By Jeffrey Overstreet
Do you hear that buzzing sound?
That’s the chatter that serves as prologue to the Academy Awards. With the 2010 ceremonies just a few days away, people are tossing around the usual questions: which film will win Best Picture? Will Hollywood veterans take the acting awards, or did newcomers charm the Academy?
Then there are more philosophical questions. What do the awards really mean? Does the Academy celebrate artistry or popularity? Can an Oscar be bought?
Any award ceremony or “best-of” list inspires speculation and fuss. As art is mysterious, and our experience of it is—to some extent—subjective, we have every right to question the claims of those who say they know what’s “best.”
Well, get ready. Here comes another list. And it’s going to provoke a lot of questions.
Ladies and gentlemen, the 2010 edition of “The Arts and Faith Top 100 Films” has arrived.
Question #1: The what?
The Arts and Faith Top 100 Films is a list of films characterized both by artistic excellence and a serious wrestling with questions that at root might be called religious or spiritual.
Question #2: Wait, who are these voters?
The Arts and Faith community is intensely interested in art of all kinds, but it’s attracted a particularly strong group of cinema enthusiasts.
And they’re not nearly as interested in matters of celebrity or box office as they are in the questions and themes at the heart of great works of big-screen art from around the world.
Many of the Arts and Faith participants are more than movie buffs. They are students of the art. Some are regularly published critics in publications as varied as Image, Paste, Sojourners, The National Catholic Register, Relevant, Christianity Today, Books and Culture, and Crosswalk.com. Some are experienced professional film critics. Others are artists, playwrights, professors, parents, pastors, and graphic designers.
This year, forty four of them voted on the Arts and Faith Top 100 Films.
Question #3: What was the voting procedure?
Over a period of several weeks, ArtsandFaith.com members recommended titles they admire. Image drew up a list of nearly 400 nominations. They produced an electronic poll, and each voter rated their assessment of each film’s excellence and importance on a scale of 1-5 (with an option to check “Haven’t Seen It”).
Question #4: Now, hold on…where’s The Ten Commandments? Where is Facing the Giants? The Passion of the Christ? I thought you said this list was made by Christians who love movies.
Sure, you might expect a list of “the Great Movies” chosen by a group of Christians to favor titles popular with religious audiences…like Fireproof, “the Jesus movie,” The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, or The Nativity Story.
But it is exactly this tendency that fires up the folks at ArtsandFaith.com.
Christian media have in recent years tended to celebrated art and entertainment for its “evangelical potential.” In other words, many Christians have become so concerned about the usefulness of art as a tool of ministry and evangelism, they’ve forgotten—or never known in the first place—what art really is, and how it works.
As a result, “Christian art” has become more and more didactic and simplistic. Its messages are easily paraphrased. No wonder the rest of the world dismisses it so easily.
Who can blame them? People turn to art for an imaginative experience, not a lesson or a sales pitch.
It is also worth noting that the conversation about art, especially in America, has narrowed considerably. Most American moviegoers—Christian or otherwise—are familiar only with what is contemporary, commercial, and American. They lack an education in film history, and are largely ignorant of independent and foreign cinema.
The ArtsandFaith.com list was developed by film enthusiasts who are as passionate about film history as they are about international artistry. Ten of the group’s top 30 come from the 1950s. And the two most popular directors are a Swede and a Russian.
Question #5: But if this list demonstrates the intersection of arts and faith, why don’t I see Christian artists on their list of favorites?
Andrei Tarkovsky, a Christian, has six films on this list. Several other Christian filmmakers made the list, like Lee Isaac Chung and Wim Wenders, not to mention Carl Theodor Dreyer, whose 1956 movie Ordet is the list’s crown jewel for the second year in a row.
Ingmar Bergman, though not a professing Christian, made films that openly wrestled with questions about Christian faith. And Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Decalog, the second-place title, is a series of ten short films that invite us to reconsider the relevance of the Ten Commandments to modern society.
The ArtsandFaith.com community also believes that revelation of beauty and truth can be found in the work of great artists who come from anywhere, and who might profess any kind of faith—or lack of it.
Question #6: Is it just me, or do most of these films look like hard work?
The Arts and Faith Top 100 are not favored for their difficulty. They are honored for their excellence, their beauty, their capacity to inspire us to become more fully human.
Each movie on this list explores fundamental and provocative spiritual questions. Questions that challenge us to grow in understanding. Questions that cultivate community through the experience of bracing conversations. Questions that kindle our deepest longings for all that is sacred and good.
In other words, yes—some of these films require serious work on the part of the viewer. But they are full of rewards for those who give them a chance.
The Arts and Faith Top 100 Films will arrest you with their vividness and strangeness. They are full of beauty and mystery. And unlike what is commonly categorized as “Christian art,” they will leave audiences with some doubt as to their precise application. They tease the mind into thought and reflection—again and again and again.
Question #7: Can I play?
Sure! Get involved in the community at ArtsandFaith.com. It’s easier than it sounds: Sign up, start exploring the various conversations that go on every day. And participate. Get to know the Arts and Faith regulars. Start conversations about your favorite films. Ask questions. Share your reviews. Nominate films for serious consideration in 2011. And be ready to vote when the new poll is posted early next year.
In the meantime, get acquainted with these films. You may find your own list of favorites changing. And what is more, you might find your mind and heart transformed as well.
This is, after all, an invitation to a feast.
Question #8: Where did you say I could find the list?
You can see the list here.