The Most Spiritually Literate Films of 2008
By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
This year we have added a new category to our annual film awards: The Five Most Spiritually Literate Animated Films. Some amazing things are happening in this genre, and it is no longer limited to children's fare. Adults will enjoy and be challenged by the themes of this year's animated films. Here are powerful spiritual messages conveyed through the story of a robot who falls in love, the tale of a caring elephant on a mission of mercy, an adventure story about a kind-hearted mouse, a chilling account of a massacre in Lebanon, and a defense of protesters of the Vietnam.
We were impressed with the variety of characters in our Ten Most Spiritually Literate Films of 2008. They model different aspects of a fully realized life: a sister whose troubles are assuaged by the compassion that comes her way, two poor women who realize their connection with life, an enthusiastic woman, a professor whose closed-off heart is opened, a charismatic gay activist, a young girl who experiences the healing power of love, two religious leaders struggling with their faith, an angry old man whose heart is softened, an oddball outsider who gives all he's got, and a vagabond from India whose love remains true.
Many of our choices for The Ten Most Spiritually Literate Foreign Language Films did not open widely in the United States. That is why you should keep up with our weekly batch of DVD reviews so you don't miss seeing them. Some of the themes covered in this crop of excellent films include friendship, grace, hospitality, devotion to God, personal transformation, the Sufi path of the heart, and others.
Each year, it is harder and harder to choose the best documentaries since there are so many top-drawer releases. This year's selections covered such serious topics as the values of community and self-sacrifice, the global war over water, and Church-sanctioned violence against the Jews throughout history. Some of the truly remarkable people profiled include Liberian women nonviolent activists, an African-American topiary artist, prison inmates who meditate, elderly singers who tour as a choir, survivors of Hurricane Katrina, a highwire walker, and a 13-year-old boy with Down Syndrome preparing for his bar mitzvah.
Our look back at the best spiritual films of 2008 concludes with Ten More Spiritually Literate Films and more characters worth your time and interest: a man who experiences a miracle, a lonely wrestler, an idealistic Jiu-Jitsu teacher, a young woman who plunges into poverty, a woman from Bangladesh living in England, a former President and his interviewer, and a loser whose life is transformed by a simple practice. Rounding out the list are a story about beauty in everyday life, a black comedy about our crazy times, and an old-fashioned adventure story and romance.
The Ten Most Spiritually Literate
Films of 2008
Rachel Getting Married (Sony Pictures Classics) is a powerful family drama that reveals when forgiveness is hard, compassion is a healing balm.
Frozen River (Sony Pictures Classics) is a memorable story about the power of synchronicity to change peoples lives by helping them realize their connection to the great web of life.
Happy-Go-Lucky (Miramax) is one of the best portraits of an enthusiastic person ever put on the screen.
The Visitor (Starz/Anchor Bay) is a touching and impressive drama that depicts the way a professor's closed-off heart is opened by music, friendship, and love.
Milk (Focus Features) is a superlative biopicture about the gay activist who spoke truth to power and worked around the clock for the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender individuals.
The Secret Life of Bees (Fox Searchlight) is a heart-affecting screen version of a deeply spiritual novel about the healing and transforming power of love.
Doubt (Miramax) is a brilliantly acted and thought-provoking drama about faith, openness, certainty, and not knowing.
Gran Torino (Warner Bros.) centers around an angry, lonely, bigoted old man whose his heart is softened through his relationships with members of a Hmong immigrant family who live next door.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Paramount Pictures) depicts the wild and wonderful adventures of an oddball outsider with a strange physical condition who makes the most out of his journey through life.
Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight) is a phantasmagorical movie directed filled with dazzling and varied sights of India, characters we can identify with and cheer for, and a jubilant message about destiny and love.
The Ten Most Spiritually Literate
Foreign Language Films of 2008
Caramel (Lion's Gate) is about five women in a beauty salon in Beirut struggling to find their small share of happiness as they buckle under societal and religious pressures.
My Father My Lord (Kino Video) is a parabolic Israeli film which speaks volumes about the nature of devotion to God.
Stellet Lichte (Silent Light) (Mantarraya Productions) is a deeply spiritual drama set in rural Mexico about Mennonite farmers, adultery, and the grace of God.
The Year My Parents Went on Vacation (Gullane Films) is an touching Brazilian film about the spiritual rewards of hospitality experienced by an abandoned and lonely young boy.
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (IFC Films) is a riveting and realistic Romanian film about an abortion and a young woman who proves that friendship is the crown of life.
I Served the King of England (Sony Pictures Classics) is a robust and ribald picaresque tale told with comic élan and philosophical panache.
The Edge of Heaven (Anka Film) depicts the messy and complicated feelings connected with familial love, commitments, and dealing with strangers.
