When I put together my annual top 10 movies of the year list, I consider a few things: the quality of a film upon first viewing, the extent to which it lingers (or doesn't), the beauty and truth it unveils and relevance it has in today's world. My top 10 list this year contains four films set in the past, four films set (more or less) in the present, and two set in the future, but they all have something to say about our world today.
I’m sitting here looking at the Christmas tree in our room, a 7-foot Noble Fir, still aromatic and alive, glistening with lights and glittery ornaments. Part forest and part carnival, a natural and cultural creation, it stands as a shy but stately symbol of so much more than just holiday cheer. Its triangular, evergreen shape and prickly, shedding branches tell a much bigger story.
We need more journalistic reporting like "Spotlight," Tom McCarthy’s excellent film about the Boston Globe’s groundbreaking 2002 coverage of systemic clergy sex abuse and cover-ups within the Catholic Church. We need it because humans are very prone to doing bad things and really, really good at covering up those bad things. Someone needs to shine the spotlight on darkness, even if it means implicating ourselves too.
As modern western culture continues in its post-Christian march away from religion, what is filling the gap of God? Does disbelief in God translate to disbelief in everything supernatural or transcendent? Recent evidence seems to indicate a resounding “NO.” As much as we talk of a strictly materialistic and rationalistic landscape in our Scientistic society, there seems to be a lingering [...]
The new documentary about Amy Winehouse, Amy, is devastating. Whether or not you were a fan of Winehouse's music, it's hard not to be moved by this film, directed by Asif Kapadia (Senna). It chronicles the singer's rise to superstardom as well as her roller coaster struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and other destructive behavior which ultimately led to her tragic death-by-alcohol-poisoning in 2011.
I saw Pixar's Inside Out a few weeks ago at the Pinecrest Amphitheater, an outdoor movie theater on the shore of Pinecrest Lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Under the stars, surrounded by family and with the smells of pine and campfires in the air, the setting was beautiful and memorable. Fitting for a movie about the mystery, joy and sadness of memory.
The headlines today--or any day--reinforce the tragedy of life on this planet. Hundreds Feared Dead After Boat Filled With Migrants Capsizes. Video Purports to Show ISIS Killing Ethiopian Christians. There are ample reminders of the world’s calamity, horror and heartache in our daily social media feeds.
A year ago at this time, discussion of Hollywood’s “religious renaissance” began in earnest. Movies like Son of God, Noah, Heaven is for Real and God’s Not Dead were preparing to release, with more faith-oriented films set to come out later in the year (Mom’s Night Out, The Identical, Left Behind, Exodus). A year later, after mixed box office results and plenty of heated blogosphere chatter, what have we learned about what works and what doesn’t when faith and film collide?
For the past few years on this blog I have spent much of the month of December compiling best-of lists of various genres (books, movies, music, food). This year I've decided to list all my favorites of the year in one place. In addition to simply being a fun activity for me to reflect back on the year, I hope the following also serves the purpose of putting some good recommendations on your radar. Below are, in order, my favorite books, films, documentaries, TV shows, albums, songs and food experiences of 2014. What were your favorites of 2014?
In spite of North Korea-sponsored hacks and Hollywood's subsequent self-censorship, constant doomsday talk of box office decline and much ink spilt about The End of Movies, it was a terrific year for cinema. It's always difficult in years like this to narrow down to ten favorites, but below is my attempt. These are films that moved me, astonished me, taught me, and focused my attention more clearly than any others this year. I heartily recommend them all to you:
Christopher Nolan's Interstellar is one of those films I wish I could have seen three times before I wrote my review. As it is I only had a few hours to process the (insanely mind-bending) film before I had to turn in my review for Christianity Today. Because of that I want to share a few further thoughts I've been mulling over in the week since I've seen the film:
Whiplash is a great new film about jazz starring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. If you've ever played an instrument, pursued anything creative with a passion, or even if you just like jazz, you should see this film. Here's an excerpt from my review for Christianity Today:
Gone Girl is an exceptionally made film. That's the first and undeniable observation that one must make about David Fincher's new film. Fincher is a master of the craft and his command of the filmic language gets more impressive with each film he makes. The editing, angles, words and plot turns in Girl are all as razor sharp as the box-cutter that proves so pivotal in the film's most dramatic scene. I don't think Girl tops Fincher's best work (Zodiac or The Social Network), but it's certainly one of the most cinematically accomplished American films to be released this year.
I think it was Kierkegaard who said that while life is lived forwards, it can only be understood backwards. Certainly most art proves the truth of this statement. While life presses on breathlessly and leaves nary a moment for sense-making, artists are the ones who press pause and rewind, arranging the pieces, plot-points and colors for us in such a way that the full (or fuller) picture is seen.
We're midway through 2014 and so, as I do every summer, I've compiled my list of favorite films so far this year. I have yet to see Richard Linklater's Boyhood(which doesn't come out until July 11 anyway), which I assume will make my year-end list. I love Linklater and last year at this time I already knew his Before Midnight would be one of my top films of the year. In general it's been a fairly standard first half of the cinematic year: a few great films but not a lot of memorable ones. I'm excited to see what's to come this fall. Here's what's stayed with me so far in 2014.
There have been quite a few "faith" oriented films to come out this year, including the excellent Noah but also quite a few terrible Christian films: God's Not Dead, Heaven is For Real, Mom's Night Out, Son of God. And coming this fall: Left Behind, Nicolas Cage style. Thankfully there have been several really excellent "secular" films that have either directly or indirectly explored Christianity, God, faith and morality, and I've had the pleasure of reviewing several of them for Christianity Today
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.
Does Noah take liberties with the biblical account? Does it embellish and expand upon what’s there in the text? Yes and yes. And it must. The Noah account in the Bible covers four chapters in Genesis for a grand total of about 2,500 words. Everything that happened is surely not recorded. Furthermore, the film’s setting — a mere ten generations removed from Eden — is so unknown to history and so charged with mystery and the miraculous; it’s difficult to tell any sort of story in this context without lots of educated guesses as to what it was like.
A few years ago I thought it would an interesting challenge to think of films that reflected the heart of the season of Advent. You can see that list of “10 Films for Advent” here. But what about Lent? What makes a film “Lenten”? As I thought about it, I first thought of images: films of desert, spartan landscapes; faces of lament and suffering; gray and drab color palettes. Then I thought of tone: somber, contemplative, quiet, yet with a glimmer of hope or a moment of catharsis. Finally I thought of themes: suffering, isolation, hunger, penance, hope. I came up with the list below (in alphabetical order).
I recently hosted a video panel discussion on 2013's best films for the Biola University Center for Christianity, Culture & the Arts. In the discussion, which you can watch below, I discussed the spiritual resonances of 2013 films alongside film professors Lisa Swain and Nate Bell and student/writer Mack Hayden. Among the films we discussed: All is Lost, Inside Llewyn Davis, Her, To the Wonder, Prisoners, Stories We Tell, Museum Hours, Frances Ha and The Wolf of Wall Street.