The Most Spiritually Literate Films of 2006
By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
In one of our favorite definitions of spirituality, Brother David Steindl-Rast (The Music of Silence) cautions against our thinking that spirituality is some "separate department of life, the penthouse of our existence." Rightly understood, he explains, "it is a vital awareness that pervades all realms of our being. . . . Whereever we come alive, that is the area in which we are spiritual." For many of us, that is when we are caring for one another and the planet.
This can happen at any time and at any place, and for some of us it happens at the movies. And not just during those movies typically classified as "spiritual cinema" films full of people talking about abstract metaphysical issues or dealing with religious challenges. In making our choices for the most spiritually literate films of the years, we are less interested in enlightenment or salvation than in the experiences of the characters and the journey that gets them to a place of aliveness.
This years' best movies depict the spiritual journeys of a diamond smuggler and a fisherman, some British citizens mistakenly arrested as terrorists, an elderly actor, a teenage caregiver, a deaf Japanese teenager, a Mexican nanny, a family of Moroccan goat-herders, two American tourists in North Africa, an immigrant mail-order bride and a farmer, a dysfunctional family, members of the British royalty, a suburban mother, an African-American schoolgirl, and an independent penguin. The films, including an outstanding field of documentaries, raise questions about such critical world issues as war, global warming, freedom of expression, the nature of community, and religious fundamentalism. These movies will elicit your empathy for people facing all kinds of challenges and, in the end, they will inform as well as inspire.
Click on the film title to read a full review.
The Ten Most Spiritually Literate Films of 2006
(Warner Bros.) opens our eyes to the bloody brutality of civil war in Sierra Leone, corporate malfeasance in diamond smuggling and arms trading, and the training of child soldiers.
JUSTICEThe Road to Guantanamo
(Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) is a gut-wrenching film that lifts the shroud of secrecy surrounding the treatment of terrorist suspects in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
(Miramax) stars Peter O'Toole in an Academy Award caliber performance as a veteran actor who reveals all the pleasures of a life that is animated by kindness to others.
(Paramount Vantage) is a multidimensional story that explores what happens when love is ignored, squandered, or annihilated by anger, alienation, hatred, and violence.
LOVELittle Miss Sunshine
(Fox Searchlight) is a very funny and touching family drama about the wisdom that often comes not with success but with failure.
(Libero) is a tender and touching film about the blooming of love, the poignant tug of place, and the challenges of openness in a rural Midwest community in the 1920s.
(Miramax) is an audacious cinematic triumph by director Stephen Frears animated by an Academy Award caliber performance by Helen Mirren that humanizes Queen Elizabeth in a time of crisis and change.
(New Line Cinema), an exploration of the complexity and intensity of yearning, is one of the most original and nuanced suburban dramas ever to grace the screen.
YOUAkeelah and the Bee
(Lions Gate Home Entertainment) is an inspiring story of an eleven-year-old African-American girl who claims her power with the help of 50,000 coaches in her community.
(Warner Bros.) is another triumphant, playful, and deeply spiritual animation classic by the Australian genius behind Babe; this one will set your feet in motion and stir your soul.
The Ten Most Spiritually Literate
Foreign Films of 2006
(Israel - New Yorker Films) depicts the meeting of three women an American, an Israeli, and a Palestinian -- in Jordan and their struggle to overcome prejudices and their communal histories.
FAITHLa Petite Jerusalem
(France - Kino International) is a very engrossing and creative film about Judaism, faith, and sexuality.
HOSPITALITYThe Syrian Bride
(Israel - Koch Lorber), set in the Golan Heights claimed by both Israel and Syria, is unlike any other wedding film ever made!
JUSTICESophie Scholl: The Final Days
(Germany - Zeitgeist Films) is a compelling and deftly acted portrait of a female freedom fighter against the Nazi war machine in 1943 Germany.
LOVERiding Alone for Thousands of Miles
(China - Sony Pictures Classics) is a heart-affecting story of an elderly man's journey to make a video for his dying son, a quest that becomes a path of awakening for him.
