Top 100 Spiritually Significant Films?

I’m a sucker for movies, lists, and religious discussions. So when Arts & Faith started compiling lists of Top 100 Spiritually Significant Films in 2004, my interest was naturally piqued. (They’ve put the list out a few other times but this seems to be the best version.)

After seeing the list, though, I was left with a vague sense of disappointment. While there are many worthy inclusions, overall the list feels rather sparse and banal. Maybe that is an inevitable result of the list being compiled by popular vote. Or perhaps its due to the short time film has been an art form as compared to other mediums, such as literature. Then again it could be that I haven’t viewed enough of the films listed (I’ve only seen 61 of the 100). Whatever its shortcomings, the compilation does serve the primary purpose of such listmaking: to offer an abundance of material for debate. In that regard, the effort is a complete success.

Included amidst such spiritual gems as The Apostle and Ponette are ho-hum entries like Fearless and Secrets and Lies. As soon as you begin to wonder what the voters could have been thinking, you find they’ve snuck in a few minor masterpieces (Groundhog DayUnforgiven) that might have otherwise been overlooked. But just as soon as they regain my confidence I have to question how they could include Lars von Trier’s Dogville but not his hauntingly beautiful (if misogynistic) Dancer in the Dark. And what about . . . well, you get the idea.

Listed below are the hundred titles that were included (the ones I’ve seen are highlighted in bold). Beside the entries I’ve added a rating of one to four asterisks. The scale is not a measure of the movies overall quality but on what I would deem its “spiritual significance.”

13 Conversations About One Thing, 2001, Jill Sprecher

2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968, Stanley Kubrick (*)

The Addiction, 1995, Abel Ferrara (*)

Amadeus, 1984, Milos Forman (**)

American Beauty, 1999, Sam Mendes (0 stars)

Andrei Rublev, 1969, Andrei Tarkovsky

The Apostle, 1997, Robert Duvall (****)

Au Hasard Balthazar, 1966, Robert Bresson

Babettes Gestebud (“Babette’s Feast”), 1987, Gabriel Axel

Bad Lieutenant, 1987, Abel Ferrara (*)

Bad ma ra khahad bord (“The Wind Will Carry Us”), 1999, Abbas Kiarostami

The Big Kahuna, 1999, John Swanbeck

Blade Runner, 1982, Ridley Scott (***)

Breaking The Waves, 1996, Lars von Trier (***)

Changing Lanes, 2002, Roger Michell (**)

Chariots of Fire, 1981, Hugh Hudson (***)

Code inconnu (“Code Unknown”), 2000, Michael Haneke

Crimes And Misdemeanors, 1989, Woody Allen (*)

Days of Heaven, 1978, Terrence Malick  (*)

Dead Man Walking, 1995, Tim Robbins (**)

Dekalog (“The Decalogue”), 1987, Krzysztof Kieslowski (****)

Dersu Uzala, 1975, Akira Kurosawa

Dogma, 1999, Kevin Smith (*)

Dogville, 2003, Lars von Trier (*)

La Dolce vita, 1960, Federico Fellini (*)

The Elephant Man, 1980, David Lynch

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2004, Michel Gondry (**)

Fearless, 1993, Peter Weir (*)

Fight Club, 1999, David Fincher (***)

Le Fils (“The Son”), 2002, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne

Fuori dal mondo (“Not of This World”), 1999, Giuseppe Piccioni

Grand Canyon, 1991, Lawrence Kasdan (*)

Groundhog Day, 1993, Harold Ramis (***)

Hell House, 2001, George Ratliff

Henry V, 1989, Kenneth Branagh (***)

Der Himmel¸ber Berlin (“Wings of Desire”), 1987, Wim Wenders (**)

Ikiru (“To Live”), 1952, Akira Kurosawa

It’s A Wonderful Life, 1946, Frank Capra (****)

Jean de Florette, Manon des sources, 1986, Claude Berri (**)

Jesus De Montreal (“Jesus of Montreal”), 1989, Denys Arcand (*)

Jesus Of Nazareth, 1977, Franco Zeffirelli

Le Journal D’un CurÈ De Campagne (“The Diary of a Country Priest”), 1951, Robert Bresson

Ladri di biciclette (“The Bicycle Thief”), 1948, Vittorio De Sica (**)

The Last Days of Disco, 1998, Whit Stillman (**)

The Last Temptation Of Christ, 1988, Martin Scorsese (0 stars)

Life of Brian, 1979, Terry Jones (*)

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King, 2001-2003, Peter Jackson (***)

Ma nuit chez Maud (“My Night At Maud’s”), 1969, Eric Rohmer

Magnolia, 1999, Paul Thomas Anderson (***)

A Man For All Seasons, 1966, Fred Zinnemann (***)

The Matrix, 1999, Andy & Larry Wachowski (***)

Mies vailla menneisyytt‰ (“The Man Without A Past”), 2002, Aki Kaurismaki

The Miracle Maker, 2000, Derek W. Hayes & Stanislav Sokolov

The Mission, 1986, Roland Joffe (***)

Nema-ye Nazdik (“Close-Up”), 1990, Abbas Kiarostami

The Night Of The Hunter, 1955, Charles Laughton (*)

Offretó Sacrificatio (“The Sacrifice”), 1986, Andrei Tarkovsky

On The Waterfront, 1954, Elia Kazan (*)

Ordet (“The Word”), 1955, Carl Theodor Dreyer

La Passion De Jeanne D’arc (“The Passion of Joan of Arc”), 1928, C. Dreyer (***)

The Passion Of The Christ, 2004, Mel Gibson (**)

