Thursday, April 24, 2008

A&F 100 Nominees, 2008

Over at the Arts & Faith discussion board back in 2004 we created a list of 100 Spiritually Significant Films. In 2005 Alan Thomas took that over from me, then repeated the process in 2006. He skipped 2007, but now the nominations are open for another run at the whole process.

Folks at A&F have put forward an immense number of nominees to be considered in this year's voting. It's a fascinating compendium of films that some (probably Christian) film buff somewhere finds "spiritually significant." I'm going to flag the ones that, on first pass through, would be most likely to get my votes. See how close we come to a hundred.

And if all this is something you want to get in on, just hop over to Arts & Faith, become a member (it's ultra-cheap), and cast your votes!

2008 Nominees
(my first-round picks in bold, my "nah" titles in italics)

Adam's Apples

The Addiction

After Life



Andrei Rublev

The Apostle

The Apu Trilogy


Autumn in New York


Babette's Feast

Au Hasard Balthazar


Being There
Sure a guy walks on water, but that doesn't make him a Christ figure. Faith is the target, not the point.

The Believer

The Best Years of Our Lives

The Bicycle Thief

The Big Kahuna
Tackles spiritual things, and I could add it to my list. But at the moment, the fact that I think the film doesn't play fair keeps it from being a first round pick for me.

Black Narcissus

Black Robe

Blade Runner
I'm closer to considering this than I used to be. Certainly has lots of religious references layered in.

The Blood of Jesus (aka The Glory Road)

Breaking The Waves

Bruce Almighty

Chariots of Fire

Children of Men
People find Nativity resonances, but that falls so far short of the spiritual significance of the novel it's based on, I just can't get excited. Would The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe seem quite so spiritually significant if you took out that lion character?

A Christmas Carol

Citizen Kane
Greatest film ever made, many say. I have yet to succumb to its glories, but intend to give it another run. S'pose it could be considered a cinematic gloss on "What profiteth a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul."  So maybe I'll come around.

Close-Up (aka Nema-ye Nazdik)

The Color of Paradise

Cries and Whispers

Crimes And Misdemeanors

Cry, the Beloved Country

The Da Vinci Code
Can't take the ideas seriously, can't take the film seriously.

Day of Wrath

The Day the Earth Stood Still
Definite Christ symbolism, but - for all its rep - really cheesy fifties sci-fi corn.

Days of Heaven

Dead Man Walking

Death: A Love Story

The Decalogue

Dersu Uzala

Devil's Playground

The Diary of a Country Priest

Distant (aka Uzak)



La Dolce Vita
Have tried watching it twice, don't get too far.  Jesus hanging from the copter is potent. Need to see the whole thing to know if it oughta rank, though, or if the fuss about it as a religious film is just because there was such slim pickin's back in the sixties.

Donnie Darko


Dream of Light

East of Eden

The Elephant Man

Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
This keeps getting nominated, even voted for, but nobody anywhere's even tried to reply to my request that they make the case that there's something distinctly spiritual about the film. Clever film about either the persistence or impermanence of romantic love, but where's the God stuff, or even ethical stuff?

Europa '51
Probably belongs on my list, but I've not yet seen it.

The Exorcist
Believe it or not, the book was a significant influence on my early Christian life.  But it's been 25 years, and I've not yet seen the film, so for now...



Fiddler on the Roof

Field of Dreams

Fight Club
Maybe almost. I think the ending diminishes the film, but even that is reaching for something spiritual, maybe Pauline?

Le Fils (aka The Son)
Absolutely. But where's L'Enfant?!?!?!!!!!  Guess I needed to have nominated it.  Too bad this year's noms came along when my attention was demanded elsewhere.

The Fisher King
At one time, I would have said so.  But rewatching it more recently, the film didn't wear well for me.

Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus

The Flowers of St. Francis (aka Francesco, giullare di Dio)


The Fountain

The Godfather (trilogy)
Under consideration. Not for the Catholicism, which I'm afraid just feels cultural to me. But certainly a powerful, even mythic tale of the compromise and loss of a human soul.



The Good Son

The Gospel According to Matthew (aka Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo)

The Gospel of John

The Grapes of Wrath

Grave of the Fireflies (aka Hotaru no haka)

The Green Mile

Groundhog Day

Hannah and Her Sisters

He Who Must Die (aka Celui qui doit mourir)
Sure want to see this.


Hell House
Basically an "Aren't Those Christians Freaks?" show, though the glimpses of real faith (and maybe even a miracle?) are fascinating.

