Saturday, August 25, 2012

Top 10 Movies

Back in the 1970s I heard my friend and colleague Bob Culpepper talk about his list of “top 10” movies. (Bob passed away earlier this month, and I made an “extra” blog posting about him here.)
After hearing about Bob’s list, and the movies on it, I soon made my own list and have revised it from time to time through the years. I mainly selected movies that had had the most emotional (spiritual) impact on me or that had caused me to think repeatedly about significant matters.
Thus, my list is completely subjective and has nothing to do with any “objective” evaluation of the best movies in terms of splendid acting or brilliant direction. And the list is chronological. That is important not only because it indicates that there is no ranking of the “top 10” but also because the impact those movies had on me is related to when I first saw them.
For example, I still remember how impressed I was with the ending of “The Robe” when I first saw it in the 1950s, but if I were to see it now for the first time, it likely would not make my list.
So, for whatever it’s worth, here is the current list of my “top 10” movies:
“The Robe” (1953)
“Sound of Music” (1965)
“Sand Pebbles” (1966)
“Fiddler on the Roof” (1971)
“Brother Sun, Sister Moon” (1973)
“Gandhi” (1982)
“Amadeus” (1984)
“The Mission” (1986)
“Romero” (1989)
“Immortal Beloved” (1994)
I reviewed, but did not change, the above list again this month after watching “The Mission” for the fourth or fifth time. It is a powerful movie that is based on historical events in South America in the 1750s. And even though my evaluation is not based on the acting, I thought the acting was superb.
On the two days after seeing “The Mission” this month, June and I listened to all of director Roland  Joffé’s commentary, and we were sort of “blown away” by it. The movie was made with indigenous people, and scenes were shot thousands of miles apart: some in Columbia and some in Argentina.
It is the story itself, however, that is so impressive—and depressing. The movie depicts the historical struggle between the Spanish Jesuit missionaries and the “reductions” (communes) that they founded in South America in conflict with Portuguese slavers who wanted to destroy the Christian communes in order to advance their slave trade.
“The Mission” deals with the question of how to resist evil: passively or with the sword. That is the focal point of the movie, which is based on a real battle (in February 1756). Of course, what really happened is far different than what the movie depicts—as is quickly seen from even a cursory reading of William F. Jaenike’s Black Robes in Paraguay (2007).
Partly because of the events on which “The Mission” is based, the Society of Jesus was dissolved by the pope in 1773. Accordingly, the subtitle of Jaenike’s book is The Success of the Guarani Missions Hastened the Abolition of the Jesuits. (They were reinstated in 1814, though.)
When I first saw “The Mission,” and again this month, I was deeply impressed by the Jesuit missionaries, especially Father Gabriel. I like(d) the way he related to the Guarani people and how he refused to use violence against violence. (Little did I know back in 1986 that I would be teaching in a Jesuit University during my retirement years!)
“The Mission” is a great movie—as are the other ten on my top 10 list. At least, that is the view from this Seat.


  1. Too, cool, Leroy! I checked out my own list of favorites, and none of them were on your list. :-) However, my list is just my favorites and not limited to those that had "the most emotional (spiritual) impact" on me. I think I've seen all of them on your list. I'm especially fond of "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" and "Gandhi." "Mission" is particularly painful.

    1. Anton, thanks for being the first to respond again.

      Yes, "The Mission" is painful in the way it turns out. But seeing it again this month, I was impressed at how futile it was for some within the "reduction," including the Robert De Niro character, to try to meet violence with violence. They ended up just as dead as the non-violent Jesuits/Guaranis, and their violence likely increased the criticism of the Jesuits, which led to their abolishment for over 40 years.

  2. I like the list. Movies frequently spur the mind allegorically to think deeply and be challenged, or to find a fun diversion to life. I have seen most of your list and enjoyed them, although only Fiddler on the roof would make my personal top 10. The most challenging in my sojourn has been The Gospel of John - a portrayal of the scriptures which has lead me closer to orthodoxy. On the fun side, The Gods Must Be Crazy would make the list (a fun challenge to learn !chabu !chabu of the San, or else the clicking language of the Mbulu of Tanzania).

    1. If I were to make a list of interesting/enjoyable movies, "The Gods Must Be Crazy" would probably make that list. As would "Trading Places."

  3. I, of course, am disappointed there are no baseball movies on your list. Your list with its criteria for inclusion does remind me of a discussion on Avatar we had, at which time you had not seen it. You may have seen it by now and it did not crack your list, but I still wonder if the underlying political and overtly spiritual messages had an impact on you. I have not composed my list so I am not sure Avatar would make it. My list would likely focus on fun, and besides a couple of baseball movies (or more), I would have Shakespeare in Love. That is because I was most impressed with the writing that depicted one of his most well known works developed out of his life, however fictional that is.