Peter and Paul, 1981, Robert Day

Ponette, 1996, Jacques Doillon (****)

The Prince Of Egypt, 1998, Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, Simon Wells (*)

La Promesse, 1996, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne

Punch-Drunk Love, 2002, P.T. Anderson (*)

Roma, citti aperta (“Open City”), 1945, Roberto Rossellini

Sansho Dayu (“Sansho the Bailiff”), 1954, Kenji Mizoguchi

Schindler’s List, 1993, Steven Spielberg (***)

Secrets & Lies, 1996, Mike Leigh (*)

Shadowlands, 1993, Richard Attenborough (**)

The Shawshank Redemption, 1994, Frank Darabont (***)

Signs, 2002, M. Night Shyamalan (**)

The Sixth Sense, 1999, M. Night Shyamalan (**)

Det Sjunde Inseglet (“The Seventh Seal”), 1957, Ingmar Bergman (***)

Smultronst llet (“Wild Strawberries”), 1957, Ingmar Bergman

Solyaris (“Solaris”), 1972, Andrei Tarkovsky

Stalker, 1979, Andrei Tarkovsky

Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, 1977, 1980, 1983, George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Richard Marquand (*)

Stevie, 2002, Steve James (**)

The Straight Story, 1999, David Lynch (*)

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, 1927, F.W. Murnau

Sanger fran andra vaningen (“Songs From the Second Floor”), 2000, Roy Andersson

The Sweet Hereafter, 1997, Atom Egoyan (***)

Tender Mercies, 1983, Bruce Beresford (***)

Trois coulers: Bleu, Trzy kolory: Bialy, Trois coulers: Rouge (“Three Colors: Blue, White, Red”), 1993, 1994, 1994, Krzysztof Kieslowski (***)

Tokyo Monogatari (“Tokyo Story”), 1953, Yasujiro Ozu

The Truman Show, 1998, Peter Weir (***)

Unforgiven, 1992, Clint Eastwood (****)

Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo (“The Gospel According to Matthew”), 1964, Pier Paolo Pasolini

Vanya on 42nd Street, 1994, Louis Malle (*)

Le Vent souffle o˘ il veut (“A Man Escaped”), 1956, Robert Bresson

La Vita Ë bella (“Life is Beautiful”), 1997, Roberto Benigni (**)

Vredens dag (“Day of Wrath”), 1943, Carl Theodor Dreyer

Waking Life, 2001, Richard Linklater

Werckmeister Harmonies, 2000, Bela Tarr

Witness, 1985, Peter Weir (*)

The Year Of Living Dangerously, 1982, Peter Weir (*)

Yi yi (“Yi Yi: A One and a Two”), 2000, Edward Yang

Zerkalo (“The Mirror”), 1975, Andrei Tarkovsky

Agree with my choices and ratings? Which films would you include? And which films on the list should I watch?

  • http://www.gregorywolfe.com Gregory Wolfe

    Mr. Carter’s blanket characterization of this list as “banal” is supported with absolutely zero evidence or reasoning. But I guess blogs are good for blurts of opinion that require no substantive thought.

    Why he chooses to focus on the 2004 list is a bit of a mystery, given that new lists were created in 2010 and 2011 is a mystery, but for those who would like to investigate those lists as well, along with a couple Top 25 lists, you can go here:

    http://artsandfaith.com/t100/

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/joecarter Joe Carter

      Mr. Carter’s blanket characterization of this list as “banal” is supported with absolutely zero evidence or reasoning.

      True, because I consider it self-evident.

      Film has been around for almost 100 years. We have thousands and thousands of movies to choose from, and yet look at the list: Witness, The Life of Brian, Dogma, etc. I don’t blame the people who helped put the list together—I believe they were doing the best they could with what they had to work with. But isn’t it sad that there are not more worthy candidates for consideration?

      If we were putting a list of “100 Best Violent Movies” (a terrible category, for sure) it’d be hard to narrow down a list to 100. But on a list of best spiritual films we have to struggle just to fill all the slots.

      • http://www.gregorywolfe.com Gregory Wolfe

        Without even attempting to define what you mean by spiritual, this entire post is meaningless. The least you could have done is examine the list and attempt to infer — and engage with — what you felt the list-makers intended. Instead, you merely bloviate.

        • http://www.twitter.com/johncfarrier John Farrier

          Having let all of that anger out, do you feel better now, Mr. Wolfe?

          • http://www.gregorywolfe.com Gregory Wolfe

            It is sad to me that when I made a substantive criticism, one that actually articulates a flaw in your post, you dodge the real point and accuse me of anger. No, I’m not angry. Just baffled and sad.

            • Joe Carter

              Mr. Wolfe,

              I’m the author of the post. That comment was by someone else

              • http://www.gregorywolfe.com Gregory Wolfe

                Understood. Comment withdrawn, except to say that my original points remain uncontested.

      • http://nickrynerson.com Nick Rynerson

        Joe, you need to watch some Tarkovsky ;) Seriously though, ‘Stalker’, coming out of communist USSR and slipping past the national censorship board, is life-changing. This is, if you can handle 3 1/2 hours with 100 or so lines of dialogue!

        Also, Tarkovsky’s ‘Andrei Rublev’ and Kurosawa’s ‘Dersu Uzala’ and ‘Ikiru’ are worth your time. All very, very important films in understanding mid-twentieth century spirituality, and in my humble opinion, the human condition.

      • Elizabeth Winder Noyes

        Truly I would like to see on ANY list of “Best” films a brief critique of selected films by the ‘selection team’. Stating criteria first would be helpful not only to those who are already ‘film educated’ but to others. Critics too might be more courageous about stating criteria that would ‘flesh out’ their opinions. I’ve seen most of the films on the 2011 list. A lively critical conversation always follows a viewing, but then in our household our values are clearly defined and our interest in the aesthetics and art of film making is intense.

