My Top 5 Films of 2015

Top 5 Movies, 2015, Collage

In terms of films that had substance, were well-made and were palatable for Christian viewers, 2015 offered sadly slim pickings. Nevertheless, I have worked diligently to prepare a suitable shortlist. So, here now, I give you the most entertaining, the most thoughtful, the most emotionally satisfying, the best films of 2015.

At least, in my opinion. For what it’s worth.

Continue reading “My Top 5 Films of 2015”

My Top Five Robin Williams Movies, Part II (cross-post)

Robin Williams and Robert De Niro in Awakenings
Robert De Niro (L) and Robin Williams (R) in Awakenings

Here’s the link to the second half of my Robin Williams top five retrospective, guest-posted at Paul Asay’s blog Watching God.  We’re going backwards, so Part II discusses my top two choices. If you missed Part I, click here. I also close out Part II with a video tribute I edited together last year. (Those of you who haven’t seen it already can watch directly on YouTube here.)

In arranging this shortlist, I focused on the films that I thought were best as films, not just Robin Williams performances. To be clear, I don’t recommend all of them for all audiences, and I’m honest about where I think some of them are flawed. Use your own discretion and don’t take this as an unequivocal endorsement of every movie on this list. Still, I chose them because I think they’re all well-made, they all say something true, and they all feature Williams at his best. The final standings, in order, were:

  1. Awakenings
  2. Insomnia
  3. The Fisher King
  4. Good Will Hunting
  5. Dead Poets Society

By chance, both of my top picks feature Williams in supporting roles beside Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, two great Hollywood legends. Performances like these prove that Robin Williams the actor was not merely a gimmicky extension of Robin Williams the comic, but a serious talent who could hold his own next to American cinema’s finest.

Paul told me that these would actually be his personal top five as well, but he would rank them this way (though he was then seized with sudden worry about where to put Hook, a worry I confess I didn’t share):

  1. The Fisher King
  2. Dead Poets Society
  3. Insomnia
  4. Good Will Hunting
  5. Awakenings

I’m pleased to say my review of the detective thriller Insomnia impressed him so much that he bumped it up a full notch after previously having it in 4th place. Sadly, I can’t convince him to dislodge Dead Poets Society from second place, but all was made clear when I learned that he was a college literature major when it first came out. Figures. (Just giving you a hard time, Paul!) I also convinced him to give Awakenings another watch, and I hope I can convince you to do the same, because it is a truly great film which is sadly underrated in the Williams canon. Williams gives perhaps his most poignant, self-effacing performance here, in a true story that makes a powerful statement about the human condition and the sanctity of life. The film is devastating and sad, but as I say in my review, it will change you. It changed me. To learn more about the work of Oliver Sacks, who wrote the book on which it’s based, watch this 7 minute video. Be warned: It’s not easy watching, but it is unbearably beautiful:

My Top Five Robin Williams Movies, Part I (cross-post)

31 Mar 2011, New York City, New York State, USA --- Robin Williams attending the Broadway Opening Night After Party for 'Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo' at espace in New York City --- Image by © Walter McBride/Corbis
Image by © Walter McBride/Corbis

Focus on the Family’s Paul Asay has once again very kindly lent me his personal blogspot for some reflections on the best films of Robin Williams, who committed suicide a year ago this week. I asked Paul if he’d be interested in hosting a top five list, and he was. Anyone who’s interested can read Part I here right now. Paul and I will publish Part II next week. Please note that these are not comprehensive reviews, although I do try to note some content concerns in a few of my picks. Some of my favorite Williams films are sadder, darker, and aimed at a more mature audience than popular favorites like Aladdin or Hook. However, all five of my picks do have something in common: They all grapple with life’s toughest questions. What is our purpose? What is integrity? What is truth? How do we deal with loss? How do we deal with ourselves? How do we love the unlovable? Where do we look for love? For redemption? And all of them have endings that, while sometimes bittersweet, leave the viewer with the sense that at least some of these questions have been answered in a satisfying way.

