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Essential Films for Theologians: The “Director’s Cut”? (Best of Codex)

22nd February 2011

[With the Oscars quickly approaching, I figured I could highlight some of my previous reflections on film. This was originally Posted 15th February 2006. As far as this year is concerned, I would give top honours to The King's Speech, though True Grit and Inception were also great films]

Ben Myers over at Faith and Theology had asked me to contribute an entry on film to his “Essential… for Theologians” series. I was honoured to be asked and have spent some time formulating my list. My original list may be viewed on Ben’s blog here.

In the grand film tradition of producing a “Director’s cut”, I decided to expand my original list by both adding four additional films and including a number of “runners up.” I also explained a bit of my rationale for selecting the films I did.

I published my list with some trepidation knowing that I omitted a number of significant religious films — particularly a number of older classics that many such top ten lists include (see, for instance, Ken Ristau’s recent list of “Essential Movies for Theologians.” For an extensive list, see the Arts & Faith Top 100 Spiritually Significant Films here.

In my list, I tried to be representative of different film genres and included some “art house” and foreign films, as well as more popular films. I wasn’t too concerned with a film’s box office success, though there are some successful films in my list. And, of course, I readily admit to including some of my personal favourites.

Update: You may also want to check out my “Essential Films of 2005 for Theologians – Extended Editionhere.

Top Ten Fourteen Essential Films for Theologians

(Listed in alphabetical order)

The Apostle (Robert Duvall, 1997; IMDb; Buy from or Robert Duvall’s sympathetic portrayal of Euliss “Sonny” Dewey, a southern Pentecostal preacher, is masterful. While this movie may hit too close to home for some Christians, it reveals the conflict within the life of faith as Sonny, a deeply religious person, struggles with his rage and sensuality.

Balthazar (Au hasard Balthazar; Robert Bresson, 1966; IMDb; Buy from or The film follows the life of a humble donkey named Balthazar through a series of masters, paralleled by the life of a young woman, Marie. The cinematography and score are both magnificent. The film has a sparse and evocative feel to it. It’s the type of film that you could view repeatedly and ponder endlessly (as the critics appear to do). I’m not sure if Bresson meant it to be understood typologically or allegorically, but such a reading would certainly fit with Balthazar portrayed as an unassuming Christ figure. At the very least it narrates the life of a simple beast of burden who humbly accepts the cruelty of his masters. The simple grace in this movie reminds me of another classic, Gabriel Axel’s Babette’s Feast (Babettes gæstebud; 1987).

The Big Kahuna (John Swanbeck, 1999; IMDb; Buy from or This unassuming film about three lubricant salesmen, one of whom is an evangelical Christian, contains some of the most compelling dialogue around matters of faith, integrity, and manipulation I have seen.

Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982; IMDb; Buy from or This classic science fiction film explores what it means to be human as Deckard, a “blade runner” played by Harrison Ford, has to track down and terminate four replicants that are virtually indistinguishable from humans. Based on the short book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip Dick, the dark look and feel of this film inspired innumerable science fiction films. While the DVD transfer of the Director’s cut is not that great (it was one of the first DVDs made), rumour has it that a multi-disc special edition is set to be released in time for its 25th anniversary in 2007. Other science fiction films that are worthy of mention include Stanley Kubrick’s masterful 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), The Matrix (1999) by the Wachowski brothers (the first is by far the best), and Dark City (Alex Proyas, 1998).

(Of course, I also have to give honourable mention to the original Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977) and the original trilogy (I have not been impressed with any of the prequels). I have to confess that I saw the original Star Wars around 17 times in the theatre when it first was released. I also had made myself a light sabre (a painted dowel; not like one of the fancy ones available now), dressed up as a Jedi knight, and had virtually every Star Wars model available. Truth be told, not much has changed. I have been able to watch Star Wars with my kids and my four-year-old son and I frequently have light sabre battles in the living room (a painted dowel no longer have I). In sum: I still like it after all of these years even if some parts are a bit cheesy (And I still think Princess Leah looks hot in her “Jabba the Hutt” golden bikini). I have included this film on my extended list not only because it has profoundly shaped popular culture, but because its a parable of the epic struggle between good and evil.)