        Can’t resist plugging 4 great movies I’ve watched recently: “Welcome”, “Prisoner of the Mountains” (on of the best ‘war’ movies I’ve seen), “Journey of Hope” and “Jellyfish”. If anyone watches them and wants to share critique, let me know.

  • Ryan H.

    Why do you prefer the 2004 list to the more updated versions from 2010 and 2011? I think those lists are much more compelling, on the whole, than the 2004 list, with a much richer offering of films.

    For what it’s worth, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY strikes me as being *very* spiritually significant. It’s a film that strives for a “scientific definition of God” (Kubrick’s words) and concludes with man having achieved transcendence “beyond the infinite.” The myth 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY offers is hardly Christian, but it’s fraught with all kinds of spiritual implications.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/joecarter Joe Carter

      Why do you prefer the 2004 list to the more updated versions from 2010 and 2011?

      This post is an update of one I wrote in 2009 so I didn’t check the 2010 or 2011 lists. Scanning over the 2010 list, it seems like it has, on the whole, some better movies that aren’t really spiritual movies (e.g. Sulllivan’s Travels).

      For what it’s worth, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY strikes me as being *very* spiritually significant.

      I’ve always thought that Kubrick was one of the best director’s who often had the worst ideas. I truly think 2001 is a terrible movie, a pretentious art-house movie for sci-fi loving 1960s hippies. But I guess it could fill the “stoner spirituality” slot. ; )

  • Ed Allie

    While “banal” is not a word I’d chose for this list–”challenging” may be an option–I think you’ve missed some of the real gems here. I’d recommend picking up “Ordet” — a powerful tale of faith, belief, and madness, “Au Hazard Balthazar”–a rich parable (or not) about a donkey, “The Miracle Maker”–the best Jesus movie ever made, not just the best Jesus claymation movie ever made, “Ikiru”–Ecce Homo! indeed. I’d submit as well that “Night of the Hunter” is much more profound spiritually than it’s one asterisk rating suggests–I’m not sure what it suggests, actually, since I’m not clear on what your criteria was. Surreal, dark, twisted and shot through with goodness and grace, Laughton’s captured on celluloid true religion.

  • http://redemptiosehnsucht.blogspot.com/ J.A.A. Purves

    Mr. Carter, I can only echo Mr. Allie’s enthusiastic recommendations and strongly suggest you watch more films from Ingmar Bergman and Carl Theodor Dreyer. If your consideration of this list does nothing else but lead to you begin to try the films of directors like Andrei Tarkovsky or Robert Bresson, then I’d consider it to be a success. My first interaction with it encouraged me to plumb depths in film that I had never known existed.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/joecarter Joe Carter

      ‘Ordet’ is one movie that I have been told repeatedly would top the list, so I really should make time to see that. As for Bergman, I never thought his films were all that special. And the reason the Tarkovsky’s films are not rated are because I’ve never been able to sit through an entire film.

      I’ll admit that I have a bias against the directors beloved by Baby Boomers. I’m sure if I had grown up in the 1960s, I would have a special fondness for Bergman, Kubrick, Rohmer, etc. But I just don’t think that when you wipe away the nostalgia they hold up all that well.

  • Russell Lucas

    Joe, I don’t know if you’ve contributed to lists like these before, but the open-voting nature of them guarantees that even the participants will find a lot of movies on them that they don’t particularly care for. I’m pretty sure I voted for this list, and there are at least 10-15 movies I’d like to line-item veto from it. Some of the choices reflect recency-bias. There aren’t many people out there today who are excited about, for example, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST.

    But you haven’t seen 38 of the movies on the list, and nearly all of what you haven’t seen is the stuff that I’m comfortable defending as great today. In particular, gauging what you’ve identified as really liking and your comment about Tarkovsky, I think you should make it a priority to see the films by the Dardenne brothers– THE SON and LA PROMESSE are on this list, but a contemporary version of this list would probably include some or all of their other three feature films, all of which are on DVD or will be soon. I’m pretty sure you’ll love BABETTE’S FEAST. The two Dreyer films– ORDET and DAY OF WRATH– are both great. Despite Rohmer bias, I think you’ll find MY NIGHT AT MAUD’S pretty fantastic, and totally against the weight of most contemporary art of that day in the whole questions as to whether the guy should sleep with the woman who wants him to sleep with her. THE ELEPHANT MAN. TOKYO STORY. There’s a lot of good stuff in there.

    • Bro AJK

      Babbette’s Feast: What a great movie! The feast sequence alone is worthwhile. A little bit of O. Henry in terms of irony in the film, too. I would give it at least a ranking of ***

  • http://opus.fm/ Jason Morehead

    Tarkovsky’s films are hard to sit through, there’s no doubt about it. They can be incredibly obtuse and frustrating, and I will admit I’ve fallen asleep while watching them. However, what I appreciate most about his films, aside from their gorgeous imagery and sense of atmosphere, is that they force you to slow down and really pay attention. They’re truly contemplative works (which isn’t surprising given the man’s Orthodox background).