The Class (Sony Pictures Classics) is a rounded and revealing portrait of a French teacher in a multiracial Parisian school and the challenges he faces in the classroom.
I've Loved You So Long (Sony Pictures Classics) is a literate and lithe French drama about the spiritual transformation of a woman who has spent 15 years in prison.
Bab'Aziz - The Prince Who Contemplated His Soul (Typecast Films) is an enchanting and parabolic film by Tunisian director Nacer Khemir about the beauty, grace, humility, and love of the Sufi path of the heart.
The Five Most Spiritually Literate
Animated Films of 2008
Chicago 10 (Paramount Pictures) is an unusual documentary about protesters against the Vietnam War with an important message about defending dissent and free speech.
Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! (20th Century Fox) is a joyous and kind-hearted romp with Horton the caring elephant who is on a mission of mercy for the small ones.
The Tale of Despereaux (Universal Pictures) is an absolutely wonderful screen version of a Newbery Award-winning children's book about courage, love, light, and forgiveness.
Waltz with Bashir (Sony Pictures Classics) is a chilling Israeli animated documentary that revolves around the 1982 massacre of 3000 unarmed Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
WALL.E (Pixar Animation Studios) is the tender and touching story of a lonely robot on Earth who falls in love and becomes a spiritual teacher to all who encounter him.
The Ten Most Spiritually Literate
Documentaries of 2008
Man on Wire (Magnolia) is a compelling documentary about Philippe Petit's sensational walk on a wire between the World Trade Center Twin Towers in 1974 and the missteps he made on earth afterwards.
A Man Named Pearl (Tentmakers Entertainment) is an extraordinary documentary about a African-American topiary gardener and a community that has been brought to life by his artistry, enthusiasm, and generosity.
Praying with Lior (First Run Features) is an emotionally rich documentary about the bar mitzvah of a spiritually vibrant 13-year-old boy with Down Syndrome.
Constantine's Sword (First Run Features) is a poignant and passionately presented depiction of church-sanctioned violence against Jews throughout history.
Flow (Oscilloscope Pictures) explores the global war over water and the progress being made by activists against multinational corporations seeking to exploit and privatize this precious resource.
Trouble the Water (Elsewhere Films) is a riveting documentary about some African-American survivors of Hurricane Katrina.
Young@Heart (20th Century Fox) a very entertaining documentary about a senior citizen chorus that reveals singing as a spiritual practice that opens our hearts, provides fresh energy, and connects us with others.
The Dhamma Brothers (Balcony Releasing) focuses on inmates at an Alabama prison who do a 10-day silent meditation retreat which opens them to the experience of inner peace and compassion.
Pray the Devil Back to Hell (Balcony Releasing) is the stirring and hopeful account of Liberian women who as creative and nonviolent activists brought peace to their country in 2003.
Stranded: I've Come from a Plane that Crashed on the Mountains (Zeitgeist Films) is an impressive meditation on the values of community, self-sacrifice, and loving cooperation needed for survival.
Ten More Spiritually Literate
Films of 2008
Henry Poole Is Here (Freestyle Releasing) is a deeply spiritual movie about miracles, hope, love, and living in the present.
August Evening (Maya Entertainment Group) is a shooting star of a movie that stirs us with its many different textures of beauty in its characters, in their words and deeds, and in the natural world.
The Wrestler (Fox Searchlight) is a compelling and poignant anatomy of one over-the-hill man's encounter with the excruciating pain and isolation of loneliness.
Redbelt (Sony Pictures) is a riveting drama in which the ethics and rigorous idealism of a gifted Jiu-Jitsu teacher are challenged.
Wendy and Lucy (Oscilloscope Pictures) is a compassionate account of an enterprising young woman on her way to Alaska to find work who falls into peril due to a series of unforeseen circumstances beyond her control.
Burn After Reading (Focus Features) is a clever black comedy by the Coen brothers that pokes fun at some of the obsessions of our frantic times including surveillance, cosmetic surgery, physical fitness, and adultery.
Australia (20th Century Fox) is a spellbinding, old-fashioned adventure story and romantic drama with many magical moments of high drama, emotional catharsis, and awesome cinematic beauty.
Brick Lane (Sony Pictures Classics) is a poetic and sensitive drama about a Bangladesh village girl's life in England and her valiant struggle to stand on her own in the world with a full and grateful heart.
Frost/Nixon (Universal Pictures) is a fascinating and riveting film about a television personality and a former President who share a dependence on others for respect.
Yes Man (Warner Bros.) is a frolicsome spiritual comedy about a loser whose life is turned around by opening himself up to a new world of wild possibilities by saying yes to what presents itself.