The Decalogue (Dekalog; Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1989; IMDb; Buy from or This ten-part series of films was originally aired on Polish TV in the 1980s. Each episode narrates a story, set in the same apartment block, that is loosely tied to one of the Ten Commandments (as enumerated in the Catholic tradition; see my blog entry here for other enumerations).

For 6,000 years, these rules have been unquestionably right. And yet we break them every day. People feel that something is wrong in life. There is some kind of atmosphere that makes people now turn to other values. They want to contemplate the basic questions of life, and that is probably the real reason for wanting to tell these stories. – Krzysztof Kieslowski on The Decalogue.

Each episode is well done and thought-provoking, though I found 2, 5, 6, and 7 particularly meaningful. Kieslowski’s more popular and widely distributed Three Colors Trilogy: Blue, White, and Red (Trois couleurs: Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge; 1993-4) are also worthy of mention.

Jesus of Montreal (Jésus De Montréal; Denys Arcand, 1989; IMDb; Buy from or This Canadian production tells the story of a troupe of actors who stage a passion play in Montreal — so controversial that the Catholic Church wants to shut it down. As the pressure to stop production mounts, the personal lives of the individual cast members begin to take on the persona of the characters in the play — especially for Daniel (played wonderfully by Lothaire Bluteau) who plays the role of Jesus. Other Jesus films that deserve mention here are The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Il Vangelo secondo Matteo; Pier Pablo Passolini, 1964), The Last Temptation of Christ (Martin Scorsese, 1988), and The Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson, 2004). I also am fascinated by Gareth Davies’s Son of Man (1969), though I have not been able to locate a full copy and consequently have not viewed the entire film.

Magnolia (P.T. Anderson, 1999; IMDb; Buy from or This is perhaps my favourite film. It is a thought-provoking exploration of “the sins of the fathers,” forgiveness, and redemption as the lives of nine individuals interconnect one day in San Fernando Valley, California (its title is from one of the San Fernando Valley’s principal thoroughfares, Magnolia Boulevard). The ensemble cast is marvellous, the direction and cinematography superb, and the soundtrack by Aimee Mann moving. And what can I say about the frogs?! If I was going to number this list, I would have to put this as film number 8.2!

The Mission (Roland Joffre, 1986; IMDb; Buy from or This film is an absolutely beautiful yet troubling exploration of the question of grace and redemption, love and hate, and what it means to lay down your life for your faith and friends. Its cinematography and musical score are moving and deservedly won awards. Set in 18th century South America, this film raises questions — and provides no easy answers — about the Christian mission, war, and slavery. Simply superb. Other films that have similar themes and garner special mention include Black Robe (Bruce Beresford, 1991), Romero (John Duigan, 1989), and At Play in the Fields of the Lord (Hector Babenco, 1991).

Monty Python’s Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979; IMDb; Buy from or If we can’t laugh at ourselves, then something is wrong. Eric Idle himself is reported as saying, “If anything can survive the probe of humour it is clearly of value, and conversely all groups who claim immunity from laughter are claiming special privileges which should not be granted” (hmmm… do you think this quote is relevant to a current international news story?). But this film is not all laughs — it actually presents aspects of the time of Jesus somewhat accurately, such as the ubiquitous messiahs and prophets during that period as well as the sheer diversity with Judaism at that time. In the humour/satire category I would also include Dogma (Kevin Smith, 1999), Saved! (Brian Dannelly, 2004), and Keeping the Faith (Edward Norton, 2000).

Wings of Desire (Der Himmel uber Berlin; Wim Wenders, 1987; IMDb; Buy from or I was first introduced to the German director Wim Wenders through the music video for U2′s song “Stay (Far Away, So Close).” This films explores what it means to be human from the perspective of angels as it follows the lives of two angels as they comfort and help lost souls in Berlin, one of whom decides he wants to become human. While Hollywood has remade the story as City of Angels (Brad Silberling, 1998), the original is superior on all accounts. I should also mention Wim Wender’s collaboration with U2′s frontman Bono on The Million Dollar Hotel (Wim Wenders, 2000). While this film has its flaws, Jeremy Davies’s portrayal of Tom Tom is one of the best Christ figures in recent film.

