At the start of 2011 we wondered what thematic concerns would be reflected in the year’s releases. Would filmmakers deal with the most pressing issues of the day (our preference) or would they offer an anxious and exhausted public a surfeit of escapist fare?
We're happy to report that there were plenty of films this year that were both serious and relevant. Our choices of the most spiritually literate movies of the year include a touching tale about a struggling immigrant, a story about African-American maids with the courage to tell a difficult truth, a drama about the selfless service of a 13-year-old South African girl, a critique of the universal appeal of violence around the globe, a searing drama about three warriors for peace in Chicago’s inner city, a story about a man who goes out of his way to help an African stranger, a spiritual masterwork about the friendship between a Muslim and a Jewish boy, two moving movies about the heroic activities of women whistleblowers, and an edifying look at the crash-and-burn of a prosperous financial firm in 2008.
One of the biggest surprises of the year was the large number of films dealing with our relationship with animals: dogs, a monkey, a horse, a turtle, lions, a dolphin, a parrot, and bees. Two documentaries gave us portraits of exemplary animal lovers: Buck, a horse whisperer, and Jane Goodall, a champion of African chimps. Novelist Milan Kundera points out why such films are so important: "True human goodness, in all its purity and freedom, can come to the fore only when its recipient has no power. Humankind's true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude toward those who are at its mercy: animals." Over and over again, these words rang true in the year's films.
In response to the fear and stress of the times, filmmakers delivered some extraordinary dramas about the spiritual journey including two movies about the mysteries and adventures of reincarnation, a compelling account of the mission of Catholic monks serving a poor Muslim community in Algeria, and two portraits of women exploring their spiritual options. Given the widespread grief afoot in our world where people are mourning the loss of their security and in many cases their hopes for a better future, it is fitting that three of the films on our list are about families grieving the loss of a loved one. We are emboldened and uplifted by their resilience and courage in the face of bleakness. See our full list of "The Most Spiritually Literate Films of 2011."