For your consideration

Prognosticators claim that “The King’s Speech,” “The Social Network” and “True Grit” are the front-runners to win the Best Movie award at Sunday’s Academy Awards. That doesn’t mean moviegoers should overlook some of the other films nominated for the Oscars’ top prize. Aside from “Toy Story 3,” none of the other films would be considered family movies. Still, among the nominees there are two small-budget films that are worth a look for what they say about family and community.

◗ Seventeen-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is, for all intents and purposes, the parent of two younger siblings in “Winter’s Bone.” The R-rated film is a gripping and gritty examination of what Ree will do to keep her family together after her deadbeat, meth-making father fails to show up for a court date and she learns he’s put the family’s house and property up for bond. (Her mother suffers from depression and is not able to care for her brother and sister). Answers don’t come easy as Ree searches for her father in the small Ozarks community that’s been ravaged by the effects of meth, but her dogged determination wins the respect — albeit grudgingly — from her community elders, and from viewers. 

◗ When many people hear a synopsis of “127 Hours” — a man goes hiking on his own, gets his arm pinned between a boulder and a canyon wall and must amputate it — their first reaction is to shudder and say, “That’s not a movie for me.” That’s too bad. Yes, it has some intense, gory moments, but the film (rated R), based on a true story, also has a lot to say about modern Americans’ self-imposed isolation. The hiker, Aron Ralston, is far too intent on his own plans to consider telling anyone where is he going hiking. Calls from family members are ignored. During his 127 hours trapped, however, he realizes the importance of relationships with those he loves, and that he has made a profound mistake in cutting people off from his life.


College guide

A common fixture these days on college campuses for incoming freshmen is a variety of “orientations”: How to get around campus; how to navigate the class registration process; and, increasingly often, things like how to make sure that the casual sex it is pretty much assumed college kids are having in abundance doesn’t lead to sexually transmitted diseases. 

But most schools pay little attention to warning students of the intellectual diseases they can catch from the “isms” that are rampant among professors and peers. 

A new book fills that gap. “Disorientation: How to Go to College Without Losing Your Mind” (Ascension Press, $12.99) is a collection of essays by a range of popular academics and bloggers on the “13 ‘isms’ that will send you to intellectual ‘la-la’ land”: hedonism, utilitarianism, cynicism, Americanism, relativism, feminism, to name a few. 

The book is edited by John Zmirak, a literature professor at Thomas More College in Merrimack, N.H.


I confess, 2011 style

Three applications developers from Indiana have been able to accomplish what many priests would love to do: Get people thinking and talking about the Sacrament of Penance. 

Ever since its release late last month, their “Confession: A Roman Catholic App” ($1.99, available for iPhone and iPad) has tapped into the zeitgeist, with secular and Catholic news organizations weighing in on the app (and in some cases erroneously reporting that it is a substitute for in-person confession) and comedians cracking lame jokes about it on late-night television.  

The app offers a step-by-step guide to the sacrament, an examination of conscience based on the penitent’s age and gender, and a tool to help users track how often they go to confession.