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BY Steven D. Greydanus
“Read not the Times, read the eternities,” Thoreau advised. The 2010 Arts & Faith Top 100 Films, just released days ahead of the Academy Awards, won’t make the headlines of the Times — but if you prefer to scrutinize the eternities, you might want to skip the Oscars and check out the Arts & Faith Top 100.
Arts & Faith is an online community with roots going back to 1999. “A forum to discuss movies from a Christian perspective” was the original mission statement. In 2004, the A&F message board was founded to offer broader discussion of the arts in general. Later that year, the A&F community produced the first edition of its “Top 100 Spiritually Significant Films” list. (I’ve been a part of this history since sometime in the 2001–2003 range, and I vote in the Top 100 polls.)
Updated versions of the Top 100 appeared in 2005 and 2006, then the list took a hiatus.
Today, Arts & Faith is run by Image Journal, a Christian journal of the arts. The website for the new list includes brief write-ups of the top 10 films (with more to come). There’s also this press release by Jeff Overstreet.
Looking over the 2010 list, Catholic readers familiar with the 1995 Vatican film list will recognize a number of titles near the top. The #1 film, Carl Dreyer’s Ordet, is a Vatican film list honoree (in the category of “Religion”), as are the next three titles (Decalogue, Babette’s Feast and The Passion of Joan of Arc), and six of the top ten. All told, the 2010 A&F Top 100 includes 18 of the Vatican list’s 45 films.
Something else many readers will notice: The list contains few films in English, and lots of unfamiliar titles. Well-known titles like A Man for All Seasons, It’s a Wonderful Life and Becket are vastly outnumbered by the works of Bergman, Tarkovsky, Bresson, Ozu and the Dardenne brothers.
Partly, this parallels the reality that when it comes to films of outstanding spiritual significance, Hollywood has historically lagged far behind the world at large, even in its pious Golden Age. Beyond that, though, the 2010 Top 100 is frankly more of an “art film” list than in previous years—and, in some ways, less of a “faith film” list.
Previous A&F Top 100 lists included the likes of The Miracle Maker, The Passion of the Christ, The Prince of Egypt and The Mission, none of which made this year’s list. In fact, there are only two biblical films, The Gospel According to St. Matthew and Son of Man, a 2005 South African film that reimagines the story of Jesus in contemporary Africa. Popular favorites like Groundhog Day, The Sixth Sense, and The Lord of the Rings were also featured in previous years, but not this year.
At the same time, there are many welcome new additions, from the great “monastery movies” of 2005/2006, Into Great Silence and Ostrov, to a pair of Vatican list films absent in previous years, The Burmese Harp and Au Revoir, Les Enfants, and many more. Regular readers may recognize Summer Hours, Lorna’s Silence and Munyurangabo from my top lists of 2009, and others from previous years.
Looking over the new list, I see room for a broader, more diverse lineup. For example, out of 100 titles, there is surely room for animation, documentaries, comedies or musicals.
On the other hand, it’s hard to find a film anywhere on this list that isn’t well worth putting on any top 100 list—certainly of the ones I’ve seen, which is a little more than half. That leaves a lot of films I’m looking forward to catching up with in the next year—which, of course, is what lists like this are for.
Check out the 2010 Top 100.