Late Additions

I figured my original list was lacking in four genres: war films, westerns, gangster films, and fantasy. Most films in these genres explore the myth of redemptive violence, and as such are worthy of theological reflection. Other excellent films that explore this theme include Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005) and In the Bedroom (Todd Field, 2001).

The Godfather Saga (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972, 1974, and 1990; IMDb; Buy from or Don Corleone made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, so I had to add this trilogy to my list. The first two in the series are superior, and I think the first is the best. One of my favourite scenes is at the end of the first film when you have the juxtaposition of Michael Corleone renouncing “Satan and all his works” at the baptism of his nephew and the executions of the heads of the other mob families. On the soundtrack, Bach’s organ music is punctuated by gunfire. Other mobster films that deserve mention include Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990) and The Untouchables (Brian De Palma, 1987).

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Peter Jackson, 2000, 2001, and 2002; IMDb; Buy from or I am a huge Tolkien fan and I loved Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of the Lord of the Rings. That isn’t to say that I agreed with all of Jackson’s modifications; in fact, I think Jackson and the screenwriter Fran Walsh are both Hollywood sell outs! Since when do Ents make rash decisions?! If there were any more unnecessary dramatic turns added, I would have sued for whip-lash! At any rate, these are ground breaking films that are surely worthy of mention!

The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick, 1998; IMDb; Buy from or I have watched this film about the conflict at Guadalcanal during World War II many times and find its juxtaposition of war and (seeming) paradise haunting. It is visually beautiful and the writing is superb. The ensemble cast is excellent — especially the roles played by James Caviezel, Nick Nolte, and most notably Elias Koteas. Other great war films include Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979), The Deerhunter (Michael Cimino, 1978), Platoon (Oliver Stone, 1986), as well as the less know, though theologically relevant, films A Midnight Clear (Keith Gordon, 1992) and To End All Wars (David L. Cunningham, 2001).

Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood, 1992; IMDb; Buy from or What’s a list without a western? While there are many “shoot ‘em up” westerns that are perhaps entertaining, Unforgiven is unique in that it deconstructs the typical western. The (anti)hero is unlovable, the gun fights are devoid of romanticism, and nothing is really settled at the end when the cowboy rides off into the sunset. “It’s a hell of a thing, killin’ a man. You take away all he has, and all he’s ever gonna have,” says Will. The Kid stammers, “I guess he had it comin’.” Will almost whispers: “We’ve all got it comin’, Kid.”

Last Thoughts

OK, I need to wrap this up. There are many more films which are worthy to be mentioned, such as Breaking the Waves, Chinatown, Contact, Dead Man Walking, Lawrence of Arabia, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Pulp Fiction, Shadowlands, Slingblade, The Shawshank Redemption, etc., etc., ad nauseum, but this list has to end!

What films do you feel are essential for theologians?

Posted in Best of Codex, Faith & Film | 6 Comments »

Faith and Film Critics Circle: Top Films of 2007

19th March 2008

The Faith and Film Critics Circle has posted its film awards for 2007.

The list includes many of the same titles from the Oscars and other top film lists, with perhaps one notable exception (Into Great Silence).

Here are the winners:

  • Most Significant Exploration of Spiritual Themes: Into Great Silence
  • Best Narrative Film: There Will Be Blood
  • Best Documentary: Into Great Silence
  • Best Film for the Whole Family: Ratatouille
  • Best Director: Paul Thomas Anderson – There Will Be Blood
  • Best Performance by an Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis – There Will Be Blood
  • Best Performance by an Actress: Ellen Page – Juno
  • Best Performance by a Child: Saoirse Ronan – Atonement
  • Best Supporting Performance by an Actor (tie): Casey Affleck – The Assassination of Jesse James; Javier Bardem – No Country for Old Men
  • Best Supporting Performance by an Actress (tie): Cate Blanchett – I’m Not There; Jennifer Garner – Juno
  • Best Ensemble Cast: Lars and the Real Girl
  • Best Cinematography: Robert Elswit – There Will Be Blood
  • Best Original Screenplay: Diablo Cody – Juno
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen – No Country for Old Men
  • Best Original Score: Dario Marianelli – Atonement

I am a bit surprised to see There Will Be Blood on the list more than No Country for Old Men. I also didn’t particularly like Jennifer Garner in Juno. I’ve heard quite a bit about Into Great Silence, though it seems like the kind of film you really have to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate. I also still have to view Lars and the Real Girl.