As I explain at the beginning of my piece, I personally was not a Williams fan until last year, so unlike Paul, I took little notice of his death. I eventually came to appreciate his work not because of celebrity infatuation, but because I thought that much of it was actually worth something. The mark of any good film is that it speaks to something true about human nature beyond the confines of individual characters and plots. I hope I have brought that out successfully. And whatever your own level of Williams fan-hood, I hope that you, too, will gain something from my insights on these films.

My Top 5 Underrated Love Songs

You’ve danced with your spouse to Steven Curtis Chapman’s “I Will Be Here.” You’ve sniffled and reached for the tissues at “Bless the Broken Road.”  You’ve sworn to throw random objects at the radio if they spin “I Will Always Love You” one more time. Now Valentine’s Day has rolled around once more, and you’re in the perfect mood to enjoy a romantic musical something. Or maybe not. Either way, I would like to shine a spotlight on five songs that you won’t see on most any Top 100 lists when people rank their favorite ditties about “luuuv.” In fact, I guarantee that half if not all of them will be new to you. Further, I guarantee that they are much deeper and more thought-provoking than what often passes for a love song in today’s cultural milieu. Think of it as my heart-shaped candy gift box to you, dear readers. Go on. Open it up and savor my Top Five Underrated Love Songs.

Continue reading “My Top 5 Underrated Love Songs”

My Top 5 Films of 2013

It’s awards season in Hollywood, that seemingly endless cycle of self-congratulation that mercifully does end with the distribution of little gold men for what is supposedly the best film-making of the year. And it’s my pleasure as a Christian who also loves movies to report that some of the films being recognized this season actually deserve it.

I think I’m going to call 2013 “the year of human exceptionalism” for movie-making. Some of its finest films offered powerful portraits of a single person who must rise above great challenges for freedom, dignity or life itself. It was a throwback to the right kind of humanism. I sometimes think that if our society could back-track even just to the point where man was still seen as uniquely valuable, it would be a vast improvement over the post-modern rot that has set in today. Though I have no hope that a handful of stellar films will do the trick, or even convince their own makers of the deeper truths behind them, I can at least praise good work when I see it.

In this post I will sketch out the premise of each film (spoiler-free!) and try to explain concisely why it deserves a place in my Top 5. Although not all of these movies were nominated for awards, I will also throw in an “Oscar bait” category for those that were, with asterisks for win predictions. Finally, I will clearly indicate any content concerns, as I am not one of “those” Christian movie-watchers who scorn content advisories. While I do believe discerning Christian viewers can take something of value from all of these films, your mileage may vary. Be heartily encouraged to use your own judgement.

But before I jump into the list, I want to pause and say a few words about one film that I agonized and agonized over, even placing number one at one point, before finally choosing to drop it from the top five altogether upon re-watching and reflection. It’s a hot contender for all the major awards, including Best Picture. Yet even though by some measures it may be the best film of 2013, topping secular and Christian film critics’ lists alike, it wasn’t my favorite film.  Continue reading “My Top 5 Films of 2013”

My Top Five… Family Movies

I’m starting a new “top 5” series for movies. Eventually I hope to do so for songs as well. In both cases, I’ll break it down by genre.

Finding good movies can be difficult. I’m here to offer some of the best picks from my own experience as a passionate cinephile who’s also not ashamed to suggest that there are some movies no Christian should watch, at the risk of being called a fundamentalist. To start off, here are my top five family movies.

Criteria

A great family movie must…

1. Have only negligible content issues, if any.

2. Be well-made (of course this applies to all, but family movies certainly aren’t exempt!)

3. Be fun.

4. Be something even small kids could appreciate (this is why I chose to leave off movies like The Princess Bride, because a 3-year-old won’t really “get” a lot of the fun in the movie).

5. Have a happy ending.

So without further ado, I present….

The List Continue reading “My Top Five… Family Movies”