    It’s been years since I’ve seen it, but I still find myself haunted by “Stalker”, and I’m still shaken (in a good way) by “The Sacrifice” (which might be the best starting point). Here’s a review of “The Sacrifice” that I wrote several years ago:

    http://opus.fm/v1/view/the_sacrifice/

    I also recommend checking out his book, “Sculpting In Time”. It’s essentially his manifesto on art and filmmaking, and how (Christian) spirituality ought to be integrated and reflected by it. Here’s a review of the book by a friend of mine:

    http://www.longpauses.com/sculpting-in-time-2/

  • Tyler Petty

    Leaving aside the glaring ignorance for foreign films, the most confusing part of this post is why/how you selected the 2004 list as the “best.” Arts and Faith has refined and improved its nominations and voting process significantly since the 2004 list (additionally, a lot of people who contributed to the more recent lists were not part of the A&F community in 2004, myself included). Beyond that, the more recent lists include capsule reviews and explanations of why each film made it onto the list, which might help you to broaden your horizons just a bit.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/joecarter Joe Carter

    the most confusing part of this post is why/how you selected the 2004 list as the “best.”

    I could be wrong, but in comparing the year-to-year lists, it seemed that 2004 had more movies that could qualify as “spiritual.” The others include too many head-scratchers. For example, “Sullivan’s Travels” is a great film, but to call it “spiritual” either shows a misunderstanding of the film or stretches the category to be too-inclusive.

  • Ryan H.

    “Scanning over the 2010 list, it seems like it has, on the whole, some better movies that aren’t really spiritual movies (e.g. Sulllivan’s Travels).”

    Depends on what you consider to be “spiritual.” What’s your working definition?

    “I truly think 2001 is a terrible movie, a pretentious art-house movie for sci-fi loving 1960s hippies.”

    A bit dismissive, don’t you think, when many of its champions are not sci-fi loving 1960s hippies?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/joecarter Joe Carter

      Depends on what you consider to be “spiritual.” What’s your working definition?

      Good question. I would say that a “spiritually significant” film is one that intentionally and sucessfully deepens or expands our appreciation or understanding of the sacred, particularly the sacred nature of human life and existence. The “intentionally” and “successfully” do a lot of work in that definition.

      I think if you take out “intentionally” that almost any good film could meet that requirement. But for a work to be classified as spiritual, it should be part of the director’s vision. Of course even if is intentional it may not be successful. I think Ridley Scott set out to make an intentionally “spiritual” film with Prometheus. But what keeps it from being “spiritually significant” is that he didn’t really pull off what he intended.

      A bit dismissive, don’t you think, when many of its champions are not sci-fi loving 1960s hippies?

      I would make a distinction between the director’s initial intent and how people later perceive his work. Kubrick has a distinctive visual taste, but I don’t think he was spiritually deep. I think, at least initially, 2001 really was just a “Whoa, man, far out” kind of film for a ’60s audience. But people read more into it than is there—or at least more than what Kubrick intended. For example, the opening with the monolith implies that there was an intelligent designer at work in the universe before the advent of man. Kubrick would likely deny that was his intent, though. He was just trying to do something groovy.

  • Ryan H.

    “For example, the opening with the monolith implies that there was an intelligent designer at work in the universe before the advent of man. Kubrick would likely deny that was his intent, though. He was just trying to do something groovy.”

    The briefest survey of interviews with Kubrick surrounding 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, from the time of its release, will reveal that’s not at all the case.

    • Joe Carter

      Here is an interview of Kubrick by Playboy:

      PLAYBOY: Much of the controversy surrounding 2001 deals with the meaning of the metaphysical symbols that abound in the film — the polished black monoliths, the orbital conjunction of Earth, Moon and sun at each stage of the monoliths’ intervention in human destiny, the stunning final kaleidoscopic maelstrom of time and space that engulfs the surviving astronaut and sets the stage for his rebirth as a “star- child” drifting toward Earth in a translucent placenta. One critic even called 2001 “the first Nietzschean film,” contending that its essential theme is Nietzsche’s concept of man’s evolution from ape to human to superman. What was the metaphysical message of 2001?

      KUBRICK: It’s not a message that I ever intend to convey in words. 2001 is a nonverbal experience; out of two hours and 19 minutes of film, there are only a little less than 40 minutes of dialog. I tried to create a visual experience, one that bypasses verbalized pigeonholing and directly penetrates the subconscious with an emotional and philosophic content. To convolute McLuhan, in 2001 the message is the medium. I intended the film to be an intensely subjective experience that reaches the viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does; to “explain” a Beethoven symphony would be to emasculate it by erecting an artificial barrier between conception and appreciation. You’re free to speculate as you wish about the philosophical and allegorical meaning of the film — and such speculation is one indication that it has succeeded in gripping the audience at a deep level — but I don’t want to spell out a verbal road map for 2001 that every viewer will feel obligated to pursue or else fear he’s missed the point. I think that if 2001 succeeds at all, it is in reaching a wide spectrum of people who would not often give a thought to man’s destiny, his role in the cosmos and his relationship to higher forms of life. But even in the case of someone who is highly intelligent, certain ideas found in 2001 would, if presented as abstractions, fall rather lifelessly and be automatically assigned to pat intellectual categories; experienced in a moving visual and emotional context, however, they can resonate within the deepest fibers of one’s being.

      To me, that certainly sounds like a lot of hippie nonsense. When a director starts saying how their movie can’t be “conveyed in words” you know you’re dealing with a poser. Words are just another form of visual symbol for conveying meaning. If your symbolism can’t be translated into other symbols then there likely isn’t much to it to begin with.

      • http://decentfilms.com SDG

        “When a director starts saying how their movie can’t be “conveyed in words” you know you’re dealing with a poser. Words are just another form of visual symbol for conveying meaning. If your symbolism can’t be translated into other symbols then there likely isn’t much to it to begin with.”