Stay tuned for my “Essential Films of 2007 for Theologians” (previous “Essential Films for Theologians” may be found here)

Posted in Faith & Film, Film, Popular Culture | 1 Comment »

Essential Films of 2006 for Theologians

15th June 2007

Loren Rosson published his list of The Top 10 Films of 2006 a while ago over at the Busybody. I quite like his list. While I have noted some of my favourite movies of 2006 in my Third Annual Ralphies – Second Annual Codex Edition (Best of 2006) post, as well as in the commentary to Christianity Today‘s Top Ten Films of 2006, I haven’t published a full top ten list — let alone a detailed post like last year’s Essential Films of 2005 for Theologians. This negligence on my part is for a variety of reasons, including needing to catch up with a few films on DVD — like Pan’s Labyrinth — before settling on my list. Either way, seeing Loren’s list spurred me on to finally create this year’s instalment of “Essential Films for Theologians.”

I should confess a couple limitations with this list. First, and quite naturally, it only contains films that I have personally viewed. My list of “Films I should have viewed before making my list” include, critically acclaimed films like The Queen (Stephen Frears, 2006; Buy from |, L’enfant (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2006; Buy from |, among others. Second, before anyone comments that I clearly have no sense of what makes a good film, note that these are top films “for theologians,â€? 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 said, I do think that most if not all of them are among the best of the year and are certainly worthy of thoughtful viewing.

So, drum-roll please, here is my list of “Essential Films of 2006 for Theologians” in all its glory:

  • 10. Jesus Camp (Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, 2006; IMDB; Buy from or A disturbing and somewhat biased documentary about fundamentalist Christianity in the United States (my Canadian sensibilities cringe when the documentary describes the Christianity in the film as “evangelical”). Not necessarily the best documentary, it raises a whole host of questions about how Christians are perceived by others as well as how to (and how not to) pass on your faith to your children. Another documentary that deserves some sort of notice is Blood of My Brother: A Story of Death in Iraq (Andrew Berends, 2005 [I watched it in 2006]; IMDB; Buy from or This is a low-budget film about an Iraqi family dealing with the accidental death of a son and brother by the hands of American troops. It provides a captivating glimpse into everyday life in war torn Iraq and folk Islam.
  • 9. Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006; IMDB; Buy from | There is not much theology in this film, although it does raise some interesting ethical questions (!). Nonetheless, as a long time Bond fan, I thought it was superb and had to include it on my list. (Following the lead of an article by Umberto Eco, I do use the Bond series as an example of structural analysis of artifacts from popular culture in my religion and popular culture course)
  • an_inconvenient_truth.jpg8. An Inconvenient Truth (Davis Guggenheim, 2006; IMDB; Buy from or Science aside, I thought this was a well done and provocative documentary. It is too bad the issue of global warming has become so politicized — is it really such a bad thing to reduce the amount we pollute and consume non-renewable resources? I really don’t understand Christians who object to the basic message of the film, especially since we are called to tend the earth. In the end, this film generates a lot of theological discussion surrounding our stewardship of God’s creation.
  • 7. Babel (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2006; IMDB; Buy from | While the concept behind this film is brilliant, the Japan story-line is weak. In the same way that last year’s Crash explored racism, this film explores the question of language, culture, and diversity in a way that will provoke meaningful discussion. Is it possible for humanity to reverse the consequences of Babel? Or is it only as part of God’s redemptive plan that the consequences of Babel will ultimately be reversed?
  • 6. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Larry Charles, 2006; IMDB; Buy from | While all parts of this movie is offensive, what is most offensive are the attitudes and behaviours of the non-actors in the film. Racism, sexism, and bigotry is alive and well on planet earth. (I also haven’t laughed so hard in the theatre in a long time, at times uncomfortably, mind you).
  • 5. The Last King of Scotland (Kevin MacDonald, 2006; IMDB; Buy from | Forest Whitaker deserved all of the awards he won for his brilliant and disturbing portrayal of the brutal Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin. While Amin’s character raises a number of questions, the struggles of Dr. Nicholas Garrigan (a fictional character played by James McAvoy) will likely raise more questions for thoughtful viewers. Another film based on more recent events closer to home is United 93 (Paul Greengrass, 2006; IMDB; Buy from | Considering viewers know the outcome of the flight, the director deserves credit for making a suspenseful and very well done film. Good discussion points about self-sacrifice and courage.
  • pans_labyrinth.jpg4. The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006; IMDB; Buy from or This is a great gangster film and all of the actors had great performances, especially Jack Nicholson. The movie raises issues of moral compromise and integrity — but in the end it raises the question of who really are the “faithfully departed.” (I had previously listed this as my number one movie of 2006)
  • 3. Pan’s Labyrinth [El Laberinto del fauno] (Guillermo Del Toro, 2006; IMDB; Buy from | This dark adult fairy tale is amazing in many ways. It interweaves story-lines about a girl growing up amid personal tragedies, including the horrors of the Spanish civil war, and the fantasy world which she created to cope with her life. Visually stunning and skillfully put together — especially how the line between reality and fantasy are blurred. How much is the alternate fantasy world just a creation of the girl’s imagination?