The Hiding Place

Hotel Rwanda
Very fine movie, but I don't see the specifically spiritual referent. And if we list all the films that have a conscience about atrocities as being spiritually significant...

I Heart Huckabees
Sophomoric philosophical goofing around.

Ikiru (aka To Live)

In America
Half of a terrific movie, but it loses its nerve and therefore its significance.

In Your Hands (aka Forbrydelser)

The Iron Giant

It's A Wonderful Life

Jalsaghar (aka The Music Room)

Jean de Florette / Manon of the Spring

Jesus Christ Superstar

Jesus of Montreal

Jesus of Nazareth

The Jeweller's Shop (aka La Bottega dell'orefice)

Joyeux Noel (aka Merry Christmas)

Koyaanisqatsi (aka Life Out of Balance)
Need to see this.


The Last Temptation Of Christ

Late Spring (aka Banshun)

Life is Beautiful
I know this is deeply affecting and spiritual to many. But I find it maudlin, way too far across the line into sentiment and wishful thinking. 

Life of Brian

Lilies of the Field

The Lord of the Rings trilogy

Lost in Translation
Good film. A moral choice is made - or an immoral one not made - but that's not enough to put it into this category for me.


As spiritually significant as they get.  My #2 favourite film.

Make Way for Tomorrow

A Man Escaped (aka Un condamne a mort s'est echappe ou Le vent souffle ou il veut)

A Man for All Seasons

The Man Who Planted Trees (aka L'Homme qui plantait des arbres)

The Man Without A Past (aka Mies vailla menneisyytta)

The Matrix
I know, it ends up salvation by violent mayhem, which doesn't sit so well with this pacifist. But the first half potently evoked my own experience of spiritual awakening.

Meet John Doe


The Miracle Maker 

The Mirror (aka Zerkalo)

Les Miserables

Les Miserables du vingtieme siecle

The Mission

Molokai: The Story of Father Damien

A Moment of Innocence (aka Nun va Goldoon)

Mosquito Coast
Another film that makes obvious attacks on Christians. So how is it, then, spiritual?

Most (aka The Bridge)

The Motorcycle Diaries (aka Diarios de motocicleta)
The first steps in a young man's journey toward militant atheist Marxism?  I don't get it. Sure he liked lepers, but am I the only person who found the whole swim across the river climax kind of melodramatic and dumb?

My Night at Maud's (aka Ma nuit chez Maud)
A near miss for me. Definite spiritual conundrum, embodied in a believable human experience. And faith front and centre, in a way that was especially rare in the film's time period.  Ultimately, I think it only misses my first round nod because it doesn't particularly engage or affect me.


The New World
Jeffrey Overstreet almost persuades me: the second half is certainly all about authentic Christian faith, about conversion, all sorts of good stuff.  And what feels like gross film-making ineptitude to me (but transcendent artistry to Jeff) grated on me less my last time through. Closer to making the cut than previously.

The Night Of The Hunter
A classic. But the style held me at arm's length, and I bailed out not all that far in.  Deserves repeated tries.

The Night (aka La Notte)

Nights of Cabiria (aka Le Notti di Cabiria)
Need to see it.  By rep, quite possible candidate.


Not of This World (aka Fuori dal mondo)

Not One Less (aka Yi ge dou bu neng shao)

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

On The Waterfront

Open City (aka Roma, citta aperta)

Ordet (aka The Word)

Pan's Labyrinth (aka El Laberinto del fauno)
Huge spiritual impact, for me.

Paradise Road

The Passion of Joan of Arc (aka La Passion De Jeanne D'arc)

The Passion Of The Christ

Perceval (aka Perceval le Gallois)

The Perfect Stranger

Peter and Paul

Need to see this. Definite contender, I suspect.

Places in the Heart
That final scene is spiritually significant, 100%.  But I'm not sure that ought to haul the whole film into contention.


The Prince Of Egypt

La Promesse
Terrific film. Just doesn't have quite the direct connection to things I would consider quite so directly spiritual as L'Enfant or The Son.

The Purple Rose of Cairo

Quiz Show
Huh?  Ethical stuff, I guess? 


Red Beard (aka Akahige)

Repentance (aka Monanieba)
Really curious to see this glasnost flick. Rare for a Russian film to deal directly with Christian elements.

Requiem for a Dream

The River


See La Promesse.

The Sacrifice (aka Offret - Sacrificatio)

Saints and Soldiers

Sansho the Bailiff (aka Sansh├┤ day├╗)


Say Amen, Somebody

Schindler's List

Secrets & Lies
Need to see this again.  It was a top twenty favourite when I saw it when it was released, but I don't remember a specifically spiritual/religious angle.  Probably just my blurry memory.