        This may be the strangest comment in this very strange discussion. Does any poet writing a poem think the meaning of his or her poem can be “translated” into prose? Prose can comment on the meaning of a poem but never fully express or “translate” it; if it could, the poem would not be worth writing. And a poem is already words. How much more a painting, a statue, a film? Why would anyone go to the time and expense of expressing meaning in a film if that very same meaning could be “translated” into prose?

        • Joe Carter

          Does any poet writing a poem think the meaning of his or her poem can be “translated” into prose?

          Let’s make a distinction. If the poem could be “translated” into prose without any loss of meaning then there wouldn’t be any purpose for the poem. But that is not what I am talking about. A more apt analogy would be a poet who said that the meaning of his poem could never be explained in prose. In that case, you should probably suspect they are an incompetent (or at least inarticulate) poet.

          If a filmmaker cannot put into words what he wants to convey in a film, then chances are they he doesn’t really know himself. He isn’t really communicating anything, but just stringing together visual symbols and hoping they have enough carry-over in their connotations to make his own work seem meaningful.

          • http://decentfilms.com SDG

            But Kubrick doesn’t say he can’t put it into words at all. He says he “never intended to convey” it in words; that he doesn’t “want to spell out a verbal road map”; that the experience is meant to “bypass verbalized pigeonholing”; that, “if presented as abstractions,” the ideas found in the film might “fall rather lifelessly and be automatically assigned to pat intellectual categories,” etc. He’s standing in a long tradition of artists declining to endorse or provide an interpretation of their work.

            • Joe Carter

              True. But let’s look at the rest of what he says, which is convoluted and contradictory.

              I intended the film to be an intensely subjective experience that reaches the viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does;

              So Kubrik is saying that there is no independent, objective, point of view of the film, that he wants the viewer to have an “intensely subjective experience” (i.e., it means what you think it means).

              You’re free to speculate as you wish about the philosophical and allegorical meaning of the film — and such speculation is one indication that it has succeeded in gripping the audience at a deep level — but I don’t want to spell out a verbal road map for 2001 that every viewer will feel obligated to pursue or else fear he’s missed the point.

              In the part I quoted above, Kubrick is saying that the viewer can’t “miss the point” since the point is whatever strikes them at an “inner level of consciousness” (that’s an example of the type of thing Kubrick says that shows he’s something of a ’60s pseudo-intellectual).

              But even in the case of someone who is highly intelligent, certain ideas found in 2001 would, if presented as abstractions, fall rather lifelessly and be automatically assigned to pat intellectual categories; experienced in a moving visual and emotional context, however, they can resonate within the deepest fibers of one’s being.

              I’ll cut him some slack here and assume he is speaking off the cuff and doesn’t realize he’s talking nonsense. The ideas in 2001 (assuming there are any) must be “presented as abstractions” otherwise they aren’t really ideas (and there certainly aren’t any concrete ideas in the film).

              Whenever a director says, as Kubrick does, that the meaning of the film is essentially what the viewer takes away from it, then you can be certain there is no actual meaning in the film. Meaning is something that is created or discovered. If someone sees some spilled milk on the floor and a viewer embues it with meaning, we wouldn’t credit the guy who knocked over the jug of milk as being a “great artist.” We’d just assume the milk-meaning-finder was a rather peculiar and creative person. So it is with 2001. The people who find some deeper meaning in the film are doing the work that the Kubrick didn’t (or couldn’t) do himself.

  • Alan Noble

    I’m fairly certain that Science has established that Crimes and Misdemeanors, an utterly brilliant and insightful reimagining of Crime and Punishment in a secular contemporary society, is about a million stars. If I get a chance I’ll look up the study which proved this with science.

    • Joe Carter

      I had always been unclear on why Woody Allen was considered a great director so I recently started watching all of his films (I only have about 8 left). Perhaps seeing “Crimes and Misdemeanors” right after “Melinda and Melinda” and before “Whatever Works” skewed my opinion.

      But to be honest, I think the problem with the film is that it isn’t honest. Even Allen doesn’t believe the nihilist message he attempt to convey with the film. If he did, then it might have come across as deep (and depressing). But it’s a simulacra of a real nihilist despair (you can’t be a real nihilist and be as afraid of death as Allen).

      (Also, Allen and his subplot shouldn’t be in that movie at all.)

  • http://www.twitter.com/johncfarrier John Farrier

    Excalibur is a spiritually rich film about sin, grace, redemption and hope. It’s rich in Christian symbolism and has reasonably sound theology.

  • du Garbandier

    It is perfectly within a person’s purview to dislike “pretentious art-house movie[s] for sci-fi loving 1960s hippies.” I myself take no particular pleasure in Stanley Kubrick’s films, but I recognize their importance.

    But let it be clear: voicing such constitutional dislikes cannot mistaken for an attempt at anything resembling constructive dialogue. It discloses nothing whatsoever about anything beyond the speaker’s own prejudices. We all have such prejudices. But what good is served by voicing them under the guise of criticism? As such, I find that criticism is most useful when it is done by those who have, or have had, a taste for what is criticized. Consider C. S. Lewis’s words in “On Science Fiction”:

    “It is very dangerous to write about a kind [of literature] you hate. Hatred obscures all distinctions. I don’t like detective stories and therefore all detective stories look much alike to me: if I wrote about them I should therefore infallibly write drivel. Criticism of kinds, as distinct from criticism of works, cannot of course be avoided: I shall be driven to criticize one sub-species of science fiction myself. But it is, I think, the most subjective and least reliable type of criticism. Above all, it should not masquerade as criticism of individual works. Many reviews are useless because, while purporting to condemn the book, they only reveal the reviewer’s dislike of the kind to which it belongs. Let bad tragedies be censured by those who love tragedy, and bad detective stories by those who love the detective story. Then we shall learn their real faults. Otherwise we shall find epics blamed for not being novels, farces for not being high comedies, novels by James for lacking the swift action of Smollett. “

    • Joe Carter

      But let it be clear: voicing such constitutional dislikes cannot mistaken for an attempt at anything resembling constructive dialogue.