(France - Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) is about a miraculous occurrence of peace for two days at Christmas in World War I when men came out of their trenches and fraternized with the enemy.
(Canada/India - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment) is a poignant and moving depiction of the plight of widows in India that conveys the yearning for liberation of several generations of women.
SHADOWThe Death of Mr. Lazarescu
(Romania - Tartan Video) is a sad and scary film about the ignominy of dying alone without dignity in a hospital room surrounded by strangers.
(Mexico - Kino on Video) is a light and breezy portrait of adolescence spiked with interesting observations on time, sexuality, and the search for meaning.
(Iran - Sony Pictures Classics) is a funny, poignant, and jubilant Iranian film about some passionate female soccer fans that ends with a mystical moment of oneness.
The Ten Most Spiritually Literate
Documentaries of 2006
DEVOTIONVajra Sky Over Tibet
(Direct Pictures) is an enthralling documentary about the richness of Tibetan Buddhism and the current threats to its continued existence in its homeland.
(Magnolia Pictures) is a wake-up call for liberals and progressive Christians about the training of evangelical children soldiers for the culture wars.
FORGIVENESSShakespeare Behind Bars
(Shout Factory) depicts the salutary effects of prison inmates performing in an annual Shakespeare production.
IMAGINATIONLeonard Cohen: I'm Your Man
(Lions Gate Home Entertainment) intersperses wonderful covers of Leonard Cohen's songs from a concert in Australia with interviews about the singer/songwriter's life and creativity.
IMAGINATIONShut Up and Sing
(Weinstein Company) is a rousing documentary that salutes freedom of speech and the resiliency and creativity of the Dixie Chicks.
LOVEDarshan - The Embrace
(IFC First Take) is a documentary about Amma, India's hugging saint, that reveals her large reserves of unconditional love, playfulness, compassion, and service of the poor.
MEANINGIraq in Fragments
(Palm Pictures) is an engrossing award-winning documentary about the chaotic and bloody situation in Iraq as seen through the eyes of Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds.
The Ground Truth (Universal Studios Home Video) is a turning-point documentary which presents the truth about the war in Iraq in the profound and troubling words of veterans who fought there.
An Inconvenient Truth (Paramount Home Entertainment) is a film based on Al Gore's traveling lecture and slideshow about global warming; it brims with insight, idealism, and hope.
My Country, My Country (Warner Independent) depicts the heroism of a busy Sunni doctor in Baghdad running for parliament in Iraq's January 30, 2005, election.
Ten More Spiritually Literate Films
BEING PRESENTA Prairie Home Companion
(New Line Home Video) is a funny entertainment that also gives us a keen sense of the impermanence of all creative endeavors and the fleeting nature of reality.
CONNECTIONSLook Both Ways
(Kino on Video) is an imaginatively realized and well-acted Australian film about death, dying, and grief.
FORGIVENESSEnd of the Spear
(Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment) is one of the best films ever made about the courage and compassion at the heart of the Christian path of nonviolence.
KINDNESS10 Items or Less
(THINKFilm) is a light-hearted and feel-good independent film about two strangers who connect in a way that surprises both of them and enriches their lives.
(THINKFilm) is an engaging American drama about friendship as a curative force that can reach across the generations and transcend even racial barriers.
(Film Science) is an evocative and melancholy portrait of two men whose friendship has run its course.
SHADOWCatch a Fire
(Focus Features) is a thought-provoking depiction of the process whereby self-righteous zealots who use barbaric tactics and torture to achieve their goals actually create more terrorists.
SHADOWChildren of Men
(Universal) presents a portrait of a future society that spotlights the issues we need to be addressing today.
TRANSFORMATIONThe Painted Veil
(Warner Independent) is a beautiful and very believable story, set in China in the 1920s, about the personal transformation of a married couple.
(Palm Pictures) is a small and intimate English film about playing cricket, coming of age, and the respect for diversity that seems so hard to learn.