The Seventh Seal (aka Det Sjunde Inseglet)


The Shawshank Redemption


Definitely tackles spiritual themes, but in such a dumb way.

The Silence (aka Tystnaden)

The Sixth Sense

Sling Blade

Solaris (aka Solyaris)
Need to see this.  Very likely for my list, unless I have the averse reaction I had to STALKER. 

The Song of Bernadette

Songs From the Second Floor 

Sophie's Choice
One of the great, devastating moral conundrums. But not quite exactly spiritual, to me.

The Sound of Music
A nuns on the run does not a spiritual classic make.

Spirited Away (aka Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi)

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring


Stars in My Crown


The Straight Story


Summer / The Green Ray (aka Le Rayon vert)
Need to see this.  A likely contender.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

The Sweet Hereafter

Tales of Ugetsu (aka Ugetsu monogatari)
Mythic for sure. Religious to some, yes. But it's not a religion I'm attuned to, so for me, makes no spiritual connection

A Taste of Cherry 

The Ten Commandments

Tender Mercies
As spiritually significant as they get. My #1 favourite film.


The Third Miracle

13 Conversations About One Thing
Its detractors say not, but I can't see how one can overlook the Ecclesiastes themes - and Ecclesiastes is these days pretty much my Number One Bible Book.  But I think if you order the splintered narratives and look real carefully at the choice/action/consequence logic of the story, it goes well beyond that to assert some pretty powerful things about grace, providence, and the life of faith. 

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

Three Colors Trilogy 

To End All Wars
Decidedly religious.  Too religious, there's the problem. It's all message, all worldview assertion.  

To Kill a Mockingbird

Tokyo Story (aka Tokyo Monogatari)
Sublime film, and I don't doubt that it is spiritual.  But its spirituality is unknown to me, and I don't pick up the resonances with my own faith.  Not that it would have to toe the Christian line, but what it evokes in me I don't specifically connect with my spiritualit.
Touching the Void
Gripping story.  Spiritual?

The Tree of Wooden Clogs

Trial of Joan of Arc (aka Proces de Jeanne d'Arc)

The Trip to Bountiful

The Truman Show
I can make the argument about it spiritual facets, but truth be told, it still doesn't powerfully connect with me.  A little too head-oriented, a little too commercial a gloss.

2001: A Space Odyssey
Awe and wonder are evoked, sure - but they're distinctly meant NOT to be religious awe and wonder.  Jeez, Arthur C. Clarke was the Richard Dawkin of his day - he figures we Christian types are deluded, for goodness sake!  And 2001 is a bit of a manifesto along those lines.  You see this a spiritual, you need to know you're reading very much against the grain.  


The United States of Leland

Vanya on 42nd Street

The Virgin Spring

Waking Life

Werckmeister Harmonies

The Wicker Man
Number One is serious about spirituality, sure enough. But it ain't no spirituality I can celebrate, I must say.  The whole human sacrifice thing I find just a bit problematic.

Wild Strawberries 

The Wind Will Carry Us

Wings of Desire

Winter Light



The Year Of Living Dangerously

Yi Yi: A One and a Two

Very funny. And it's got a rabbi in it...


Anonymous said...

What defines spiritually significant? From the list here it seems it's more just plane (humanly) significant. Some thoughts:

-So you've seen Day of Wrath? I watched that last month. This definetly belongs on the list.

-Mosquito Cost? Are they kidding me.? This movie is Peter Weir's greatest failure... and just plain bad.

-Shawshank will forever be in one of my all time favs... but what makes it any more spiritual than Lost in Translation? If anything it says that salvation lies within you, not in God.

-Touching the Void is about a man who faces death and *doesn't* cry out to God. So perhaps it belongs as an anti-thesis...

-I agree with your thoughts on Tokyo Story. Isn't this just a film about family?

-Why not Winter Light?

-Schindler's List? Is this not also an ethics movie and not a spiritual one?

-Not "Heaven"???

-As luck would have it, I'm watching Black Narcissus tonight!

- Have you got a copy of Adam's Apples yet?

- Additions: Longford, What Dreams May Come, Vanilla Sky. In the Shadow of the Moon, The Thin Red Line, Solutide, Whale Rider, Children of Heaven, The Shining, Gandhi, Sophie Scholl, Pulp Fiction

-More additions considering what else has been nominated (like Tokyo Story or the Bicycle Thief): Ordinary People, Grizzly Man, The Squid and the Whale, Network, Ryan (short animated), Nine Lives

What about More Sci-Fi: Hellboy, Raiders of the Lost Ark...