      Sure, I agree with that. This is only a comment thread so I’m not really trying to change someone’s perspective on Kubrick. I’m just replying to a short in inquiry on why I don’t like ’2001′ with my own short response.

      As such, I find that criticism is most useful when it is done by those who have, or have had, a taste for what is criticized.

      But I do have a tast for what is criticized. I like films, I like philosophical films, I like sci-fi films, I like meditative films, etc. I even like certain Kubrick films (Paths of Glory) and respect others (A Clockwork Orange). I just don’t think 2001 is nearly as good people give it credit for.

  • du Garbandier

    Lewis again:

    “Do not criticize what you have no taste for without great caution. And above all, do not ever criticize what you simply can’t stand. [...] A violent and actually resentful reaction to all books of a certain kind, or to situations of a certain kind, is a danger signal. For I am convinced that good adverse criticism is the most difficult thing we have to do. I would advise everyone to begin it under the most favorable conditions : this is, where you thoroughly know and heartily like the thing the author is trying to do, and have enjoyed many books where it was done well. Then you will have some chance of really showing that he has failed and perhaps even of showing why. But if our real reaction to a book is ‘Ugh! I just can’t bear this sort of thing,’ then I think we shall not be able to diagnose whatever real faults it has. We may lab our to conceal our emotion, but we shall end in a welter of emotive, unanalyzed, vogue-words—’arch’, ‘facetious’, ‘bogus’, ‘adolescent’, ‘immature’ and the rest. When we really know what is wrong we need none of these.”

  • http://www.remnantculture.com Joseph Sunde

    I’d probably add Ben-Hur as a for sure. Am I missing something?

    Though likely not worthy for a Top 100 list (I’d have to ponder hard), here are a few off the top of my head:
    -Book of Eli — far better than the critic consensus, methinks
    -Angels with Dirty Faces — light and fun movie with deep undertones
    -The Hunchback of Notre Dame — both the Charles Laughton and Disney animated versions have some striking religious currents (thanks mostly to Hugo, no doubt)
    -The Ten Commandments — Too obvious?
    -Star Wars IV-VI — though perhaps only if we fully embrace the broad definition of “spiritual” here
    -The Grey — atheism vs. belief/hope in the pit of despair

    • Joe Carter

      -The Grey — atheism vs. belief/hope in the pit of despair

      I agree with you there. ‘The Grey’ is probably one of the the most spiritually significant atheist/nihilist films to ever find a mass audience.

  • Santiago

    As for Bergman, I never thought his films were all that special. And the reason the Tarkovsky’s films are not rated are because I’ve never been able to sit through an entire film.

    Umm…. And he’s also against Rohmer.

    He also wrote an article against Picasso.

    Not sure it’s worth my time arguing against this guy.

    • Joe Carter

      Not sure it’s worth my time arguing against this guy.

      Indeed, probably not worth your time since I don’t automatically bow to the idea that modernism is the height of artistry.

      “I saw a Rohmer film once. It was kind of like watching paint dry.” – Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman) in ‘Night Moves’

  • Santiago

    Or maybe you just can’t sit still for more than an hour and a half because you’re too used to Hollywood razzle n dazzle. It’s the same problem people have with the Latin Mass of yore.

    • Joe Carter

      I don’t have a problem with sitting still through a long movie. But it has to be worthwhile. The idea that just because a movie is long and dull that is must be deep an important is an idea perpetrated by film-school poseurs that true movie lovers should roundly reject.

      I’m hoping to write a longer post on how I judge movies, but here’s a brief version: As far as possible, movies should be watched and judged in a critical vacuum. The reputation of the director and what critics have thought about it should be dismissed once someone has chosen to watch a film (though such opinions can be useful when deciding whether a movie is worth bothering with and can add to the viewing experience after the film).

      I used to watch movies in a very different way. I would read that people with sophisticated taste appreciated Bergman, and so I would decide that I too had to like Bergman film’s (such as Persona) even if my critical judgment told me that it was lacking in true merit. Eventually I realized that was an idiotic way to engage with art. Nowadays I’m forthright about what I think, even if it offends the sensibility of people who think that once a film/director has been canonized by Baby Boomer film buffs that it is beyond criticism.

  • Santiago

    What you are arguing for is a position taken up by the New Critics in the 1940s and 50s. It is an interesting one, but undergirding it (at least with people like Eliot and Leavis) was the assumption that the critic was someone already formed (intellectually and spiritually) by the wealth of western culture. Ergo, we can suspend our biographical knowledge about a poet and just focus on the poem, but our sensibility is already an educated one. So, ask yourself, how is your sensibility formed?

    I think you are making a straw man argument — that the only reason why people like Modernist film (or poetry or art) is because sophisticated people have told them to. I think that’s only true when you’re talking about a certain type of undergraduate. But there are good reasons for liking those guys as well.

    My previous comment sounded nastier than I intended, I apologize. I do have a Latin temper though. And I do think that dismissing geniuses like Bergman and Tarkovsky is the same thing as dismissing geniuses like Flaubert and Dostoyevsky, i.e., something preposterous.

    • Joe Carter

      but our sensibility is already an educated one.

      I agree that it is important to have an educated sensibility, though it’s probably more necessary for criticizing literature than film.

