Saturday, January 31, 2009

CT Movies: Most Redeeming Films

Christianity Today Movies has posted their "10 Most Redeeming Films of 2008."

Two great oversights, not only my two favourite films of the year but both of them thoroughly engaged with spiritual themes - Silent Light and In Bruges. Otherwise they got most of the key Soul Food films this year, though I might also toss in I've Loved You So Long, Ben X and Son Of Rambow.

For what it's worth, my own list would run something like this (not necessarily the best films, but the films most engaged with spiritual / redemptive themes):
1. Silent Light 
2. In Bruges
3. Shotgun Stories
4. U23D
5. Doubt
6. Slumdog Millionaire
7. Rachel Getting Married
8. Gran Torino
9. Bella
10. Defiance
11. Ben X
(with Ostrov, The Fall, Pray The Devil Back To Hell, Trouble The Water and Miracle at St Anna yet to be seen)

Here are their last five lists. And heck, I can't restrain myself from the tiniest bit of intrusion: I'll put little stars beside the films that'll likely end up in my Soul Food Movies book.

Seems like there were saviors—and a Savior—all over the big screen in 2004. They came in all shapes and sizes—from a comic-book superhero to a kind-hearted music teacher, from a courageous soul trying to save over 1,000 of his fellow men to the King of Kings dying to save all of mankind.
The films depicting these characters were all stories of redemption. They certainly weren't all "feel-good" movies which left you bouncing out of the theater with a smile on your face (though a few of them certainly did just that). But they were all stories that communicated truth, love, grace and redemption—and they're the movies that make up our first annual list of The 10 Most Redeeming Films of the year.
America's Heart & Soul
Finding Neverland
Hotel Rwanda
The Incredibles
The Chorus (Les Choristes) *
The Passion of The Christ **
The Return
Spider-Man 2 *
The Story of the Weeping Camel
Woman, Thou Art Loosed *

So, we put our heads together to come up with the 10 Most Redeeming Films of 2005, and what a diverse list it is. Our second annual such list includes everything from brutal boxing to wheelchair rugby. Everything from exorcists to terrorists. Everything from a mysterious caped crusader with a penchant for justice, to a wide-eyed young boy with a heart for compassion. And a talking lion.
What do we mean by "redeeming" films? They're all stories of redemption—sometimes blatantly, sometimes less so. Several of them literally have a character that represents a redeemer. And with some of them, the redemption thread is buried beneath the surface; you might have to look a bit harder for it, but it's most certainly there. Some of them are "feel-good" movies that leave a smile on your face; some might leave you with more of a contemplative frown, asking, "How should I process that?"
1. Millions *
2. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe *
3. Pride & Prejudice
4. Dear Frankie
5. Munich *
6. The Exorcism of Emily Rose **
7. Crash *
8. Murderball
9. Batman Begins
10. Cinderella Man *
The Ones That Got Away
We asked each of our voters to describe one movie they wish had made our list of 10 most redeeming films.
Because Of Winn-Dixie (Mark Moring)
Broken Flowers (Josh Hurst)
Grizzly Man (Russ Bremeier)
Mad Hot Ballroom (Camerin Courtney)
March of the Penguins (Lisa Cockrel)
The New World (Jeffrey Overstreet) **
Star Wars Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (Todd Hertz)
Corpse Bride (Peter Chattaway)

What do a shy-but-brilliant speller, a dead Mexican guy, a street thug from Soweto, a compassionate spider, an anti-Nazi young woman, and the baby Jesus have in common? They're all in movies that we've just voted the ten most redeeming films of 2006.
It's interesting to note that our top four choices in the list below are all based on true stories, while the rest of the list is based on fiction. That's not by design, but we find that intriguing. Was there something subconscious going on in our voting? Do we tend to gravitate toward the true stories of redemption over the fictional ones? Perhaps. Or were these four movies simply better than the others in the list? Again perhaps.
1. The Nativity Story *
2. The New World **
3. Sophie Scholl: The Final Days **
4. Joyeux Noel *
5. The Second Chance *
6. Charlotte's Web
7. Tsotsi
8. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada **
9. Akeelah and the Bee
10. Children Of Men *
The Ones That Got Away
Aquamarine (Todd Hertz)
Babel (Josh Hurst)
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Ron Reed) *
The Fountain (Russ Breimeier)
Half Nelson (Lisa Ann Cockrel)
A Prairie Home Companion (Jeffrey Overstreet)
The Pursuit of Happyness (Steven D. Greydanus)
Superman Returns (Mark Moring) *
Ushpizin (Peter Chattaway) **
We Are Marshall (Camerin Courtney) *

What do monks, kites, unwanted pregnancies, a 19th century abolitionist, and a young man with a life-sized inflatable doll have in common? They're all in movies that we've deemed the ten most redeeming films of 2007.
1. Into Great Silence **
2. Lars and the Real Girl **
3. Juno
4. Amazing Grace **
5. Bella *
6. Into the Wild **
7. The Kite Runner
8. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly *
9. Ratatouille
10. Freedom Writers
The Ones That Got Away
The Bucket List (Russ Breimeier)
Dan in Real Life (Josh Hurst)
The Devil Came On Horseback (Jeffrey Overstreet)
Eve and the Fire Horse (Mark Moring) *
Gone Baby Gone (Todd Hertz) *
Once (Brett McCracken)
The Painted Veil (Camerin Courtney) *
Rescue Dawn (Brandon Fibbs)
The Savages (Peter Chattaway)
Spider-Man 3 (Steven Greydanus) *

