The Most Spiritually Literate Films of 2012
By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
There is a sadness afoot in our times that is a strange mixture of personal fear and disappointment with the way things are and a lack of public confidence that the nations and organizations of the world can solve the intractable problems of poverty, hunger, class warfare, climate control, and economic decline. Many of the Most Spiritually Literate Films of 2012 speak in healing, helpful, and uplifting ways to this personal and the public mood of sadness.
We salute the handful of movies about older people coping with life's challenges (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Magic of Belle Isle, Amour, I Wish, and All Together). Three films explore sexuality and spirituality (The Sessions, Take This Waltz, Hope Springs). Filmmakers ventured into new territory with complex depictions of faith (Life of Pi, Salmon Fishing in Yemen), the arts of survival (The Hunger Games, Searching for Sugar Man), forgiveness (Les Miserables), compassion (The Intouchables, Monsieur Lazhar), and middle age (This Is 40).
Questions surrounding the fate of the world are examined in films about the nature of leadership (Lincoln, The Lady), corporate misconduct (Promised Land), religious hatred (Where Do We Go From Here?), the AIDS crisis (How to Survive a Plague), violence in its many forms (Bully, Five Broken Cameras, The Invisible War, The Gatekeepers, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God) and the lure of freedom (Moonrise Kingdom, This Is Not a Film).
Perhaps the best antidote to the pervasive sadness everywhere is the lilting and uplifting melodic strains of "Three Little Birds" whose "sweet songs" fill singer/songwriter Bob Marley with hope. In the chorus we hear the refrain: "Every little thing is gonna be all right." From this inspired counsel in Marley we leave our shelter and step into the energy streams of the wheel of life in Samsara.
And last but not least, we clasp hands with Hushpuppy, the fearless little girl in Beasts of the Southern Wild. She has the secret elixir which will banish our sadness: "The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right." She connects with what created her: "When it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me flying around in invisible pieces." When things get busted, she takes up the challenge of tikkun olam, repairing the world. And after all that she goes through, she can still testify: "I see that I'm a little piece of a big universe, and that makes things right."
Here, then, are the 45 Most Spiritually Literate Films of 2012. Click on the links to read a full review.
The Ten Most Spiritually Literate
Films of 2012
Life of Pi (20th Century Fox) is a visually stunning and powerful drama about a boy and a Bengal tiger on a life raft that proves the power of storytelling.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (Sony Pictures) is a quirky drama about a fisheries scientist, a management consultant, and a sheik who work together on a project and discover the multiple meanings of faith.
Les Miserables (Universal Pictures) is a sentimental musical about forgiveness, freedom, and love that brings tears to our eyes in unison with others.
Lincoln (Dreamworks Pictures) is very special historical drama about Abraham Lincoln's leadership skills during tense times of civil war and racial enmity.
Silver Linings Playbook (The Weinstein Company) is a healing and hopeful dramedy about friendship, love, family, and optimism.
Moonrise Kingdom (Universal Studios) is a wonder-inducing film about the authentic quest of two oddball teens who just want to be free.
Promised Land (Focus Features) is an engrossing and thought-provoking drama about fracking, big money, small town life, saving the environment, and trying to live with integrity in hard times.
(Fox Searchlight Pictures) is a brave and bold movie about a physically disabled poet who hires a sex surrogate and discovers the spiritual blessings of sexuality.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
(20th Century Fox) is a top-drawer dramedy about a band of English retirees in India and the challenges and transformations they undergo.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
(20th Century Fox) is an extraordinary movie about a fearless six-year-old African-American girl who tutors us in the art of survival.
The Ten Most Spiritually Literate
Foreign Language Films of 2012
Monsieur Lazhar (Music Box Films) is an emotionally charged drama about a caring and compassionate man who helps some grief shaken children deal with the suicide of their teacher.
The Intouchables (The Weinstein Company) is a playful and compassionate French film about an unconventional caregiver and the quadriplegic man who hires him.
5 Broken Cameras (Kino Lorber) is remarkable documentary which charts the impact on a Palestinian village, and one of its children, of Israeli oppression during the past five years.
This Is Not a Film (Palisades/Tartan) is a clandestine last gasp of freedom from one of Iran's most creative and controversial film directors while under house arrest.
Amour (Sony Pictures Classics) is a poignant and provocative French-language drama about the tenderness, discipline, and patience involved in being a loving caregiver.
Delicacy (Entertainment One) uses the story of a young widow to explore the dynamics of sadness and the liberating qualities of love.