      I think you are making a straw man argument — that the only reason why people like Modernist film (or poetry or art) is because sophisticated people have told them to.

      I don’t want to make a blanket statement that everyone who enjoys Modernist art does so because they were told to. For some people, such art truly does resonate with them. But I think that many people do indeed only pretend to like such films because they don’t want to appear philistine for admitting the truth. I also think that when someone claims that there is something unsophisticated about not preferring modernist works to other types that they are being provincial. (I’m not saying that is true of you, since you didn’t necessarily say that. I’m just making a general claim.)

      And I do think that dismissing geniuses like Bergman and Tarkovsky is the same thing as dismissing geniuses like Flaubert and Dostoyevsky, i.e., something preposterous.

      I would say that it is more akin to thinking that Bergman and Tarkovsky are similar to Dos Passos and Saul Bellow, artists whose works may or may not stand the test of time, but are not incontrovertible geniuses, like Flaubert and Dostoyevsky.

      BTW, I am not a boomer, I am Gen Y

      Sorry, I should have clarified that I was referring only to the the way that Boomer criticism is the “brand standard” nowadays. I’m a Gen Xer who grew up hearing how all pop culture—especially film and music—was better in their era (mostly 1960s, though some ’50s and ’70s). And because the Boomers have until recently controlled the mediums from which criticism is disseminated, their opinion has become the standard.

      The problem, of course, is that most of what they found worthy is horrible. For example, I love and adore Roger Ebert but he has some amazing blind spots that is based on films he saw when he was younger. An example is El Topo. I had heard for decades that it was a brilliant, surreal film. But I watched it last week and it was Roger Corman level trash. Terrible filmmaking, bad acting, brain-dead symbolism, etc. If it was released today it would go direct-to-DVD as some Z-level junk.

      Now I’m not saying that the so-called “great directors” from the 1960s are as bad as that. But they are almost uniformly overrated when judged on an objective standard.

  • Santiago

    BTW, I am not a boomer, I am Gen Y

  • http://khazhad.blogspot.com Bob McMaster

    Of the movies on the list I have seen and you haven’t, I’d strongly suggest Ikiru and Tokyo Story. Taking a rough guess based on your ratings, I think you might find them to be 3 to 3.5 on your scale. Of less interest and worth are Dersu Uzala and Smulltronstallet which would be closer to 1 or 1.5. If you like Tokyo Story, it would be worth your time to probably check out most of the rest of Yasujiro Ozu’s films and, though Ikiru is not representative of all of Kurosawa’s films, his movies are almost all good ones, but they’re not all spiritually significant, I don’t think.

  • http://www.mariagudaitis.com Maria

    This is a good discussion (and subject matter), but the article was a little confusing.
    First: I thought it was a typo that you were looking at the 2004 list (because that’s 8 years ago, and there are a lot of good newer movies that have come out since.) If this is a reprint of a previous article, with some changes, it would have made a lot more sense if you would have let us know that with a little disclaimer at the top.
    Second, as I was scrolling down, your criteria for “spiritually significant” didn’t seem clear. Some films you give one star to seemed to me spiritual, and others with three or four stars didn’t. In a later comment, you posted this as your definition (if you had included it at the beginning, it would have provided better context).
    “I would say that a “spiritually significant” film is one that intentionally and successfully deepens or expands our appreciation or understanding of the sacred, particularly the sacred nature of human life and existence. The “intentionally” and “successfully” do a lot of work in that definition.”
    Third, I disagree with your assessment of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” It’s one of the most successful and memorable films to deal with meaning, life, origins, machine versus man, etc. The fact that I don’t agree with his philosophy or how he saw human life or the sacred doesn’t mean it’s not a deeply moving and thoughtful film. (It should have been three stars.)
    Fourth, the 2010 and 2011 lists do have quite a few beautiful and spiritual films. Using the more up-to-date lists would have made this discussion more relevant. Here are a few I noticed that are both powerful as films and had a powerful impact as conversations/visual stories about spirituality and meaning:
    2010 List: Au Revoir, Aux Enfants / Becket / The Spirit of the Beehive / Summer Hours / The New World
    2011 List: Grave of the Fireflies / Paprika / There Will Be Blood / Apocalypse Now / The Iron Giant / Koyaanisqatsi

    Finally, a few missing from both these lists:
    *Tree of Life (one of the most spiritual movies ever made and one of the most beautiful meditations on life, forgiveness, suffering ever).
    *Thin Red Line (disturbing, elegiac film on war, sacrifice, the damage/salvation of humanity).
    *Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (cinematographic genius in a story of love, secrets, the renouncing of power/war, revenge, consequence of self will).
    *Bella (indie film about a man with a damaged past who reaches out to a young, pregnant co-worker…one of the best films ever about second chances, advocacy and the joy of a pure heart).
    *Poetry (South Korean film about a woman beginning to experience memory loss just as she starts her first poetry class and copes with her grandson’s reprehensible behavior)

    • http://southerngospelyankee.wordpress.com yankeegospelgirl

      Oh yes, I second _Bella_. Beautiful film.

      The new film _For Greater Glory_ is also quite good, features the same actor in a less prominent role.

