Inspired by the New York Times' recent list of the "25 Best Films of the 21st Century," and because it's always fun to draw attention to masterpieces of cinema that everyone should see, I decided to compile my own list of the best films of the century so far. I limited my picks to 17, since we are 17% of the way through the century thus far. There were three main criteria for me as I considered which films to include in my top 17.
A collection of my publications from recent months
Song to Song is Cinematic Wisdom Literature (March 16, 2017, Christianity Today)
My review, for Christianity Today, of Terrence Malick's latest film, Song to Song
If you're lucky enough to live in one of the few places where Terrence Malick's Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience is playing, do yourself a favor and go see it. Take your kids, your church small group, your fellow lovers of cinema and nature and awe-inspiring beauty. The 45-minute film (a 90-minute, non-IMAX version is set to release in 2017) is a perfect example of the sort of liturgical cinema Malick has mastered
Never have I seen a movie so full of beautiful imagery and sound, yet so simultaneously empty, unsatisfying, and downright sleazy, as Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups. But this is precisely its point. The film’s 118-minute parade of bodies, beaches, and landscapes, accompanied by painfully brief snippets of Grieg, Debussy and Vaughan Williams, provides a glut of beauty that is also a deprivation.
Yes, our individual stories matter, but mostly because they are subplots and microcosms of the BIG story God is telling. Each of our lives can be a reflection of the redemptive story God authors on a massive scale. Each is a compelling chapter in the epic of creation.A movie that I think illustrates this well is Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life.
To the Wonder is about a way of seeing—both seeing the world around us, and seeing ourselves properly, something he embodies not just on screen but in his working process. It's no coincidence that it begins with the point of view of Marina and Neil's own cell phone camera (as they travel by train "to the Wonder"). It's the focusing of our attention via lenses on life: perceiving the beauty in the pretty and the ugly, the thrilling and the mundane, and seeing how it all points heavenward. Christ in all; "All things shining" (The Thin Red Line).
Typical for a Malick film, very little is known about To The Wonder, and until critics see it and write/tweet their first impressions of it after the world premiere in Venice on Sept. 2, very little will be known.
Among the many questions prompted by a close viewing of this finale sequence—and indeed, the whole film—is the identity and meaning of the mystery woman seen with Jessica Chastain’s older and younger self in the “Amen” sequence. She shows up in part (usually just her hands) and in full on a number of occasions throughout the film--especially at the beginning of Jack’s life and in the film’s final fifteen minutes.
There was so much good cinema that my “best of” list actually includes three different top tens: the best 10, the second best 10, and then 10 honorable mentions. Many of them are available now on Netflix Instant, while a few of them have yet to release in most parts of the country. However you can, I hope you get a chance to see them!
Like Adam before us, and Noah, and Abraham and Israel, followers of Jesus are called to bring light to the darkness; to spread the illumination like in those candle light Christmas Eve services of our youth; or like that little blue candle and mysterious wispy flame in The Tree of Life. It's Ruach. The Spirit of God. Reminding us of hope, empowering us to carry on.
As I've reflected on The Tree of Life (I think I've seen it about 10 times now), I'm no less awestruck by its beauty now than I was in the beginning. It's a film overflowing with the sublime, the transcendent, the holy. I've heard others call it a worshipful experience and I certainly concur. The following are the scenes that get me the most, each time I watch Life. They are, in my opinion, the 10 most transcendent sequences of the film.
As in Herzog's previous films like Encounters at the End of the World (2007), which explored the culture of scientists working in Antarctica, or Grizzly Man (2005), which observed the eccentric life of Timothy Treadwell amidst the grizzly bears of Alaska, Cave is preoccupied with the interplay between natural wonders and the humans who've dedicated their lives to exploring them andunderstanding them.
The Tree of Life, like Terrence Malick's other 4 films, is rich with layers of beauty and meaning, but its also stubbornly ambiguous at times and potentially maddening. It's not a film you can fully "get" on a first or second viewing, if at all, but that's not to say that it doesn't have intense and immediate pleasures and gifts to offer, if one is willing to receive.
On Monday morning, Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life was seen for the first time in public, at its monumentally anticipated premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. At long last, after years of delays and steadily building hype, Life was seen by its first public audience.
Throughout World, Malick's fourth film, trees are an essential image and metaphor. Early in the film, trees anchor the boats as the European colonists arrive. At the end, tree comprise the final shot. We look upward at a towering cathedral of trees, and then the film ends with the delicate drop of a leaf.
With its emphasis on the duality of nature and by association man, Days of Heaven envelops us in the lack and loss of Paradise. As reflected in its title, heaven is temporal in the film—an all too evanescent state of dwelling. The film thus exudes a palpable Edenic yearning—a longing to recapture our lost wholeness of being. In the meantime, we are stuck in a world where the glory and avenging power in nature are both intensely evident—a troubling paradox in which, Malick infers, ultimate reconciliation can be achieved only in death.
More than simply a morality tale couched in 1960s post-war nihilism, Badlands is a timeless tale of the human search for significance and the resultant battle between rebellion (pride/significance through freedom of the will) and redemption (humbly submitting to something bigger and recovering that union with creation and the Creator).