  • 2. Little Children (Todd Field, 2006; IMDB; Buy from | This is an amazing film; I was so moved by it that I almost think it should be number one. The questions it raises about maturity, sexuality, fidelity, and brokenness are meaningful to contemporary society. This film is an “Eyes Wide Shut” for middle class suburbanites. Another film which I feel compelled to mention, but am not quite sure where to place it is Little Miss Sunshine (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris; IMDB; Buy from | This quirky film is about acceptance and family — no matter how much you may act like “little children” (in some ways sends the opposite message as Little Children).
  • children_of_men.jpg1. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006; IMDB; Buy from | A miraculous birth with all worldly powers pursuing the woman and her child — sound familiar? Beyond the clear allusions to Jesus’ birth, the film also raises questions surrounding God’s work in the world. The film is also visually appealing and contains some amazing camera work.

Some other films I think are worth watching include Hard Candy (David Slade, 2005; IMDB; Buy from |, The Black Dahlia (Brian De Palma, 2006; IMDB; Buy from |, Flags of our Fathers (Clint Eastwood, 2006; IMDB; Buy from |, A Scanner Darkly (Richard Linklater, 2006; IMDB; Buy from |, Jason Reitman’s Thank You for Smoking (2005; IMDB; Buy from | Those favoring a western twang will enjoy The Proposition (John Hillcoat, 2005; IMDB; Buy from | and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (Tommy Lee Jones, 2005; IMDB; Buy from | While I didn’t think the visually appealing 300 (Zack Snyder, 2006; IMDB; Buy from | was top-ten material, it is also worth seeing as long as you don’t expect a historical epic faithful to Herodotus!

I wish I could have included one of the few Bible films released last year on my list, whether The Nativity Story (Catherine Hardwicke, 2006; IMDB; Buy from or, The Color of the Cross (Jean-Claude La Marre, 2006; IMDB; Buy from or, or One Night with the King (Michael O. Sajbel, 2006; IMDB; Buy from or Unfortunately, all of these films were a disappointment. The Nativity Story was too sentimental (and as a biblical scholar I still can’t believe that in a film trying to present a certain historical verisimilitude, they had the wise men appear at the birth instead of at the house a few years later), The Color of the Cross had great potential but failed to explore racial issues in any meaningful way, and One Night With the King failed to generate any meaningful sympathy for the main characters.

All in all, I am not sure that 2006 was as good as last year for movies.

Posted in Faith & Film, Film, Popular Culture | 6 Comments »

CT’s Top Ten Films of 2006

6th February 2007

Last week I posted on Christianity Today’s 10 Most Redeeming Films of 2006 — a list which I wasn’t terribly impressed with. This week they have released their Critics’ Choice Awards for the Top 10 Films of 2006. This list is a bit better — primarily because I tend to agree with it more (though there were some surprises!).

