I recently posted about the decade of the 2010s that is now so swiftly passing into historical memory, and what aspects of it we think demand commemoration. How did the religious world change in those years? I also want to open a discussion about films from this same decade, and other artistic productions on Christian themes. This seems so important to me because cinema actually reaches a far wider audience than literary or book-based discussions, and genuinely does influence mass opinion. In making such a list, of course, much depends on how we define “religious film”: does it mean films set in religious institutions, or should it demand films about religious attitudes or conduct or sensibilities? Also, films about Christianity often differ from “Christian films.”
The list of potential candidates seems close to endless, but here are a few of my own candidates for the absolute greatest contributions of the decade. In chronological order, here is my global top ten:
Of Gods And Men (France 2010)
This portrays the Trappist monks who stubbornly maintained their presence in Algeria until jihadi guerrillas murdered seven of them in 1996.
The Gospel Of Us (Britain, 2012)
Michael Sheen uses an actual Passion Play in a South Wales town (my hometown, actually) to retell the Gospel stories in modern dress.
Beyond the Hills (Romania 2012)
Amazing piece set in an Orthodox convent, concerning exorcism and spiritual warfare.
Ida (Poland 2013)
A Catholic nun finds that she is Jewish, and that Polish Catholics murdered her family during the German occupation.
Leviathan (Russia 2014)
A sweeping story of corruption, both lay and ecclesiastical, in a Russian town. The story is deeply rooted in the Bible and Biblical imagery.
Stations of the Cross (Germany 2014)
Study of a young woman in an oppressive ultra-Catholic sect.
Calvary (Ireland 2014)
Wrenching story of an innocent priest who knows he is to be murdered as an act of vengeance for the wrongdoings committed by his church during the clergy abuse scandals.The Innocents (France 2016)
Depicting a Polish convent in the aftermath of World War II, after many of the nuns have been raped by Soviet soldiers.
Silence (US 2016)
Adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s classic novel about persecution in seventeenth century Japan.
The Blind Christ (Chile 2017)
After receiving a revelation, a young man – should we call him Christ, or a prophet? – has to cross a desert to undertake a healing miracle.
So how about US films of the decade? Many people liked First Reformed (2018), which I loathed, except as unintentional comedy.
How about Last Days in the Desert (2015)? Hacksaw Ridge (2016)? Little Sister (2016)? I Can Only Imagine (2018)? Come Sunday (2018)? Or even Lady Bird (2017)? Some would cite Spotlight (2016) as a major contribution.
There were also quite a few Biblically-themed offerings, including Noah (2014) and Mary Magdalene (2018). Personally, I was not a fan of either, but I don’t have a good sense of how their reputations are standing up.
Be as appalled as you like, but as history, I loved the 2017 film The Little Hours, which precisely catches the feel of medieval satires about faith, the church, and wayward nuns.
Before anyone says it, there are also some very fine Jewish-themed productions from the era, especially about Orthodox issues and dilemmas. I am not actually sure how I would count the Coens’ Hail Caesar (2016) but it is definitely about the nature of faith. It is not within my time frame, but I thought the earlier Coen film A Serious Man (2009) was a magnificent use of Biblical themes, from a Jewish perspective.
Other thoughts? Ideas will be gratefully received.
And here is a follow up. What are the most influential Christian books of the past decade? I scarcely know where to begin!
ADDENDUM – As has been helpfully pointed out to me, see here for another list on the same theme. Great minds thinking on parallel lines, if not reaching exactly the same conclusions.