30 Movies That Matter

Reviewer: Scott Nehring

***This was originally posted at my now defunct site Nehring the Edge. I'm republishing it here as written back on July 31st of 2006. The points made below, I believe, are still relevant and the films I suggest remain worthy of your consideration.***

Julie Davis of Happy Catholic had posted a list of “movies hat matter”. This lists films she believes to have positive messages. This was a result of her review of the book Movies That Matter: Reading Film Through the Lens of Faith, by Richard Leonard. Mr. Leonard’s book is one of many that push Christians to interact with the cinema and look for meaning in our films. While I strongly agree that Christians are required to interact with culture, I think we need to be careful with how we do it.

The most important thing a Christian can do when viewing a film is to understand what the film is saying to them. The problem is that we want to like movies we watch. Then again, as Christians we also want to remain committed to our faith. This duality often leads us to excuse the culture we digest. We either are completely dismissive of film (it’s just a movie) or we pick and choose the messages we claim a film projects. This is a common snare for Christians and I certainly find myself caught in this trap. It takes a great deal of patience and thought to avoid the pitfalls of cinema’s allure.

The idea that someone blows off cinema as being meaningless speaks for itself. It’s wrong, but it is obvious what I mean. Every film, from Citizen Kane to Dodgeball expresses a worldview and has a message it is putting forth. There is no such thing as a film that is “just entertainment”. This is a fiction people repeat out of either honest ignorance or as means to excuse their enjoyment in a particular piece. It is fair to consider films to be a little like commercial for worldviews. Like actual commercials a film presents an problem and the resolves said issue with the behavior they wish to support.

An example of this that I like to use is from the original Pirates of the Caribbean. The problem is Will Turner wants to woo Elizabeth Swann but he is restricted by social rules. The answer is abandon society and become a pirate. In an actual commercial they present a problem (you’re hungry) and then they present an answer (eat of McDonalds.) Every film has this set up and resolution.

The more complicated issue is the picking and choosing of themes or philosophies. This is when Christians, in their attempt to find something nice to say about a piece will ignore huge parts of a film and clutch on to one positive aspect to make the whole piece seem wonderful. Forrest Gump is good because it tells the tale of a man fighting against his handicap and winning. Yeah, but the film is a post-modern screed which denies any order to the universe (therefore no God.) Christians love The Matrix because of the Christian references. They want the film to be a Christian analogy so bad they ignore such things such as the wanton murder of the “unsaved” and the fact that the evil computer created the original “Eden” matrix (this translates to the evil computer being God.) The examples are legion. We will say that a film that shoves existentialism, paganism or various other “isms” that are contrary to the Christian worldview are acceptable because they promote a narrow theme. I can say Bladerunner examines the nature of humanity and has really cool gunfire sound effects. Yes, but the piece as a whole denies actual existence. The main character turns out to be a robot so we are left wondering if anyone actually is human. This denial of existence is at the heart of the post-modern worldview. We must take the piece as a whole, not pick and choose like it is a buffet of ideas. You consume the whole thing, not just its parts. There are plenty of porn flicks out there that give great messages about “teamwork” and “doing unto others”. We need to be mindful of the whole piece not just its parts.

The above may sound like I’m a freak about content. In a way I am. In my eyes, a film is one of moral value if it promotes two essential things. 1) It supports and examines a Christian value. 2) It supports and promotes the Christian worldview. Everything else is philosophical weak sauce and should be digested with caution. A good example of a positive worldview is found in the works of Quentin Tarantino who lavishes his work with the teachings of our Lord. Just checking to make sure you're still paying attention. Tarantino is actually a moral retard and is one of the great turd merchants standing at the brim of this septic tank we call popular culture.

I am not one who believes that the presence of sex and/or violence immediately means a piece is unacceptable. Adult topics deserve adult honesty. If the story calls for nudity I say fine. If the story calls for violence, okay. I concern myself more with WHAT is being said. HOW it is being said takes a backseat (although it is not totally out of the equation.) I have been asked to offer my own list of “movies that matter”. Using my criteria I have isolated some films I believe are “good” for Christians.