Here is the list in all it’s glory:

  • 10. Little Children (directed by Todd Field)
  • 9. Tsotsi (directed by Gavin Hood; Buy DVD from |
  • 8. Little Miss Sunshine (directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris; Buy DVD from |
  • 7. Casino Royale (directed by Martin Campbell; Buy DVD from |
  • 6. Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (directed by Marc Rothemund; Buy DVD from |
  • 5. The Queen (directed by Stephen Frears)
  • 4. United 93 (directed by Paul Greengrass; Buy DVD from |
  • 3. The New World (directed by Terrence Malick; Buy DVD from |
  • 2. L’enfant (directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne; Buy DVD from |
  • 1. Children of Men (directed by Alfonso Cuarón)

I quite liked Children of Man, though I’m not sure I would give it top nods (of course, I’m not entirely sure what I would put at the top of the list, though I do make a suggestion below). I am still not convinced about The New World, though the fact that it made both of CT’s lists means that I probably should view it again. I was a bit surprised that there were no documentaries on the list. What about An Inconvenient Truth (Davis Guggenheim; IMDB; Buy from or or Jesus Camp (Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady; IMDB; Buy from or

In terms of movies released in 2006, my vote for best movie of 2006 would be The Departed (Martin Scorsese; IMDB; Buy from or This is a great gangster film and all of the actors had great performances, especially Jack Nicholson. Second runner up would be Casino Royale (Martin Campbell; IMDB), which did for Bond what Batman Begins did for the Batman franchise last year. Honourable mention goes to Thank You for Not Smoking (Jason Reitman, 2005 [I watched it in 2006]; IMDB; Buy from or In addition, I found Blood of My Brother: A Story of Death in Iraq (Andrew Berends, 2005 [I watched it in 2006]; IMDB; Buy from or to be quite interesting for its portrayal of life in Iraq.

I watch a lot of kid’s films with my children, so I thought I would pick a best kid’s movie. I haven’t seen Charlotte’s Web or Lassie, so I can’t pick either of them. It would be easy to pick Cars (John Lassiter; IMDB; Buy from or, Over the Hedge (Tim Johnson; IMDB; Buy from or, Ice Age 2: The Meltdown (Carlos Saldanha; IMDB; Buy from or, or even Curious George (Matthew O’Callaghan; IMDB; Buy from or

Instead of any of those movies, I’m picking Hoodwinked! (Cory and Todd Edwards; IMDB; Buy from or as my favourite kid’s movie of 2006. I found this deconstruction of Little Red Riding Hood quite amusing. While some have slammed its animation as cheap, I kind of like the minimalist CGI animation — after all, it is supposed to look like a cartoon isn’t it?!

All in all, however, I don’t think 2006 was as good as last year for movies.

Posted in Documentary, Faith & Film, Film | 1 Comment »

Ten Most Redeeming Films of 2006

30th January 2007

Christianity Today Movies has released their “The 10 Most Redeeming Films of 2006” list. I believe this list is voted on by the Christianity Today’s movie review staff, including Peter Chattaway and Jeffrey Overstreet.

It’s important to note that these are not necessarily the best films of 2006, but the most “redeeming.” And by “redeeming” this is what they mean:

They’re all stories of redemption—sometimes blatantly, sometimes less so. Several of them literally have a character that represents a redeemer; one even includes the Redeemer. With others, you might have to look a bit harder for the redemptive thread, but it’s certainly there. Some are “feel-good” movies that leave a smile on your face; some might leave you uncomfortable, even disturbed, and asking, “How should I process that?” But you won’t be able to shake it from your memory, either.

Here is the list:

I have not seen a number of these films and I have to admit that the ones that I have seen, I’m not sure I would agree with their ranking.

Posted in Faith & Film, Film | 2 Comments »

Apocalypto, Violence, and Spectacle

20th December 2006

Nothing like a bit of human sacrifice to get you in the mood for Christmas! I saw Mel Gibson‘s latest film, Apocalypto last night. While I am still ruminating on the meaning and significance of this film, I can’t say I liked it, nor can I say I didn’t like it (similar to my reactions to Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ). To say I found the film “intriguing” is probably the most accurate. (Spoiler Alert)

If you take the opening quotation from Will Durant (“A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within”) as a hermeneutical lens through which to view the entire film, then Gibson is perhaps providing a commentary on the decadence and spectacle of modern western civilization. Of course, if this was his point, Gibson is complicit by making such a violent and gory film. Perhaps the irony was lost on him as it often is on much of Hollywood.

