick", the beautifully performed "Have yourself a Merry Christmas" by Judy Garland.
When we stay in for movie night, I'll usually make some treat, like homemade popcorn (organic popcorn on the stovetop in a stainless stockpot — start with 4 kernels in a T of coconut oil and heat on high with a lid, until all 4 kernels pop! Then pour in 1/2 cup more kernels and continue cooking on high, stirring once every 10 seconds, until all popped, then turn off the heat and add lots of melted butter and salt!), or hot cocoa with homemade marshmallows! I've shared that recipe below!
Rich Homemade Hot Cocoa
3 cups raw whole milk
5 T organic maple syrup
5 T organic cocoa powder
1/8 tsp Himalayan pink salt
3/4 tsp organic vanilla extract
1 scoop collagen protein powder (optional, for a nutrition boost!)
organic homemade marshmallows to top
This makes enough for all of us to have a little teacup full of cocoa, or for just Jeff and I to each have a mug and a half on our date night in!
Heat the 3 cups of milk in a saucepan on medium until warm, then whisk in syrup and cocoa. Continue to heat further, stirring with the whisk constantly, until hot enough to drink (but DO NOT allow to boil!). Then whisk in salt, vanilla and collagen powder. Serve with organic marshmallows on top!