  • Pingback: Sparks for Wednesday, December 5, 2012 | Ponder Anew

  • Justin Hanvey

    Could I suggest instead of criticizing another list as banal, and pretentious that you would instead get with some of your friends/bloggers/etc. that you find some common ground with and work on a list yourself? I don’t agree with all of A&F’s lists either. But the act of making a list at all, of seeking to do the transcendant act of sharing with culture what is spiritually significant and deeply impactful, of trying to raise up culture from the mire and put us all on deeper plain is a beautiful good thing to do. That members of A&F even feel confident, yes maybe arrogant, enough to even try really impresses me. Sure the lists are not beyond criticism and the members are not the “elite’ of society or anything, but we (yes we I guess I am involved now since I am contributing to the Top 25 Movies on Marriage discussion) are trying to heighten culture, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you feel you have a part to contribute to that, then do so, either by joining us in our discussions (not criticizing us from your blog without any engagement with us), or working on your own lists for the betterment of society. I’d be willing, just as I’m willing to engage with A&F in their endeavors, to engage with you as well in yours. As I am sure many A&F members would be willing to add their voices as well. We do this cause we care, not because we’re trying to be any kind of definitive voice and all others are not welcome. I think all the other members would agree with me that the birthing of other groups/forums/etc. who also try to engage the community in the arts and in spiritual significance (even if we disagree on films) because they were inspired by ours is a lot of the point. So join the conversation. But don’t criticize the conversation.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/joecarter Joe Carter

      Could I suggest instead of criticizing another list as banal, and pretentious that you would instead get with some of your friends/bloggers/etc. that you find some common ground with and work on a list yourself?

      I realized my post was worded poorly. My intention was not to criticize A&F’s list (much less the list-makers), but to raise the question of maybe the reason the list is banal is because we have a such a banal selection of movies to choose from.

      Reading my post again makes me cringe, because I realize that is not really how it came across. I apologize for that. I have a lot of respect for the A&F community and even tried to join the forum myself (I never heard back from the moderator so I’m not sure if I was rejected or not).

      • Justin Hanvey

        thanks for that heartfelt apology :)

  • http://southerngospelyankeewordpress.com yankeegospelgirl

    Some of these are good, others had me scratching my head, others I haven’t heard of or seen. Some poor choices here, but hey, at least they didn’t put any comic book movies on there. Star Wars is hilarious though.

    I’m surprised you only gave _Chariots of Fire_ three stars. To me it’s the pinnacle of spiritually significant film-making. How you could rate _Unforgiven_ as more so is beyond me.

    I would add _On the Waterfront_ to the list because of the important role of the priest. He really is very positively significant in the film and I shake my head to think that Hollywood was once at a place where they would do that in a huge movie.

  • Doc Mike

    Sigh. “Koyaanisqatsi” continues to be ignored. Quite possibly the best use of film ever, yet consistently ignored.

    • http://www.mariagudaitis.com Maria

      It was on the 2011 list–and I also mentioned it in my comment, because I agree, it’s a very significant film and probably one of the first that many people would list as “spiritually significant.”

  • Josie

    “Then again it could be that I haven’t viewed enough of the films listed (I’ve only seen 61 of the 100).”

    I think you’ve nailed it.
    I agree with comments that point to a greater wealth of spirituality in the films you haven’t seen. Moving beyond the list, I also agree with those who notice its omissions. That’s not a rebuke; naturally it’s slanted by its period and by the tastes and viewing habits of the voters. But please don’t attribute “sparse and banal” to the medium. Film *is* a relative newcomer and for some of us, that only makes its spiritual maturity and provocation more wonderful.

    “They’ve put the list out a few other times but this seems to be the best version.”

    I am not sure if newer lists hold even more films you haven’t seen or you simply don’t rate its entries very high. Whereas I see greater range and *more* spiritual depth.
    And while my personal choices might look very different and a few entries on the 2004 list surprise me, I don’t think that’s a defect in me or the list. It’s a testament to subjectivity and it’s the kind of difference I revel in.

    ” . . . the compilation does serve the primary purpose of such listmaking: to offer an abundance of material for debate.”

    And material to view for the first time or in a fresh light, because serious students of film and faith found value there. And in the negative space of listmaking are the films that got left out, the ones we would have included . . . and we begin to make a case for them . . .

    “And what about . . . well, you get the idea.”

    Exactly.

    I won’t fault your taste, that you find certain films spiritually and aesthetically hollow. I admire your honesty and your hope that each generation and each viewer will watch with an open mind.
    But I sense internal contradictions. On the one hand, you want films to be considered in a critical vacuum, on the other you scoff when Kubrick asks that his own be so ; you mistrust inherited reverence (nostalgia and slavishness blindside us) but the genius of Dostoevsky and Flaubert is “incontrovertible.”

    You might consider that your rejection of modernism is just as fallible as a Boomer’s embrace. That the perception of the sacred is at heart personal and tough to quantify and that the “specialness” of certain films you dismiss might not be a mirage, but the real thing.
    And that your working definition of spiritual significance is itself subjective and could make some of the most hauntingly spiritual films in the history of cinema ineligible.

  • Wisconsin Mom

    I would suggest “The Devil’s Advocate” and, more recently, “Gran Torino” for consideration here.

  • Darren

    Ah, yes, “Groundhog Day”; who would ever have guessed a Ramis / Murray comedy being such an embodiment of Nietzche’s Eternal Recurrence. “Der Himel Uber Berlin” is another favorite.

    I might have put “Requiem for a Dream” on there, though. And where is “The Prophecy”? A second war in heaven – Gabriel rebelling rather than allow the ascension of Man into Heaven?!

    Funny story about “The Matrix”; at the time I had just discovered Gnosticism, and I was profoundly exited when Neo first awoke into the Real World. I was rather disappointed when the villains turned out to be computers, and not agents of the Demiurge…

  • Barry

    I would not mark very many of this list as spiritual; there must be some criteria I fail to grasp. Three that I miss seeing are Pulp Fiction, which, overall is a study in redemption; Les Enfants du Paradis an Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors.


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