Others have took the film as an apology of sorts for Catholicism, seeing the coming of the Spaniards at the end as a sign of the coming of Christianity and a better civilization. This to me makes no sense. If anything, the end provides an ironic reversal as the hunter now becomes the hunted (this of course raises questions of the role — if any — of the colonial powers in the decline of Mayan civilization). If anything is elevated in this film it is the notion of the noble savage: Jaguar Paw and his forest dwelling clan are presented as an ideal (this seems to me to be the meaning from the last line of the film where Jaguar Paw says to his wife that they shouldn’t go to the Spaniards, but “we must go to the forest. To seek a new beginning. Come, Turtles Run….”).

Peter Chattaway provides a similar interpretation when he reads the film through an oracle given by a little girl near the middle of the film. According to Chattaway, the girl says to the violent Mayans,

You fear me. So you should, all you who are vile. Would you like to know how you will die? The sacred time is near. Beware the blackness of day. Beware the man who brings the jaguar. Behold … [something about the man rising from the mud]. For the one he takes you to will cancel the sky and scratch out the earth. Scratch you out.

And it is the Catholic Spaniards who bring an end to the violent Mayan civilization.

Whatever its meaning, this film is violent and gory. Of course, many would say that the violence and gore is all in the name of verisimilitude and historical accuracy, so it is acceptable. I am not so sure any more. It seems to me that the film industry is caught up with the spectacle of violence and that such extreme violence and gore in film can not help but degrade all who watch it.

At any rate, those are my initial thoughts on the film.

UPDATE: You may want to check out Loren Rosson’s review here.

Posted in Faith & Film, Film | 5 Comments »

The 25 Most Controversial Movies Ever

7th November 2006

Entertainment Weekly has uploaded their list of “The 25 Most Controversial Movies Ever.” According to Loren Rosson, this was previously published in June 2006 and only made it online this week. I recall his previous blog post on the films, though I didn’t post anything on it at that time.

Here is the list:

  1. The Passion of the Christ
  2. A Clockwork Orange
  3. Fahrenheit 9/11
  4. Deep Throat
  5. JFK
  6. The Last Temptation of Christ
  7. The Birth of a Nation
  8. Natural Born Killers
  9. Last Tango in Paris
  10. Baby Doll
  11. The Message
  12. The Deer Hunter
  13. The Da Vinci Code
  14. The Warriors
  15. Triumph of the Will
  16. United 93
  17. Freaks
  18. I Am Curious (Yellow)
  19. Basic Instinct
  20. Cannibal Holocaust
  21. Bonnie and Clyde
  22. Do the Right Thing
  23. Kids
  24. Caligula
  25. Aladdin

The list doesn’t contain many surprises, though I probably would have made a few changes. For instance, I was surprised that Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976) wasn’t on the list considering John Hinckley’s assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. Also, Hail Mary (Je vous salue, Marie; Jean-Luc Godard, 1985) should get the nod. Others that came to mind include Pink Flamingos (John Waters, 1972), Straw Dogs (Sam Peckinpah, 1971), and Cruising (William Friedkin, 1980). Of course, there are many gory and exploitation films which could have made the list as well (such as I Spit on Your Grave and other such banned films).

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Two Hobbit Films Planned… Sweet!

27th October 2006

This is great news… at least if you are a Tolkien fan. It appears MGM is planning to produce two (not one) films based on The Hobbit, and that their first choice for director is none other than Peter Jackson. Read the story here.

While I don’t like some of the liberties that Jackson took with LOTR (especially the Ents!), I think he would be a natural choice for the project. While they could probably make due with one film, I won’t complain.

(HT The Busybody)

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Bible Movies Galore

26th October 2006

I have been getting behind in my coverage of Bible films. I have watched quite a few recently, but just haven’t found the time to blog about them. Such is life.

