Here's Looking at You
I’m a bit of a movie buff. About a decade ago, the American Film Institute released its list of the top 100 American movies. I looked at that list and realized I had seen more than 80 of the films AFI cited. I’ve since seen almost all of them.
So I looked at the Time list –which was international in nature.
I’d seen 43 of them.
Disappointing. I’ve got some watching to do.
But as I looked at the list, I began to wonder: Where are the religious movies?
Of course, the term religious can be defined in any number of ways.
If you mean simply good triumphing over evil, there are such films on the list (Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings, for example).
If you mean presenting situations in which the characters make moral choices, you can find them on the list, too (Schindler’s List is one).
Or if you mean making prominent use of religious imagery, you can find those on the list as well (Blade Runner fits this criteria).
But what I’m talking about are movies in which God, spirituality, or faith play a prominent role in the plot and/or in the lives of at least one of the major characters.
Of the 41 movies on the list I’d seen, only one fit that criteria: It’s a Wonderful Life.
To be fair, there may be others on the list that meet this criteria, but that I have not yet seen. Ikiru and The Decalogue are cited in other lists of religious movies, for example.
Still, three movies out of 100? Even if I missed a few, four or five?
So I began to consider what my list of best religious movies would be. Coming up with 100 seemed too daunting a task. (I do have a life.)
The folks over at Arts and Faith did manage to come up with an interesting list of spiritually significant films. (http://artsandfaith.com/)
I suspect that was a group effort, however. For an individual, twenty seems a more reasonable start.
To be honest, most religious movies I’ve encountered may be well-meaning, but are just not great movies. Some are downright bad movies, in fact (The Miracle comes to mind, though my wife likes it.)
On my good, but no cigar list I include movies like Entertaining Angels, Keys to the Kingdom, The Spitfire Grill, and Francis of Assisi.
There are the Biblical epics that don’t make the greatest list, including The King of Kings, The Ten Commandments, The Greatest Story Ever Told, and The Bible.
There are the movies that make me laugh (intentionally or not) but don’t make the list, such as Dogma, Life of Brian, or The Last Temptation of Christ.
There are some guilty pleasure religious movies that I enjoy, but can’t add to the list. They include: The Robe; Brother Sun, Sister Moon; Saving Grace; The Shoes of the Fisherman; A Man Called Peter; and The Scarlet and the Black.
And I’m certain there are great religious films that I simply haven’t seen yet. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), The Diary of a Country Priest, Monsieur Vincent and Andrei Rublev make a lot of lists, for example.
Meanwhile, there are some movies I’m still mulling over, like The Passion of the Christ.
Anyway, here’s my top 20 list, in no particular order:
The Gospel According to St. Matthew
The Song of Bernadette
It’s a Wonderful Life
Going My Way
A Man for All Seasons
The Seventh Seal
Chariots of Fire
The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima
Jesus of Montreal
Jesus of Nazareth
Dead Man Walking
The Bishop’s Wife
I’d be happy to see other films that people might suggest should be on my list. I’d even be willing to reconsider my opinions on some films, some of which, admittedly, I haven’t seen in years.
Now, where’s that popcorn?