I’m hoping that you, the reader, will discover on this list some films that will bring you enjoyment and, perhaps, insight and renewed aspiration toward the source of all beauty.
It’s regrettable that educators have yet to regard cinema as an important artistic tradition, one that should be studied along with literature, painting, theater, and music. Films, as far as I can tell, are shown to pass the time when teachers are tired or have something else to do, but not to treat as a form of art.
The advantage of studying film is its relative youth, having been born only a little over a century ago. The other, more obvious, advantage is that students will have spent literally hundreds of hours watching films of various kinds, as opposed to their time spent with books, or much less in a museum with the masterworks of painting and sculpture.
My choices are made looking at the film qua film, not by any reference to the faith of the producer, director, or writer. Given that any object of art should be enjoyed and understood in itself, apart from its creator. We should not be surprised that non-believers and skeptics have made some of the most probing films about faith.
Thus, I ask the reader not to ignore whether the director of a particular film is notorious in some way. It’s not relevant, and, after all, how do we know under what inspiration, or whose inspiration, an “unbelieving” director brought a film into being. No better example is Luis Buñuel who has two movies on my list. In addition to Buñuel, there are three other masters of films about faith, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Carl Theodore von Dreyer, and Robert Bresson. To this group, I would add Ingmar Bergman, but he is too well known to be included here.
Perhaps the biggest surprises below will be “Wide Awake,” the 1997 film by M. Knight Shyamalan, before he became famous for “The Sixth Sense” (1999): an angel appears to a teenage boy at Catholic school. (Here’s my review after its release.) Mark Pellington’s “Henry Poole Is Here” (2008) is about a Marian miracle, and neither the director or the actors — Luke Wilson, George Lopez, and Radha Mitchell — got the acclaim they deserved. “The Third Miracle” (1999) directed by the famed Agnieszka Holland is a sort of miracle in itself, a tempted priest (Ed Harris) struggles but doesn’t fall, but he really, really struggles.
On this list, I have included links for purchase on Amazon. The reader may prefer Barnes & Noble or any of the many film vendors on the Internet. I’ve also provided information on whether a recommended film can be seen on a streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, MUBI, Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, VUDU, YouTube, and Fandor. Basic information on any of the films by making use of the International Movie Database at www.imdb.com.
1. Frank Borzage, Strange Cargo, 1940. (Amazon)
2.Leo McCarey, Make Way for Tomorrow, 1947. (Hulu)
3. Michael Powell, Black Narcissus, 1947. (Amazon and iTunes)
4. Gordon Douglas, Come Fill the Cup, 1951. (No DVD or streaming available)
5. Akira Kurosawa, Ikiru, 1952. (Hulu, Amazon, VUDU, Google Play, iTunes, YouTube)
6. Vittorio De Sica, Umberto D, 1952. (Hulu, Amazon, iTunes)
7. Carl Theodore von Dreyer, Ordet, 1955. (Hulu)
8. Raffaello Matarazzo, The White Angel, 1955. (Hulu)
10. Robert Bresson, Pickpocket, 1959. (Hulu, Amazon, iTunes)
11. Mervyn LeRoy, The Devil of 4 O’Clock, 1961. (Netflix)
12. Luis Bunuel, Simon of the Desert, 1965. (Hulu)
13. Robert Bresson, Au Hasard Balthasar, 1966. (Hulu)
14. Robert Bresson, Mouchette, 1967. (Hulu)
15 .Anthony Harvey, The Abdication, 1974. (YouTube, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play)
17. Ulu Grosbard, True Confessions, 1981. (iTunes, Amazon)
20. Lee David Slotoff, Spitfire Grill, 1996.(YouTube, iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Google Play)
21. M. Knight Shyamalan, Wide Awake, 1997. (HBO Go, YouTube, Amazon, VUDU).
22. David Lynch, The Straight Story, 1999. (YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon).
23. Agnieszka Holland, The Third Miracle, 1999. (DIRECTTV)
24. Alexander Payne, About Schmidt, 2002. (YouTube, iTunes, VUDU, Google Play, Amazon).
25. Bruce Beresford, Evelyn, 2002. (iTunes, Amazon, VUDU).
26. Christian Carion, Joyeux Noel, 2005. (YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon).
28. Jean-Pierre Dardenne, L’enfant, 2006. (YouTube, VUDU, Amazon, Google Play, iTunes).
29. Mark Pellington, Henry Poole is Here, 2008. (YouTube, VUDU, Amazon, Google Play, iTunes).
30. Xavier Beauvois, Of Gods and Men, 2010. (YouTube, VUDU, Amazon, Google Play).