22nd February 2006
As a companion piece to my previous post, “Essential Films for Theologians: The ‘Director’s Cut’,” I thought I would also provide a list of my “Essential Films of 2005 for Theologians.” As with my first list, this was a guest post on Ben Meyers’s Faith and Theology blog, where I noted that I would be publishing a more extended discussion. After some delay, here is my discussion of my picks.
Now, before you chide me for not including this or that film, I must confess a limitation with this list: it only contains films that I have viewed. My list of “Films I wished I viewed” before making my list include, Brokeback Mountain; Capote; CachÃ©; Dear Frankie; Good Night, and Good Luck; Cinderella Man; Murderball; Paradise Now; Saraband; The Squid and the Whale; Transamerica; and Walk the Line. While I go to quite a few movies in any given year, I typically wait for the DVD release for films I do not deem necessary to view on the big screen, which explains why I have yet to see films like Walk the Line or Brokeback Mountain, among others.
Furthermore, before you add a comment indicating that I obviously have no sense of what makes a good film, please note that these are top films “for theologians,” i.e., they are films that raise theological questions or issues. They are not necessarily great films or the best films of the year, they have weaknesses and shortcomings. That being siad, I do think that many if not all of them are the best of the year and are certainly worthy of thoughtful viewing.
You will notice that some of films have a 2004 release date; these are films that had an initial limited release in 2004 (usually at a film festival) but had a more extensive public release in 2005 (including DVD releases in a few cases).
- Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). Without question the best of the Batman franchise and an engaging exploration of the myth of redemptive violence.
- Born into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids (Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman, 2004; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). A delightful and disturbing glimpse into Calcutta’s brothels and one woman’s attempt to provide hope via art. A book featuring some of the pictures is also available: Born into Brothels: Photographs by the Children of Calcutta by Zana Briski (Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com).
- Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Andrew Adamson, 2005; IMDb). I thought this film adaptation was well done. I viewed it with my kids — including a very inquisitive four-year-old, however, so I can’t say I caught all of the nuances of the presentation!
- The Constant Gardener (Fernando Meirelles, 2005; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). A disturbing portrayal of large scale corporate greed and systemic evil on the part of multinational pharmaceuticals, as well as a story of personal trust and suspicion.
- Crash (Paul Haggis, 2004; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). A bit over the top, but a damming look at the ubiquitous charater of racism that leaves everyone culpable.
- Downfall (Der Untergang; Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). Bruno Ganz delivers a spine chilling performance as Adolf Hitler in this dark portrayal of carefully differentiated evil and the destruction of the Third Reich.
- A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). Perhaps the most accessible film of this controversial Canadian director, this film brings together violence and small town America in a stunning confrontation with a hope of reconciliation.
- Lord of War (Andrew Niccol, 2005; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). An entertaining and disturbing film about the underground world and warped ethics of gun running. Nicholas Cage does an excellent job playing Yuri Orlov, a character based on a composite of five real arms dealers. “The first and most important rule of gun-running is: never get shot with your own merchandise.”
- Munich (Steven Spielberg, 2005; IMDb). A captivating film about the Israeli revenge for the deaths of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, loosely based on the book Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team by George Jonas (Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). This film raised quite a bit of controversy about its accuracy and was even denounced by Jonas (see the MacLean’s article here). Despite the spin put on the events by Spielberg, I found it to be a compelling meditation on vengeance and retaliation. Kesher Talk has a series of blog posts on Munich that I highly recommend; they may be found here.
- Palindromes (Todd Solondz, 2004; IMDb; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). Few films have provoked as much thought and discussion around the issue of abortion for me as this one. See my previous blog posts here and here for why it ranks among my top films for 2005.
- Syriania (Stephen Gaghan, 2005; IMDb). This left-leaning political thriller about the politics of the oil industry is disturbing even if only a fraction of it is true to life. Directed and written by Stephen Gaghan, the screenwriter behind Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic (2000), the multiple story lines (engaging in their own right) come together to form a compelling story no matter what your politics may be.
Worth Viewing: There were a number of other films from 2005 that are definitely worth viewing, but didn’t make my final cut. These include The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Almost made it just because of its subject matter); Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; King Kong (Sorry Peter, your ape was great, but you should stick to orcs and hobbits); Serenity (Never watched Firefly before viewing the film; have to say I quite liked it); Sin City (Like sin, compelling to view, but ultimately damaging); Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (Better than the other prequels, but that is not saying much! Who wants to try jumping over a guy holding a light sabre? Anyone?).
Please let me know if there were other “essential films for theologians” from 2005 by commenting on this post.