Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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‘Because of Winn-Dixie’; a roundup of 2004’s best films
by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register
(From the March 17, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)
Some years ago my sister, Patty, sent me the short novel for young people by Kate DiCamillo,
who happened to live in Minnesota near my sister. It was a favorite story of Patty’s.
But my own dog, Duke, had died and I just wasn’t up to reading what I thought was a happy
dog story. So I eventually passed it on to another without reading it.
Well, I finally have experienced the story of a dog named after a supermarket with a
youthful 10-year-old master named Opal in the new movie Because of Winn-Dixie.
Yes, Because of Winn-Dixie has a sentimental side, and for some it may be a bit
preachy. But there aren’t a lot of movies parents and grandparents can take children to.
Because of Winn-Dixie is an enjoyable family film that has some over-the-top acting
and pratfalls combined with some fine actors giving it their all.
Opal (AnnaSophia Robb) has just moved with her Dad, a Baptist preacher, to a very small
Florida town. It is summer and she is lonely. Her Dad continues to be depressed in light of
Opal’s Mom leaving him some years ago.
Father and daughter have been moving from one small church to another. Dad, who Opal calls
Preacher, has just taken over the Open Arms Baptist Church, which is located in a strip
mall. The previous occupant was Pick It Quick Market.
One day Opal is asked to pick up some macaroni for dinner at the real local supermarket. A
stray dog is running loose through the store. Opal saves the dog by telling everyone the dog
is hers and is named after the store, Winn-Dixie.
But she at first is not allowed to keep the dog because of a “no pets” rule at the trailer
court she and her Dad live in. As Dad and daughter look for the owner, the dog and Opal
The main part of the movie is a journey through the small Southern town, with Opal and
Winn-Dixie meeting a series of lonely and interesting people who come to know each other
through their connection with child and dog.
The film is a celebration of the value of friendship and reaching out to strangers who
Jeff Daniels is very good as a hurting father who is doing the best he can for his daughter.
Yes, daughter and pooch draw father out of much of his pain.
The wonderfully mature actress Eva Marie Saint, long remembered from the classics On the
Waterfront and North by Northwest, is superb as the librarian who loves to read
and tell stories.
Cicely Tyson, as a blind recluse referred to by the locals as a witch, is very good.
The musician Dave Mathews plays Otis the pet shop manager with a quiet shyness.
AnnaSophia Robb does an adequate job as Opal. She will develop her acting skills with more
The movie was filmed in a small town in Louisiana. The town is lovingly portrayed by
director Wayne Wang.
Because of Winn-Dixie is a wholesome fable that seeks to touch the heart.
Because of Winn-Dixie is rated PG for mild language and thematic elements. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates the film A-I – general patronage.
The Academy Awards have already been given out. I am slow on my top 10 list for 2004 because so many of the best films of that year did not arrive in our area until this January or February.
1. Number One for last year is Alexander Payne’s brilliant story Sideways. It’s a
layered account of human frailty as four Californians meet and celebrate the power of fine
wines. Sadly, Paul Giamatti was not nominated for an acting Academy Award. The ensemble cast
is terrific. Your memory of Sideways mellows and deepens as the months go by.
2. Clint Eastwood acts and directs in a superb story of boxing and human tragedy called
Million Dollar Baby. Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman are a delight. This is a film
that is heart-wrenching. It is a story to remember.
3. The great film director Martin Scorsese gives us the first 20 years of the adult life of
Howard Hughes in The Aviator. Leonardo DiCaprio is surprisingly good as a robust
Hughes tormented by Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Cate Blanchett as Katherine Hepburn
knocks the part out of the ballpark.
4. Hotel Rwanda is an extremely difficult film to watch. The story of the death of
800,000 Rwandans in 1994 is told within the context of the goodness of an African hotel
manager, played with incredible sensitivity by Don Cheadle. Sophie Okonedo plays his wife
with electrifying pathos. This is a film not to forget.
5. Director Taylor Hackford has been trying for 15 years to get the movie biography of Ray
Charles made. Finally the film Ray, with Jamie Foxx as Charles, appeared in the fall.
The acting by Foxx is as good as it gets. The music, the period, and the story of a talented
yet flawed man come powerfully alive in Ray.
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a wonderful movie because of its
incredible script by Charlie Kaufman. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet act their hearts out.
Eternal Sunshine is not the typical Hollywood date film. It goes deeper to questions
of memory and real love.
7. The Spanish Language film The Motorcycle Diaries is a love poem to the beauty of
South America told within the context of the early life of Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Gael
Garcia Bernal is outstanding as a young Che. His sidekick on the road trip across South
America is played by Rodrigo de la Berna, who is wonderfully charming.
8. Michael Mann in Collateral gives us a silvery dark film of life and death in the
underbelly of L.A. Tom Cruise is excellent as the cool gun for hire. But Jamie Foxx as the
taxi driver Max steals the movie.
9. The Terminal, with Tom Hanks as a immigrant caught in a New York airline terminal,
is a humorous and poignant film. It is a movie skillfully filmed by Steven Spielberg in a
Frank Capra style that warms the heart.
10. Garden State is a small first film by Zach Braff, who also plays the main
character. It is charming. It is more about the characters than about the story. The acting
of Braff, Peter Sarsgaard, and Natalie Portman is wonderful.
Five follow-up films deserve honorable mention.
11. In The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson gives us his own personal version of the
death of Jesus with beautiful cinematography. Some parts of the carrying of the cross are
truly memorable. In my book the violence is excruciating and overwhelms the film.
12. Pixar’s The Incredibles is an animated feature with a thought-provoking and
13. Spanglish is one of my favorite comedies of the year. The coming together of the
Anglo and Hispanic cultures in LA is wonderfully told by James Brooks. The ensemble acting,
which includes Pax Vega, Adam Sandler, Tea Leoni, and Cloris Leachman, is terrific.
14. Friday Night Lights is a fascinating high school football story. Billy Bob
Thornton is again outstanding as the coach of very competitive Texas football team.
15. The beautifully photographed French film A Very Long Engagement speaks strongly
against war in the backdrop of World War I. War is portrayed with intense darkness. The
Brittany region of France is shown like an impressionist painting.
In the end, 2004 was filled with some very good films that entertained, taught, and moved
(Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and Ecumenical Relations
Officer for the Diocese of Spokane. His reviews frequently appear in the Cheney Free Press.)
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