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)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Amal: New on DVD

My friend Larry in Edmonton points out this film. And of course, Videomatica has it - I've added it to my queue.

Mehta's gem Amal deserves wider audience
By BRUCE KIRKLAND, Edmonton Sun, January 29, 2009

There is a small-scale, intimate, Indo-Canadian film new to DVD stores this month.

It is called Amal.

This poignant film has often been overlooked and underappreciated in festivals, in theatres and in awards (although there have been accolades at filmfests as far flung as Texas, California and Germany). This story is a personal plea for wider recognition.

I passionately believe in Amal and respect what Toronto filmmaker Richie Mehta and his collaborators have wrought.

Amal, a feature film inspired by Mehta's own 18-minute short by the same name, is the fable-like saga of a New Delhi auto-rickshaw driver who redefines the nature of wealth. Is it monetary or buried deep within the soul?

In its own way, Amal has as much to say about the global human condition as British director Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, which just generated an astounding 10 Oscar nominations, including as best picture.

I recommend making room for both Amal and Slumdog in your viewing schedule, as fascinating companion pieces inspired by the same ancient culture.

And as films which embody universal themes with significance beyond their roots.

As it comes to DVD from Seville Pictures, Amal is both a labour of love from Mehta, and a painful memory.

Like others involved in the shoot in India, including his lead actor Rupinder Nagra, Mehta became deathly ill on location in New Delhi. Emotionally, he was torn by the traumas of making an independent film and struggling with financing, logistics, distribution nightmares and the other slings and arrows of outrageous practices in the film industry.

So I simply ask him, "Why ... why bother?"

"You know," Mehta says, "I asked myself that question every day in the shoot and every day in the post-production, because it wasn't fun."

Mehta had to find solace later. As he did when a jury member at a festival in Germany wrote in her summary for an award that Amal had just won: "The film has forced me to re-examine my notions of wealth and poverty."

Mehta is still astonished by the clarity of that sentence.

"For a jury member to say that! It is the exact, verbatim, intended effect of our film. Then that's it. We have connected with another human being that we didn't know when we made the film. That's it, that's what you want to do.

"It's the same thing you want to do if you stand on top of a mountain and screamed. But would people listen to you? You would be considered a crazy person to do it. But you can do it in a film."

The DVD now represents the end game of the process. It is an artifact. The film itself is presented in a beautiful widescreen-only transfer.

Extras include two commentaries, one a solo effort from Mehta, the other a collaboration between Nagra and producers Stephen Bray and David Miller.

The original Amal short is here. So is a 25-minute making-of documentary that shows, in detail, what the filmmakers were up against. How they really were crazy people to try to do this film this way. How there were joyous moments, too.

"But I felt so drained and so kind of empty," Mehta says of making his first feature.

"I felt that I cut off a piece of myself and threw it into the fire on that movie. And I was less for it and I was hoping that the movie was more for it."

He says one of his favourite inspirational quotes is an observation someone once made of Judy Garland: "Every time she sang, she died a little." Mehta thinks that all filmmakers go through that when working on a project that comes from the heart, especially when there is little outside support for the film.

"With the DVD," he says of the final result, "it is not about creating a legacy for yourself. This is the work you've done and you take pride in the work you've done."

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Film Courses at Regent College: May 11-22, July 27-31

Reading Film: A Theological Approach
May 11-22
On a few occasions, I've listened to (and watched) Bruce Marchfelder work through a section of a film with a group of people: the opening section of HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, a large portion of Chaplin's CITY LIGHTS, the initial sequence of CITIZEN KANE. Bruce is an extraordinary teacher, opening up a film with a body of knowledge and a passion for the art form that is exhilarating and engaging. For several years I have looked for the opportunity to take one of Bruce's film courses, but always they have conflicted with something else, and again that's true this year. But if I weren't in production week for YOU STILL CAN'T the first week of this Regent two-week intensive, I'd absolutely be there. So I'm going to recommend that all of you go in my place.

The Ethics Of Filmmaking
July 27-31
Also note the tag-team of Winter and Stackhouse will be doing an intriguing course on The Ethics Of Filmmaking at Regent Summer School this year. Ralph Winter is a first-rank producer, called on to captain many of Hollywood's most expensive and elaborate productions. He's widely known not only for getting the job done, but for the way he treats people in an industry known for its extreme pressure and bottom-line mentality. My personal tastes don't generally run to the sorts of films he's called on to produce, but I'm very drawn to him as a person, and have immense respect for the way he truly brings his Christian faith to bear in the way he goes about his work. I bet the course will be marvelous.

More details on spring session and summer school at the Regent College website.