There are a number of intriguing Bible films that have just been released or are coming out in the next little while — unfortunately, in most cases no Canadian release dates have been set, so I am not sure when I will have a chance to actually view them.

one_night_king.jpgIn the “just released” category falls Michael O. Sajbel’s One Night With the King (2006; IMDb; Official website). This movie about the biblical Esther has opened to favourable (not amazing) reviews. Make sure to check out the thorough review by Matt Page over at Bible Films Blog, as well as his scene analysis. While no Canadian release date has yet been set, it will be released on DVD on 23 January 2007. You can pre-order it from or

Sticking to the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, I should note the DVD release of the made-for-TV film The Ten Commandments (Robert Dornhelm; 2006; IMDb; Official website). This two-part film was released in April 2006 on ABC to less than spectacular results (see this review). The movie is OK. I was glad to see that it departed from previous films covering the same topic by including a bunch of stuff after the Hebrews cross the red/reed sea — and it even finds space for Aaron as Moses’ sidekick! If I have time I will post a more thorough review in the future. It is available for purchase from and

On the New Testament side of things (you know, that other testament, the small one :-) ), there are two noteworthy films being released this fall.

I am thoroughly intrigued by The Color of the Cross (Jean-Claude La Marre; 2006; IMDb; Official website), which is being released in the United States today. This film is the first historical Jesus film to cast a black actor to play Jesus — which has provided some free publicity for the film (see the Associated Press report). I personally think it will be refreshing considering how many blond, blue-eyed Saviours have been filmed. There is an article on the film in the Chicago Tribune that is worthy of a read and includes interviews with the director as well as Canadian biblical studies scholar Adele Reinhartz (HT Mark Goodacre).

Finally, the birth of Jesus will be the subject of the film The Nativity Story (Catherine Hardwicke; 2006; IMDb; Official website), which is slated for a December 1st release. Matt Page has a convenient summary page for this film here.

For a complete listing of films based on the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible see my Old Testament on Film pages. An excellent place to visit for news and reviews of Bible films is Matt Page’s Bible Films Blog.

Posted in Bible & Film, Faith & Film, Film, Jesus Films, News, OT Film Epics | 1 Comment »

The 2006 Arts and Faith Top 100 Spiritually Significant Films

3rd September 2006

The Arts and Faith Forum has released their annual Top 100 Spiritually Significant Films list. The list contains a whole bevy of interesting films including classics and more popular fare. The films are chosen by members of the Arts and Faith forum through a somewhat convoluted process of voting and as such some films rank higher than they should while other great films get passed over altogether (at least in my opinion).

That being said, here are the top twenty:

  1. Ordet (The Word)
  2. Le Fils (The Son)
  3. The Miracle Maker (The Miracle Maker: The Story of Jesus)
  4. The Gospel According to Matthew (Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo)
  5. The Diary of a Country Priest (Le Journal D’un Curé De Campagne)
  6. The Passion of Joan of Arc (La Passion De Jeanne D’arc)
  7. The Decalogue (Dekalog)
  8. Babette’s Feast (Babettes Gæstebud)
  9. A Man Escaped (Un condamné à mort s’est échappé ou Le vent souffle où il veut)
  10. Andrei Rublev (Andrey Rublyov)
  11. Balthazar (Au Hasard Balthazar)
  12. The Seventh Seal (Det Sjunde Inseglet)
  13. Ikiru (To Live)
  14. Winter Light (Nattvardsgästerna)
  15. The Mission
  16. The Apostle
  17. Three Colors Trilogy
  18. Jesus of Nazareth
  19. Jesus of Montreal (Jésus De Montréal)
  20. The Flowers of St. Francis (Francesco, giullare di Dio)

There are not too many surprises in the top twenty, though I can’t believe The Miracle Maker made the top twenty, let alone number three!  I was glad to see Magnolia, one of my personal favourites, make number 23.

I was also happy to see that three of the films in Taylor’s fledgling Faith & Film club made the list (Millions #42; Babette’s Feast #8; and Hotel Rwanda #65).

There is much more I would like to comment on, but I do not have time right now. So you’re just going to have to go view the entire list for yourself: Top 100 Spiritually Significant Films. For my brief comments on last year’s list, see here. In addition you may be interested in looking at my “Essential Films for Theologians: The ‘Director’s Cut’â€? or my “Essential Films of 2005 for Theologians – Extended Edition.”

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