  4. Dennis, thanks for writing, and I am sorry I disappointed you. I have seen a few baseball movies, and I guess "Field of Dreams" is my favorite of those I've seen. But it didn't make the cut. (To be honest, I think I would rather watch a good baseball game than to see a movie about baseball.)

    I have not yet seen Avatar, and I guess I should put that on our Netflix list and see what I think. Thanks for calling it to my attention again.

  5. I also love "The Mission." We used it one summer with our single adults for one of our "Faith and Flicks" series. "Crash" would also be on my list. When I first saw it, I thought I would have to get up and leave, my heart hurt so much for all the pain and anguish inflicted upon people, but I was glad I stuck it out. Excellent movie! "In America" is also another thought-provoking movie about Irish immigrants who enter the US illegally and settle in Hell's Kitchen in NYC. A fun movie that I think awesomely depicts how the church should behave is "Notting Hill." The group of friends in that movie seem to have little in common except circumstances that have brought them together. Even when they behave badly (as in the roommate from hell!), when one of them has a problem, they all come together to help! Delightful! We love movies and enjoy viewing them through faith "lenses." Even more than movies that are intended to be "Christian films," I find many of them with deep insights to lessons Jesus taught and lived out.

    1. Genie, thanks for writing and for your pertinent comments.

      I have seen "Crash" and "In America," and certainly consider them good, worthwhile movies, even though they didn't make my top ten list. I have not seen "Notting Hill," so perhaps June and I will try to see it sometime this fall.

      I agree that some of the most "Christian" movies are those which are not explicitly so.

  6. Well, I do not have a top ten list, and would probably get totally tangled up trying to write one. I have, however seen many impressive movies, including several on Leroy's list. Of his list, I would say Fiddler on the Roof is my favorite. It probes much of life, culture, politics and religion, and is backed by a great stage play, which is very important in the Dempsey household.

    For Dennis, let me say that I have seen and loved The Natural, Robert Redford's baseball movie. Well, pretty much anything Redford has been involved with is popular at the Dempsey house, from The Sting to A River Runs Through It.

    If I were to pick a movie that just says Craig picked it, I would go with Across the Universe (2007), a very talented reinvention of a group of Beatles songs into a story, much like Mama Mia did for Abba. Across the Universe has it all, from 1960's high school angst to horrors of the Vietnam war, and the glory of trying to come to terms with it all. Not much overt religion in it, but a lot for religious thinkers to chew on.

    1. Well, we have seen several of Redford's movies (he lacks three days of being exactly two years older than I), and we have enjoyed seeing "The Sting" three or four times. We are not as fond of the others.

      But we have not seen "Across the Universe," and are not particularly fans of the Beatles (nor have we listened much to most of their songs). But we will probably try to watch it this fall. (I don't take Craig's recommendations lightly.)

  7. I'm not much of a movie person, so I can't provide a list of my own favorites. But I'll have to admit that the previous comments have raised my interest.

    Your recounting of the story in the movie, The Mission, caused me to review the reasons for the suppression of the Jesuits. I've always thought it strange and ironic that the Pope would ban the Jesuits since they've always impressed me as being very pro-Catholic. Wikipedia has an article on the subject.
    This article does make reference to Portugal in 1758 deporting "Jesuits from America after relocating the Jesuits and their native workers." It goes on to say that, "The modern view is that the suppression of the order was the result of a series of political and economic conflicts rather than a theological controversy and the assertion of nation-state independence against the Catholic Church." The story in the movie, The Mission, would seems to indicate that the Jesuits were such good Christians that it caused them to come in conflict with economic interests. Recounting a story from history where a group gets into trouble for being "too Christian" reminds me of today's conflict between the Catholic bishops and the The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). Will they be banned also?

    I find it ironic that the Jesuits found refuge in non-Roman Catholic countries during the time of suppression (i.e. areas dominated by the Russian Orthodox Church). I was once told by a Catholic friend that a few remnants of Jesuits survived in the Americas during that era, but I've been unable to document that.

  8. Clif, thanks for raising the interesting question about whether the LCWR will be banned similar to the way the Society of Jesus was in 1758. It will be interesting to see how the current issue turns out.

    I think the Wikipedia article is correct about the Jesuit order being abolished because of political and economic conflicts. That is one of the themes of "The Mission," and it is graphically depicted there.

  9. A Canadian Thinking Friend, who is also a close personal friend, sent the following e-mail:

    "Thanks for sharing your favourite movie. 'The Mission' has been my favourite ever since I saw it. I have used it for a Movie Discussion Night at our church and have recommended it to many friends.

    "What I like most is its depiction of pure grace when the aboriginal leader cuts the rope of the sin burden and it rolls away down the cliff. Also, the theme music is the top of my iPod list!"

    1. The scene mentioned in the last paragraph above is certainly an impressive part of the movie, and I appreciate my TF referring to it.

      Also, someone else also commented about the quality of the theme music, and I am happy that that was mentioned also, for I, too, really enjoyed the music in the movie.