Arts and Faith Top 10 Films of 2016: Part 2 

Top 10 Banner Part 2Continued from yesterday. [Link to yesterday’s post here]

Here are the remaining five films in the Art and Faith Ecumenical Jury’s top ten films of 2016 list, as well as Honorable Mentions selected by each jury member:

5. Knight of Cups (Terrence Malick)

Knight of Cups is as pure cine-poetry as it is still being released in theatres. Here we’re witness to a cold, sterile beauty, filled with wide-open spaces in L.A. bursting at the seams with negative space. The people who inhabit those spaces may as well be ghosts, ceasing to exist as soon as we glide past them, hovering on the periphery of Rick’s (Christian Bale) sphere of consciousness.

The film unfurls around Rick, a rich and famous screenwriter, in an existential struggle for him to come to terms with meaning in his life, shambling along like Christian in The Pilgrim’s Progress. Presented with Malick’s typical beauty, the film is incredibly rich, from using recurring visual motifs as grace notes and alliteration, to its symphonic swell that seems as if the film has tapped into the same sensory majesty of music.

The film plumbs the depths of Christian despair and hope, wrapped up in an all-encompassing personal story told without affect or confines of contemporary cinema.

—Josh Hamm, Cut Print Film


4. Hail, Caesar! (Joel and Ethan Coen)

There were several movies about Jesus in 2016, each of which tapped into a different genre—the detective work of Risen, the family road trip of The Young Messiah, the spiritual drama of Last Days in the Desert, the epic action of the Ben-Hur remake—but the first and arguably most interesting of the lot was this delightful send-up of 1950s Hollywood, which not only paid homage to a wide range of genres itself (musicals, Westerns, romances, and of course biblical epics) but raised fascinating questions about politics, theology, and the intersection thereof.

The scene where a studio chief asks a Catholic priest, an Orthodox patriarch, a Protestant minister and a Jewish rabbi if his film’s depiction of Jesus “cuts the mustard” is as amusing as it sounds—and it is also one of the most surprisingly theological moments in any movie put out by a mainstream Hollywood studio this year.

—Peter T. Chattaway, FilmChat [Read more…]

Arts and Faith Top 10 Films of 2016: Part 1

Though the year of 2016 was a weighty year for politics and world events, it was also a great year for movies. The Arts and Faith Ecumenical Jury of 2016 has compiled a list of ten excellent films we found to be especially noteworthy.

This year’s thirteen jury members include professors and pastors, professional film critics and passionate cinephiles, diverse in location and tradition, yet united through the Christian faith. Each member also chose one Honorable Mention, highlighting a personal favorite not included in the final list.

While last year’s list had a decidedly international flavor, this year’s list varies in genre and tone—the #10 film is a partially-animated documentary, while #1 is a cerebral sci-fi drama adapted from a short story.

No film on our list falls under the “faith-based” subgenre, yet many of these stories are decidedly Christian. Featuring Jesuit priests on a faith-testing mission in seventeenth century Japan, a Christian youth worker coaching a chess club in Uganda, and a Catholic Hollywood producer trying to save a filmic “tale of the Christ,” Christianity is a common thread.

These films both confront and affirm our faith; none are “easy” stories, and each invite spiritual contemplation and consideration. Yet it’s also worth noting that our list is quite mainstream. These are readily accessible films, ones you could find in a local theater or via streaming platforms.

Whether telling the inspiring true-life tales of overcoming agonizing trials, or ambitious and imaginative fictional narratives, this is a list of particularly challenging films. The Ecumenical Jury’s vision is “to challenge, expand, or explore what it means to specifically recommend a film for Christian audiences.”

The following accessible-yet-challenging films certainly fulfill that mission. Director’s names are in parentheses:

Still from film Tower. Image shows an animated image of a close up of a woman's face. She is crying and looking upwards, presumably lying on the ground.

10. Tower (Keith Maitland)

In a year of excellent documentaries—Cameraperson, The Witness, O.J: Made in AmericaTower is a film of immense emotional heft. The film serves as a formal exercise in collective memory, a memorial recording both the horrors of human depravity as well as the redemptive courage that can emerge out of such horrors. Brisk yet meditative, this animated documentary is a paradox and a parable playing out on screen, both in its narrative and formal elements.

In retelling the tragic mass shooting which occurred on the campus of the University of Texas in August of 1966, Tower focuses not the violence and terror, rather it emphasizes the humanity of the victims as they recall that day. The film’s rotoscoping aesthetic at once distances the audience from the events—we are seeing animations of actors portraying what happened on that day in 1966—and allows for an empathetic depth that might not have been possible through typical documentary formats.

It’s a real-life Good Samaritan parable and an ethical Rorschach test, a “what would you do to help a stranger?” in such a dire and urgent situation.

Joel Mayward, Cinemayward [Read more…]