Just some thoughts. Thanks for posting the list.


Ron Reed said...

JG: What defines spiritually significant?

Whatever the voter or nominator decides defines spiritually significant. Because the community engaged in the process is predominantly Christian, it clearly reflects Christian spirituality, Christian themes.

Relationship with God. The reality of God, that sort of thing. Christian characters, or other characters living out some sort of religious faith. These are the easiest to flag.

For me, the more closely related a theme might be to stuff that Jesus talked about or did, the more I experience that as a "spiritually significant" theme. For me, forgiveness / grace / reconciliation are central to what Jesus is about, so films on those inter-related themes may be strongly spiritual even without reference to God. That's why SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION is on my list: there's a lot there about true and false guilt, law vs grace, taking responsibility for actions, extending grace even to the guilty. The contrast between the warden's "Christianity" and the way Andy functions. Stuff about hope, too, for that matter.

JG: From the list here it seems it's more just plane (humanly) significant.

I don't think so. Lots of God movies there.

JG: So you've seen Day of Wrath? I watched that last month. This definetly belongs on the list.

Yeah. Takes spiritual evil as a very real thing, but leaves most viewers conflicted about the alternative.

JG: Shawshank will forever be in one of my all time favs... but what makes it any more spiritual than Lost in Translation?

I guess it depends largely on whether an individual viewer finds resisting temptation or sin/grace/redemption as more powerfully "spiritual" themes.

JG: Touching the Void is about a man who faces death and *doesn't* cry out to God. So perhaps it belongs as an anti-thesis...

Good observation. Yes, I think several of the ones I object to would fall into that category. (I don't object to the films. I only object to them for this particular list.)

JG: I agree with your thoughts on Tokyo Story. Isn't this just a film about family?

Well, Buddhists might say otherwise. And Schrader includes Ozu as one of his three transcendental filmmakers, and I believe goes along with many writers in seeing TOKYO STORY as his most essential film. But the apparently spiritual themes elude me, as they do you.

JG: Why not Winter Light?

Haven't seen it.

JG: Schindler's List? Is this not also an ethics movie and not a spiritual one?

Partly because so many of the the victims of the Holocaust were Jews, I tend to experience Holocaust films as spiritual - religion just seems inherently to be in the mix. Compassion (and its opposite: hmm, is evil the opposite of compassion?) are huge elements.

JG: Not "Heaven"???

DAYS OF? Personally, pretty strong spiritual element, largely because I pick up such a strong Old Testament vibe. On the other hand, I guess I figure there are probably at least a hundred titles out there which are more essentially or predominantly "spiritual."

JG: Have you got a copy of Adam's Apples yet?

Yup! Arrived recently.

JG: Additions; Longford


JG: What Dreams May Come

Well, many consider it a really bad movie, which doesn't work in its favour. I don't. But I also don't happen to connect a whole lot with life-after-death stories, or lovers-separated-by-death stories. My friend Morris thinks about death a whole lot more, and his faith has a lot to do with life after death, so he experienced this film as highly significant to him, and highly spiritual. For me, less so. So why AFTER LIFE? Because it seems to me to point to what is both sacred and eternal in life - and it celebrates art-making, perhaps even as a spiritual discipline. Or art as a source of soul healing, and some sort of door into eternity? All themes very close to my heart, and spirit.

JG: Vanilla Sky, In the Shadow of the Moon

No surprise!

JG: The Thin Red Line

Just because of that voice over at the beginning?

JG: Solutide, Whale Rider

I like the themes of calling / vocation. And clearly a sense of the mystical / transcendent.

JG: Children of Heaven

So you haven't read the novel? (wink)

JG: The Shining

Hmm. Decidedly supernatural. More about evil than good. But that's spiritually significant. Hmm. Roots the spiritual evil in the violation of trust between a father/husband and his son and wife. Hmm... Interesting suggestion.

JG: Gandhi

Haven't seen it.

JG: Sophie Scholl


JG: Pulp Fiction

I never found the black guy's conversion convincing. If one does, and considers the whole in light of that element, you're probably right.

JG: More additions considering what else has been nominated (like Tokyo Story or the Bicycle Thief): Ordinary People, Grizzly Man, The Squid and the Whale, Network, Ryan (short animated), Nine Lives

Well, sure. If. But I don't so I wouldn't.

JG: What about More Sci-Fi: Hellboy, Raiders of the Lost Ark...

RAIDERS has its advocates among A&F voters, there's a case to be made. HELLBOY has been discussed there too, but I've not seen it.