Every year, the film critics at Christianity Today compile a list of the ten films that they consider to be the most redeeming of the year. What do they mean by that?
We mean movies that include stories of redemption—sometimes blatantly, sometimes less so. Several of our films have characters who are redeemers themselves; all of them have characters who experience redemption to some degree—some quite clearly, some more subtly. Some are "feel-good" movies that leave a smile on your face; some are a bit more uncomfortable to watch. But the redemptive element is there in all of these films.
I don't know all the reviewers, but I have engaged with several of them at Arts & Faith and think they're great. I just wish I could spend more time there like I used to. Anyway, I think it's quite a good list. There are a couple of films I would have left out in favour of films from their 'One that got away' list – the one film that each of the critics wish had made the final, collective list.
1. Up (dir. Pete Docter)
Josh Hurst writes that the 'most outrageous thing' about this film is that, "It's a summer blockbuster that's head-over-heels for the joys of marriage. Here lifelong commitment isn't a burden; it's an adventure." I loved this film; definitely one of last year's highlights for me. My wife insists that is solely down to the very moving, bittersweet opening sequence. She thinks it appeals to my deep love of melancholy. Maybe she's right, but I did really enjoy the rest of the film too.
2. The Blind Side (dir. John Lee Hancock)
This hasn't hit the UK screens yet, so I'm under embargo – I can't review it until the week of release. Maybe I can quote Camerin Courtney's comment on the CT site: "This real-life story of NFL player Michael Oher shows a great example of Christian compassion. We can't save the world, but we can love the ones God puts in our path." It's also the film that has enabled Sandra Bullock to show what she's capable of – I was impressed.
Released in UK cinemas on 12 March 2010.
3. Invictus (dir. Clint Eastwood)
Brett McCracken writes, "It's a beautiful portrait of forgiveness and a model for how reconciliation can happen in reality, and how politics can employ things like sports and poetry in the service of national renewal." I've already written that I think Invictus is a little rose-tinted, even sentimental, in its view of the events of 1994–1995, but it was a hugely import moment in South Africa's history and I think Brett is spot on in his assessment. Great performances from Morgan Freeman (though his accent wavers at times) and Matt Damon.
4. The Road (dir. John Hillcoat)
In many ways this adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel about a post-cataclysmic world is extremely bleak. Yet it is pervaded by a sense of hope because of the extraordinary father and son (Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-Mcphee) at the centre. As Mark Moring says, The Road "stands out from other recent end-times flicks in its tenacious, audacious insistence on hope in the midst of darkness." Viggo Mortensen is, as usual, brilliant and young Kodi Smit-McPhee is very impressive.
5. The Soloist (dir. Joe Wright)
I have mixed feelings about this film. It certainly is redemptive, and I was moved despite myself while watching it. I found it 15–30 minutes too long, not tightly directed enough and sometimes sentimental and clichéd, but it is an inspiring true story with decent performances from Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr.
6. Where the Wild Things Are (dir. Spike Jonze)
I'm not entirely sure this would have made my list, but I have huge respect for Steven Greydanus and value his opinions, especially on films for children. He describes Where the Wild Things Are as: "a meditation on childhood insecurity in a messy world in which nothing—families, forests, even the Sun—lasts forever."
7. District 9 (dir. Neil Blomkamp)
An extraordinary film, unlike anything I've seen before. Todd Hertz reflects, "Perhaps because it shows a realistically dark world, we can see what shines." The central character (played by Sharlto Copley) is a "complex mash-up of good and evil" so when he makes a redemptive choice, it really counts for something.
8. The Hurt Locker (dir. Kathryn Bigelow)
I wouldn't have thought to have listed this as a redemptive film, I don't think. But I like Josh Hurst's comment: "A lot of war movies turn our hearts to anger, but this one fills us with compassion for the people whose lives are caught in the crossfire."
9. Julie and Julia (dir Nora Ephron)
This probably wouldn't have made my list, but I take Alissa Wilkinson's point that, unusually, it "presents us with not one, but two marriages in which the husbands and wives genuinely love one another and stand ready to support, encourage, and laugh together."
10. Up in the Air (dir. Jason Reitman)
Russ Breimeier calls this a "cautionary parable about investing more in selfish pursuits than in relationships". I'm not sure that makes it redemptive. There does seem to be some hope for George Clooney's character towards the end, but Gareth Higgins, on The Film Talk podcast, read as being ultimately unredemptive.
From CT's 'Ones That Got Away' list, I would possibly have included in my top ten:
Sin Nombre (dir. Cary Fukunaga)
A disturbing and moving film about would-be illegal immigrants into the USA from Central America and their difficult journey north through Mexico on the roof of a freight train. It is a tough film, but there is real hope here, too.
The Young Victoria (dir. Jean-Marc Vallée)
Many people found this over-long, and certainly the ending didn't work well, but I still found this a moving story of a young couple in a very unusual situation discovering a very deep and genuine love for each other.
Coraline (dir. Henry Selick)
A deliciously creepy and beautifully animated film about a young girl overcoming evil to bring light and beauty into her world.
However, I haven't yet seen most of the films in the "Ones That Got Away" list, so I might later want to include some of the others. I confess that I'm surprised by one omission:
Slumdog Millionaire (dir. Danny Boyle)
Not the 'feel-good film of the decade' as the posters would have us believe - it had sequences that were far too grim for that. But ultimately, it was an uplifting fairy tale about the power of love.