The Most Spiritually Literate Films of 2005
By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Spirituality is about much more than meditation, peace, gratitude, and love. As the prophets of every religious tradition have told us, there are times when the spiritual life requires that we shine a light into the darkest corners of our world. It means developing our capacity for compassion for those who are suffering and working for justice for all.
This year the movies seemed to have gotten the message. Peppering our lists of the most spiritually literate American features, foreign language films, and documentaries are movies about the shadow side of contemporary life violence and war, political and corporate corruption, racism and classism. Poignant and shocking stories involve us in the lives of the poor, the lonely, the abandoned, the hated, and the preyed upon.
Other stories raise our hopes that good will abounds and the spirit is indomitable. Our heroes include an animated crone, an English boy, a television journalist, a smiling stray dog, a silent Japanese man, two senior citizen activists, a disabled African man, and a colony of penguins.
The Ten Most Spiritually Literate Films of 2005
Because of Winn-Dixie (Twentieth Century Fox) is a magical story about a lonely girl whose life is transformed by a smiling stray dog who has a spiritual gift for bringing her together with just the right people.
Brokeback Mountain (Focus Features) will break your heart and open it. It is about the heartache of two Western cowboys whose love for each other over the course of several decades can only be expressed in secret. Much more than a film about yearning, it reveals the pain of hidden and split identities. The characters incarnate the basic human needs for wholeness, fulfillment, and a true love who accepts them as they really are. It also mirrors the hatred, fear, ambivalence, and mystery that so often surround homosexual relationships.
The Constant Gardener (Focus Features) is a gripping thriller set in Africa about the malfeasance of international pharmaceutical companies and government bureaucracies. It takes us into the moral quagmire that arises when money and power take precedence over the value of human life.
Crash (Lions Gate Films) uses the multiple storylines to illustrate the barriers of race and class that keep contemporary Americans from understanding with each other. Each character also surprises us in some way, proving that no one should be summarily judged.
Good Night, and Good Luck (Warner Independent) is a stirring tribute to television journalist Edward R. Murrow's courage and conviction when he challenged Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee. Although set in the 1950s, this meticulously presented drama speaks directly to our times about the need to defend freedom at home and to give no quarter to those who are creating a fear-based society.
Howl's Moving Castle (Walt Disney Pictures) is an animated masterwork by Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki that boldly presents its anti-war sentiments, its sensitive affirmation of caretaking, and its mystical treatment of our connections with all others, no matter how strange or unappealing they may seem at first. Best of all, the fearless heroine is a crone!
Junebug (Sony Pictures Classics) is an endearing small film about a couple who find their new marriage tested during a visit to the groom's family in North Carolina. Her first clue that they have very different backgrounds is when he is asked to "give us a hymn" at a church supper.
Millions (Fox Searchlight) is an inspiring movie about an English boy with a generous heart who makes valiant attempts to come to terms with grief, the role of saints in history, the confusions of the human obsession with money, and the meaning of miracles.
The Squid and the Whale (Fox Searchlight) is about a family experiencing separation in more ways than one. With wit and poignancy, it invites us to share in and empathize with all their emotional upheavals.
(Warner Bros.) reveals the violence, corruption, and political chicanery involved in feeding America's addiction to fossil fuels. This hard-hitting political thriller uses multiple narratives to convey the complex connections among power plays in the Middle East, oil deals, global industries, the CIA, and terrorism. There are no simple answers, no easily identified good guys and bad guys, and no resolutions in sight.
The Ten Most Spiritually Literate
Foreign Language Films of 2005
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (Empire Pictures) registers as a lighthearted, playful love story set in China with a tribute to the soul-stirring powers of French literature.
Brothers (IFC Films) is an extraordinary Danish film that explores the primal emotions of sibling rivalry and the toxins of violence released in soldiers in war zones.
Caché (Hidden) (Sony Pictures Classics) is a sharp-edged thriller by an Austrian writer and director about the refusal of privileged members of the winning class to trust others or to take responsibility for their actions.
Downfall (Newmarket Films) is a German film about the last 10 days in the life of Adolf Hitler; it stars Bruno Ganz in a tour de force performance that delineates the darkest dimensions of a bunker mentality.
