The folks at Arts & Faith, an online discussion group comprised of film critics—including Christianity Today Movies critics Jeffrey Overstreet, Peter T. Chattaway and other movie buffs have been carrying on a lively conversation about spirituality and film for years. Recently, the participants forged a diverse and intriguing list of 100 Spiritually Significant Films—an incomparable resource for anyone interested in exploring transcendent themes in the movies.
Films that were among the A&F favorites included P.T. Anderson's multi-character masterpiece Magnolia and Pier Paolo Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew, a sparse and poverty-stricken account of Christ's life considered by most Jesus movie aficionados to be the greatest of its kind. The Passion of The Christ also made the list, as did the surprisingly rich The Miracle Maker (an animated life of Christ), Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth miniseries, the more controversial Jesus of Montreal and The Last Temptation of Christ, and the not-quite-Jesus-film from the Monty Python gang, Life of Brian.
The unflinching portrayal of spiritually lost characters in Magnolia may scandalize some believers, but there's no denying it's one of the most often cited favorites among Christian film buffs, with its wonderfully human (and profoundly admirable) Christian cop, its intricate moral and relational complications, and its undeniable acts of divine intervention. Punch-Drunk Love, a less obviously religious film by the same director, also finds its way onto the list, a prime example of a story without explicit religious elements which nonetheless holds great appeal for Christian viewers, with its grace-filled portrait of damaged human beings yearning toward redemptive love.
And then there are the "usual suspects," recent films whose spirituality may be blatant or hidden, but which seem always to come up when Christians talk about film: the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which renders the profoundly Christian truths of J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy masterpiece in one of the most widely-seen films of all time; The Matrix, the spiritual film for many who came to faith at the end of the twentieth century, which may read better as a parable of spiritual rebirth than as a Christ-figure allegory; Chariots of Fire, the story of missionary and Olympian Eric Lidell, and one of the first films to portray an evangelical Christian in a positive light; Shadowlands, the definitive portrait of C. S. Lewis and his relationship with Joy Davidman, a relationship which reshaped his theology through love and suffering; American Beauty with its highly unorthodox affirmation of the divine love that banishes fear; Stephen King's story of faithfulness and friendship, The Shawshank Redemption; and M Night Shyamalan's brilliant meditation on mortality and forgiveness in the guise of a ghost story, The Sixth Sense, and his even more popular (if more artistically flawed) creatures-from-outer-space fright flick Signs, which is actually about a priest who must come to terms with grief and doubt; and Wings of Desire, the poetically evocative film Wim Wenders made as he came to faith, a vision of angels who long to do more than look into the lives of human beings.
For more information, visit A&F’s Top 100 list at http://www.artsandfaith.com .