I’ve decided the split my choices of “movies that matter” into three categories: Safe, Moderate and Are You Out of Your Head?

The Safe List are films that are commonly held “Christian-safe” films. The second group is the Moderate List. These are films that have some questionable content for many Christians such as war violence or sexual suggestions. These are more “mainstream” films that are not meant to speak directly to Christians but to a wider audience. The final group, or the “Are You Out of Your Head? List” are films that are not for kids and some adults. These films have harsh violence and/or sexual content. I believe they have more however. Sure they are rough but they have value. I say if we're going to set boundaries we need to know where they stand. As my pastor likes to say, “The site is called Nehring The Edge after all. If you need me to explain the final choices, let me know and we’ll have at it.

The Safe List

Coming to a church basement near you.

The Passion of the Christ (2004)

Jesus of Nazareth (1977)

The Mission (1986)

Chariots of Fire (1981)

The Spitfire Grill (1996)

Babette's Feast (1987)

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)-

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

There are plenty of “Christian” films out there today. The problem is that films like Left Behind, The Omega Code, Joshua and The Second Chance are simply not well made films. While they intend to praise Jesus they tend to bore or embarrass their audiences.

The Moderate List

These films that I believe support our way of thinking while they still entertain. They are in no particular order. If you haven’t seen these films, I recommend each one. If you haven’t thought of these film being worthy for Christians, I suggest giving them a second look.

O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000)

This is the Coen Brother’s best piece and the only George Clooney performance worth noting. Strong Christian roots feed this humorous piece about a trio of escaped cons who find that no matter where you go God’s divine hand will find you.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Frank Capra and James Stewart provide a brilliant and uplifting look at the power of the individual. Stewart answers the call of his beliefs and stands for truth. This is an outstanding piece that shows that even a single voice can change the world.

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

The best war film of all time, hands down – no arguing. This film puts the discussion of a “just war” in real terms. While very gory, it violent for a reason. A great tool for debate and a masterful piece of filmmaking. Look for Tom Hanks in a Christ-like role as Capt. Miller.

Saints and Soldiers (2003)

Not as marvelous as Saving Private Ryan (this is a small budget indie film,) this war film still makes the grade. Where does faith play its role in the midst of a world war?

Shane (1953)

One of the best westerns to ever see the screen, this film has stunning cinematography, effective performances and a great story. Christian symbolism abounds in this story of a stranger who arrives at a farm and is forced by circumstance to set things right.

About a Boy (2002)

To have purpose in your life, effect other people’s lives for the better. Hugh Grant changes gears and gives a likable performance as Will, a literally useless person, who changes when he is adopted by a boy looking for a mentor.

To End All Wars (2001)

Probably the best example of the effects of worldview ever put to screen. American P.O.W.s are tortured by their Japanese captors during World War II. The only weapon available to the Americans is their faith. The Japanese rely on their “honor”. Be warned, this is a brutal film and very hard to watch. The torture scenes are very realistic.

The Incredibles (2004)

In my opinion this is the greatest piece of animation in decades and the best film of 2004. This movie affirms the family, good over evil, and the wages of clinging to the past. It also makes the unflinching statement against the results oriented crowd. All of this and it is entertaining to boot.

Uncle Buck (1989)

Like About a Boy, this film supports the idea that one improves themselves by helping others. John Candy offers one of his best and most endearing performances as the kindly Uncle who has put off responsibility as long as possible. Very funny and pushes great values.

Amadeus (1984)

A great story of envy. F. Murray Abraham portrays Salieri, a gifted composer who is thankful to God for his talents until he finds that God has given the foul Mozart more. Unable to accept his lot in life, Salieri conjures an evil plot against God’s chosen one. Outstanding performances are buttressed by Peter Schaffer’s sharp direction.