Nobody Knows (IFC Films) is a Japanese film that tells the harrowing story of four children in Tokyo who are abandoned by their mother and forced to fend for themselves over a six-month period.
Paradise Now (Warner Independent) is an Israeli film that presents insights into the desperation of those Palestinians who feel that living under oppression is hell and that dying is preferable.
Saraband (Sony Pictures Classics) is Swedish director Ingmar Bergman's last film. We watch family members bare their souls and in their faces, we see intimations of the grand emotions that animate us all.
3-Iron (Sony Pictures) is a subversive and boldly creative film about a silent young man who travels light, falls in love, and turns into a liberator.
Tsotsi (Miramax) is a spiritually riveting film about a nasty thug in a Johannesburg shantytown whose violent and selfish life is totally transformed after he steals a car and finds a baby inside.
Turtles Can Fly (IFC Films) is a compelling Iranian film set in Iraq in 2003 that deals with the fallout from both dictators and liberators on the twisted and torn lives of children living in refugee camps.
The Ten Most Spiritually Literate
Documentaries of 2005
After Innocence (New Yorker Films) presents the stories of injustices that have been rectified and innocent men who have been set free after years in prison.
The Boys of Baraka (THINKfilm) charts an experimental educational program that takes African-American boys from the ghetto streets of Baltimore to the wilderness of Kenya, in hopes that the experience will enrich their lives.
Darwin's Nightmare (International Film Circuit) is a shocking and soul-shaking Austrian documentary about the dire effects of globalization upon the poor citizens of Tanzania.
Emmanuel's Gift (First Look Pictures) tells the inspiring story of a charismatic and determined young man who almost single-handedly has changed the way disabled people are treated in Ghana.
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (Magnolia Pictures) comes across as an engrossing parable about power, greed, arrogance, and ethical malfeasance on a grand scale.
(Lions Gate Films) is a mesmerizing account by director Werner Herzog of a young man obsessed with grizzly bears in the Alaskan wilderness.
March of the Penguins
(Warner Independent) is a beguiling French documentary on the difficult environment and mating and parenting habits of Emperor Penguins in Antarctica.
(THINKfilm) is a rip-roaring documentary that will take you to places you have never been before and introduce you to some extraordinary quadriplegics.
(Koch Entertainment) is an extraordinary portrait of the friendship between two activist elders in a Los Angeles retirement community created for political progressives.
(Lifesize Entertainment) is a scary and poignant meditation on the newly constructed wall dividing Palestinians and Israelis.
Ten More Spiritually Literate Films
Breakfast on Pluto (Sony Pictures) offers an endearing portrait of a transvestite whose playful ease in the face of one harrowing experience after another makes him into what the Taoist sages call "a disciple of life."
The Family Stone (Twentieth Century Fox) is a funny and emotionally resonant family drama about the value of seeing everyone as a work in progress and transcending our provisional and limited judgments of each other.
In My Country (Sony Pictures) is a bold drama set in South Africa that reveals how forgiveness and restorative justice can become alternatives to revenge and a continuing cycle of violence.
The Interpreter (Universal Pictures) salutes openness and respect for life as antidotes to the use of violence to deal with the uncertainty and insecurity of our times.
Memoirs of a Geisha (Columbia Pictures) shows how a small act of kindness, like a pebble thrown into a pond, can send out many ripples and transform another's life.
Pride and Prejudice (Focus Features) breathes new life into the Jane Austen classic comedy of manners about the struggle some must go through to find their true soul mate.
Saint Ralph (Samuel Goldwyn Films) is a heartfelt story about a teenager who proves that ordinary individuals can do extraordinary things through strong intention, fiery determination, and a little help from their friends.
Walk the Line (Twentieth Century Fox) is a biodrama about Johnny Cash that pays special attention to the important role that our primal emotions play in life, love, and creativity.
The Upside of Anger (New Line Cinema) is an engrossing and well-acted psychodrama about the toxic side-effects of this potent and volatile emotion.
Me and You and Everyone We Know (IFC Films) is a refreshingly original and touching film about the incredible loneliness of isolated individuals in this digital age of so-called connectedness.