The Well-Digger's Daughter (Kino Lorber) is a tour de force remake of Marcel Pagnol's 1940 film about love, loss, class, forgiveness, and transformations of the heart.
All Together (Tribeca Film) is a French dramedy about five friends who discover the advantages and challenges of communal living.
Where Do We Go Now? (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) is an inventive Lebanese film about the creative efforts of Christian and Muslim women in a small village to create peace and end religious conflict.
I Wish (Strand Releasing) is a charming and inventive Japanese movie about wishes, questing, friendship, sibling solidarity, and the wonderful support of grandparents when we need them the most.
The Ten Most Spiritually Literate
Documentaries of 2012
Planet of Snail (Cinema Guild) is a deeply moving documentary about love, living with disabilities, savoring the senses, and being present.
The Invisible War (New Video Group) is a disturbing, hard-hitting, and emotionally-shattering documentary about the rapes of women serving in the U.S. military.
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (HBO Documentary Films) is a shocking expose of the Catholic Church's cover-up of sexual abuse and a tribute to the victims who heroically broke their silence.
Marley (Magnolia Pictures) is a wide-ranging portrait of the astonishing life and legacies of reggae superstar Bob Marley.
How to Survive a Plague (Sundance Selects) chronicles the impact of a passionate group of dedicated and creative individuals in raising awareness of the AIDS epidemic.
Searching for Sugar Man (Sony Pictures Classics) is an inspiring and uplifting documentary about a man who gives all he's got and experiences a miracle in return.
The Gatekeepers (Sony Pictures Classics) is a refreshingly candid film in which former heads of Israel's security agency explain their take on the war on terrorism and criticize their nation as a police state.
Bully (The Weinstein Company) focuses on five youth who were bullied, including two who committed suicide, and how their families, schools, and communities responded.
Last Call at the Oasis (New Video Group) explains the growing water crisis in America and the varied and sometimes shocking public and governmental reactions to it.
Samsara (Oscilliscope) is an enthralling non-narrative documentary that becomes a guided meditation on the wheel of life and death while also depicting the rituals and practices that can lead to personal transformation.
The Five Most Spiritually Literate
Animated Films of 2012
The Rabbi's Cat (GKIDS) is a French animated film about the unusual quest of a rabbi, a skeikh, and a talking cat to discover the essential unity of life.
Brave (Walt Disney Video) is a visually beautiful animated tale about the freedom quest of a feisty Celtic princess with a jungle of wild red hair.
Frankenweenie (Walt Disney Studios) is a strange and appealing story about the unusual adventures of a lonely boy and his eternally frisky dog.
Rise of the Guardians (Dreamworks Pictures /Paramount Studios) is a 3D tale about a playful free spirit who joins Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Sandman as a Guardian who watches over children.
Dr. Suess' The Lorax (Universal Studios Home Entertainment) is a delightful animated feature with special appeal for tree lovers.
Ten More Spiritually Literate
Films of 2012
Safety Not Guaranteed (Sony Pictures) is a wonder-inducing combo of time travel and romantic comedy that tickles the funny bone and provokes thought about the different dimensions of time.
Cloud Atlas (Warner Bros.) is an impressive movie that uses five stories in five times to salute the human propensity for telling stories as good medicine.
The Hunger Games (Lions Gate) is a drama of survival that depicts the courage of a young woman and, like classic dystopian novels, takes the warps of present-day society and projects them into the near future.
Hope Springs (Sony Pictures) is a funny and sensitive movie about two older folk who set out to renew their burnt-out marriage with the help of a therapist.
The Magic of Belle Isle (Magnolia Home Entertainment) is an appealing film about a writer who mentors a teenage aspiring storyteller and discovers the transforming power of community.
Take This Waltz (Magnolia Pictures) is a respectful and creative treatment of sex and the mysteries of love in the life of a young married woman drawn by desire to an affair.
This is 40 (Universal Pictures) is a frolicsome, funny, and thought-provoking film about a couple's midlife crises and how it affects their marriage, their family life, and their sense of themselves.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home (Paramount) is a delightful film about how synchronicities can open people up to fresh adventures which have the potential to transform and revitalize them.
The Lady (Entertainment One) is an inspiring portrait of the passionate freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi and an exquisite love story set in the darkness of violence, repression, and tyranny in Burma.
A Late Quartet (Entertainment One) is a very special and memorable movie with top drawer acting, great classical music, and a theme of spiritual transformation.