Dead Poets Society (1989)

Life is fleeting, use your time wisely. An intelligent script that is full of wisdom is good values inform this humorous piece. Robin Williams gives what is probably his best performance as teacher John Keating who teaches his students to live their lives with as much life as possible.

Signs (2002)

M. Night Shamalamadingdong’s creepy alien invasion story is an entertaining suspense film. Mel Gibson gives a strangely subdued performance as Rev. Hess, a man who has lost his faith after the death of his wife. A somewhat weak resolution attempts to spoil this otherwise well-conceived plot which speaks to faith and redemption.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

One of the scariest films in years. It’s scary because it takes the notion of possession and faith seriously. This piece is more of a courtroom drama than a horror film. Well written and expertly performed, this movie will scare you and get you thinking about the nature of evil.

The Exorcist (1973)

The best horror film of all time. Starkly realistic, William Friedkin’s film about the possession of a little girl still frightens today. A rare exception, faith is given a serious portrayal in this piece and is used to heighten the realism of the film as a whole. This is not for those who scare easy.

Hometown Legend (2002)

Fueled by well-written script by Shawn Hoffman and Michael Patwin, this is one of the better overtly Christian films made in recent years. While far from masterful, this is a good movie with good morals and strong Christian messages. If you’re committed to only watching “Christian” film, this is one you need to see.

Are You Out of Your Head?

These are not for the faint of heart and involve some very harsh sexuality and/or violence to get their point across.

The Road Warrior (1981)

Yeah, it’s hyper violent and has gay bikers running around with their butts hanging out. Don’t rent this one for the church social. I sincerely believe this film is a good look at worldview and sacrifice when viewed properly. Look at the differences between Mad Max (Mel Gibson) and Pappagallo (Michael Preston) and how they work in the world. If you’re still confused, click on the link below the title to be taken to my full review.

The Shining (1980)

Can you think of a better film that shows the results of a person obsessing on their works in this world? Evil gets a foothold on Jack (Jack Nicholson) when his obsession to create overcomes him while managing an empty hotel with his wife and psychic son. A great look at how evil can take root when we lose our way.

Se7en (1995)

Christians will turn from this one instinctually. If you’re capable of handling the violence, this smart film is worth another look. The morality at work in this piece is well thought out and worthy of discussion. Extremely well written and directed, this disturbing piece is far more than it first appears.

8mm (1999)

The real face of the pornography business is shown in the brutally realistic film. Nicholas Cage is private investigator Tom Welles who gets caught up in the terrible world of porn when he is tasked to investigate if a snuff film is authentic or not. This film will stick with you and probably not in a good way. I recommend it because it shows evil for what it is without dressing it up (until the unfortunate ending.) This one comes with a strong caution for content.

Body Heat (1981)

Not for everyone, this sometimes too blunt film shows the underbelly of sexuality. William Hurt and Kathleen Turner star in this steamy film noir piece about a man who will do anything to feed his lust. One of the better films of the 80’s, this movie speaks to the moral consequences of immoral behavior. Be warned, the sexuality portrayed in this film is very graphic.

Auto Focus (2002)

Probably the best view on the effects of pornography on the individual. Greg Kinnear portrays Bob Crane, best known as Hogan from Hogan’s Heroes. Crane who is at the top of his career takes a nosedive when pornography and his sexual desire takes over his life.

Those last few ought to kick up the comment count.

Agree with my picks or not, it is crucial for Christians to be mindful of the entertainment they devour. Although I suggest some films with sexuality and violence you must protect yourself. Obviously, if viewing rough content easily sways you then you shouldn’t. Do not take my endorsement of some films with sex and/or violence to mean that I don’t have any criterion at play here. The worldview of a film is a critical thing for us to be wary of but it is always important for us to be cautious when we open ourselves to sex and violence. Watching questionable material does have its effect and we shouldn’t be dismissive of it.

Drop me a line if you disagree with my choices or my way of thinking. Better yet, let me know if I have missed anything.\

Scott Nehring Christian Movie Reviews

Scott Nehring Christian Movie Reviews

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