What do irresistible robots, racist curmudgeons, and sensitive pachyderms have in common? They're all key characters in the year's best redemptive movies.
1. Wall-E
2. The Visitor
3. Gran Torino *
4. Horton Hears a Who
5. Rachel Getting Married *
6. Fireproof *
7. The Dark Knight
8. Shotgun Stories *
9. Slumdog Millionaire *
10. Man on Wire
The Ones That Got Away
As We Forgive (Mark Moring) *
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Russ Breimeier) *
Defiance (Camerin Courtney) *
Doubt (Josh Hurst) **
The Fall (Brandon Fibbs)
Happy-Go-Lucky (Brett McCracken)
Iron Man (Alissa Wilkinson)
Ostrov [The Island] (Steven D. Greydanus) **
Pray The Devil Back To Hell (Todd Hertz) *
U23D (Jeffrey Overstreet) *
Wendy and Lucy (Peter Chattaway)


Peter T Chattaway said...

FWIW, I believe Silent Light is being counted as a 2009 film, since it didn't have a regular theatrical release in the United States until a week or two ago. So it hasn't been overlooked ... yet!

And hey, where's my one that got away for 2008?

Jeffrey Overstreet said...

CT Movies editor Mark Moring is counting "Silent Light" as a 2009 release, so we didn't get to include it in this year's voting. As for In Bruges... I loved it! But it only got 2.5 stars from CT reviewer Brett McCracken.

Anonymous said...

I think I'd totally agree with your top four, though my order might differ slightly. I'd also include, The Band's Visit. Have you seen it?

Ron Reed said...

Thanks for clarifying Mark's decision about Silent Light. Makes sense. Off-the-commercial-track films often find themselves stranded between year-end lists because of ragged release patterns, and the judgment calls of various editors. Glad to know this one will have a crack at CTM immortality twelve months hence.

Good eye on Wendy & Lucy, Peter. (Wendy, Lucy, Peter... Where's Edmund?). I've corrected that in the post, and tracked down links for the films that CTM didn't review (as well as sprinkling in a few stars here and there).

Too bad Brett didn't appreciate the merits of In Bruges - though of course his low rating wouldn't keep the film out of consideration for the year-end list. You boys didn't do your bit! There needed to be intense backroom pressures applied, gentlemen. Am I going to need to go back there and start reviiewing movies again, just to make sure such a horrendous oversight does not again occur? Sheesh.

And I'm afraid I saw The Band's Visit in the wrong state - I was a bit sleepy at the time, and it was the wrong movie to see in that condition. (In Bruges would have fared better, Silent Light would have been doomed!) Lovely little film, to be sure, but I didn't bring my best game to The Hollywood that night, and didn't have the quality of attention needed to really appreciate so subtle and quiet a film. Shame on me!

M. Leary said...

CT should stick with D'Angelo's annual NY list for its lists. Such a helpful service he does. (Though many don't, so no biggie.)

Otherwise, how does this list work? Though I obviously dig Man on Wire, for example, I wonder how redemptive it really is. I found the dissolution of this little group at the end of the film to be a sad reversal of some of its potentially redemptive effect. And I don't quite get Slumdog on the list (rich=redeemed?), but we have already beat that horse to death.

Ron Reed said...

The screenwriter of SLUMDOG isn't keen on the "rich=redeemed" idea either. Simon Beaufoy, in his Creative Screenwriting podcast interview: "I was captured by the underdog thing again that really got me. The idea that someone with no education, who knows nothing, who's kind of looked down on in society. To get on a show that's all about being clever, and beat them at their own game. Not through intellect, but just through having lived a life. A hard life. So that got me.

But I was very ambivalent about the game show. I'm not a big fan of get rich quick game shows and I don’t really want to sit in a cinema and watch a film about someone getting really rich. It just doesn't do it for me. My heart doesn't soar. If your slum kid gets in a Bentley and drives off at the end it's... I don't want to see that film. So I kind of wrestled with that. I loved the concept of it, but I have problems with the game show.

So I went to India, I went to Bombay, and was just absolutely blown away by that city. It's the most extraordinary— It must be like New York was in the 1890s, or London was in Victorian times when Dickens was writing. It's a city on steriods. It's nineteen million people all on the move the whole time, day and night. All on the make. And the extremes of wealth, the extremes of poverty all crushed together. Just extraordinary. It's rapaciously developing, it's a kind of capitalist monster, in a way, that is about to eat itself I suspect. It's going to hit trouble really shortly.

But when you get that speed of development in any city, like London in the nineteenth century or New York, you get a lot of casualties. You can't move at that speed without brutalizing a lot of people. And when I went there I thought, I've got to make a film about this. It's a stunning place.

I thought, the only thing that can over-ride this winning a game show, the money imperative of the book, is a love story. Because you get to India and you see Bollywood cinema and it's all about love, very romantic, passionate love. It's no accident that all Bollywood cinema is about that, it's because it's that kind of a place. It's all about the extremes, and the extremes of love are part of that. And so I thought, I'll make it a love story."

Ron Reed said...

Later in the same interview the screenwriter comments about the image of the brother in the bathtub full of money: "I kind of wanted to send a subliminal message that winning millions of rupees on this game show is not the way to be happy. ... We weren't really interested in the money. He wasn't on the show for the money, and to us that was really important."