Favorite Movies

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything about my likes or tastes or preferences in media, but I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately with my friend Elise, who is half my age and has thus missed out on many of the films that have profoundly touched my life. At least, I hope she sees it this way; it could be that finds me hopelessly stuck in the last couple of decades of the 1900s — a charge to which I would gladly plead guilty.

But one’s personal canon of film or literature reveals much, and reveals things far beyond that of genre or subject matter. It’s not, this list of films I love, a statement of faith — but like all things, it is spiritual, and adds to my autobiography in revealing and perhaps unexpected ways. So here is my current list of Top Ten Films, with brief commentary on why they’ve stayed with me long after the popcorn has settled:

1. The Color Purple. Never have I seen a more truthful, soul-stirring story of repentance, redemption, reconciliation, and renewal, and while it’s a difficult, heart-breaking film to watch, it will deepen both your faith in Christ as well as your faith in the power of truth in setting people free. This ought to be required viewing for all believers, and especially for those more than comfortable with their positions of privilege.

2. Jesus Christ Superstar. More than three decades after its release, this rock opera based on Luke’s Gospel offers the most sensitive, reverent portrayal of the Lord Jesus I’ve ever seen on the screen, and the music is some of the best rock and roll you’ll ever hear. But its continued relevance is grounded in its faithfulness to the story of Christ’s ministry and passion, and if it offers us an Incarnate Jesus more wounded, more intimately involved with his disciples, than we’re comfortable with, this is good. And it’s much better than the dashing, wild-at-heart rogue or kick-ass conqueror too often applauded these days by an undiscerning, culturally-compromised Church.

3. Lone Star. In two hours, this gem by John Sayles offers a Western, a mystery, a love story, social commentary, and an overview of post-World War II Texas history. And while the ending would be hard to justify Biblically, as if I were ever required to, it appears in a context that refuses to settle for easy answers and pat conclusions. You will not forget this film.

4. True Grit — the Coen Brothers’ version, not the original (in which Kim Garvey looks remarkably like teen idol Justin Bieber, which I find distressing). I’ve seen it twice and was in awe both times at the maturity and insight of the young protagonist. The actress is 15 in real life and plays a 14-year-old; I wasn’t that composed and resourceful last Tuesday, much less as a young teen. Iris DeMent’s version of “Leaning On The Everlasting Arms” is flat-out astonishing.

5. Waiting For Guffman. The funniest movie I’ve ever seen, ever, without question, and in its own way, one of the sweetest. Christopher Guest’s “mockumentaries” are brilliant, and this one is head of the class.

6. Broadcast News. People who knew me way back when have commented on my former resemblance to the over-achieving, high-strung, ineffably passionate and consummately professional network news producer Jane Craig, played by Holly Hunter. I tend to think I just used to be bossy, opinionated, and demanding, with very little of Jane’s charm. But the movie offers the most poignant picture of platonic friendship I’ve ever seen on screen, and it’s all about news, politics, and a dumbed-down culture. What’s not to like?

7. This Is England. Heavy on first-wave ska, non-racist British skinhead culture, and punk-era social problems. That, and more “F” bombs than you’ve ever heard in a single movie. Get over it, though, and you’ll be moved to tears. Long live Milk!

8. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Cecily Tyson was a legend, and this look through one African-American woman’s life from post-Reconstruction to the Civil Rights movement illustrates not just one woman’s story, but the astonishing depth and versatility of the best actress you’ve never heard of. A favorite from my slightly-less-than-conventional childhood.

9. Arlington Road. A political thriller from the late ’90s that never really took off at the box office, very likely, I think, because of its unflinching look at right-wing separatism and its links to domestic terrorism. A decade or so later, the questions it asks and the warnings it provokes are still relevant.

10. Miss Firecracker. Holly Hunter again, this time as a striving young woman living in the shadow of her Southern Beauty Queen older sister, the wonderful Mary Steenburgen. The movie is as moving as it is funny, and Steenburgen’s take on “a thing of beauty is a joy forever” is still one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Bonus: It also features Alfre Woodard, who, along with Hunter, is my favorite actress. Coincidentally, Tim Robbins stars in both “Firecracker” and “Arlington,” and you won’t believe it’s the same guy. Delmont may have his problems, but he ain’t no Oliver Lang.

Check these out and let me know what you think! And if you were expecting “The Passion of the Christ,” “Left Behind 2,” “Fireproof,” or anything from the Lifetime network, perhaps, well, we’ve really not managed, you and I, to become terribly well-acquainted, then, have we????

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