June 10, 2004

Hello, does no one remember a little film called Dude, Where's My Car?

Arts & Faith has posted its list of The 100 most spiritually significant films of all time. It's an interesting list. "Although developed from a Christian perspective, the focus of the list is the spiritual depth or focus of the films involved rather than moral or commercial value." That seems to mean that, yes, The Passion of the Christ and Zeffirelli's problematic Jesus of Nazareth are here, but so are The Last Temptation and The Life of Brian.

The real problem is that the judges never adequately explain what they mean by spiritually significant, and discussions of the individual films don't go far for making a case for them. They seem to have just about every half-decent Bible epic (plus The Prince of Egypt), which would be understandable until you realize that they've cast a much wider net than that. Given their apparently broad definition of spirtually significant -- which encompasses Blade Runner, On The Waterfront, and The Elephant Man -- surely some of the lesser Bible pics should have been bumped.

And while that wide net is what makes the list worth discussing, it only makes having explanations for the choices more necessary, so we can at least get a handle on why some films have been picked over others. There are several that would easily be on my own list: Groundhog Day, 2001, Days of Heaven, The Sweet Hereafter, The Apostle.

But we're left with too many questions: Why Blade Runner and not Brazil? Why La Dolce Vita and no other Fellini? (Abel Frickin' Ferrara gets two films, after all). Why Branagh's Henry V but not Zeferelli's Romeo and Juliet or any Kurosawa Shakespeare adaptation? How is it possible there are no films by Gus Van Sant, Jim Jarmusch or Godfrey Reggio? Were they not judged spiritually significant, or did the judges simply not like them?

Then there's the almost complete lack of comedy (Groundhog Day is the sole exception). If the pretentious moodiness of American Beauty is spiritually significant, why isn't the joyful giddiness of the Marx Brothers (as Woody Allen, represented here by the well-chosen Crimes and Misdemeanors, realized in Hannah & Her Sisters)?

Finally, while the list does a decent job of representing both Judeo-Christian religion and a kind of non-specific humanistic spiritualism, there are too few films about specific non-Judeo-Christian religions. There are several Buddhist films I haven't seen but that sound like they should at least have been considered, as well as at least one Shinto classic that would probably make my own top ten.

Anything else they got right or wrong?

Posted by Daniel Radosh


Curse you, VH1, for reducing our entire culture into a top-100 list. And excuse me, but "High Plains Drifter" or even "The Outlaw Josey Wales" are much more spiritual in theme than "Unforgiven."

Right, VH1! Thanks for reminding me.

In terms of comedies, you skipped "Life of Brian" and "Dogma." Plus, don't you have to consider "Eternal Sunshine...," "Fight Club," "Magnolia," "Punch-Drunk Love," and "Truman Show" at least comedic.

It seems like one of the easier routes, short of having Jesus as a protagonist, to making the list is having a comedic actor take a serious role.

Thanks for the great comments and insight, folks; I'm a moderator at the site that published the list. The process we used was basically a combination of open voting and jury selection. We intent to revise the list annually.

Alan -- thanks for posting (and thanks to everyone at A&F for compiling the list!). I get that voting and jury selection were the mechanism used for picking films, but can you clear up for us what the criteria were? Do you have a working definition of "spiritually significant" or did everyone decide for themselves what it meant?

Sure -- there was no real set definition of the term, so the latter, in this instance. I've address some of this in a new FAQ for the Top100, available at:

Here's the short answer:

Regarding the spiritual depth of the films: How far did you go in evaluating a film as having worthwhile spirituality if it didn't include explicitly Christian messages?

As a general rule, users of Arts & Faith implicitly or explicitly profess Christian faith. The only standard for debate was that these films must somehow be "spiritually significant," although that phrase was deliberately left undefined. As a result, the list reflects some films that are nearly word-for-word adaptations from Scripture, whereas other films rest more on the common ground we all share as created beings.

The Top100 list has been updated for 2005. Link:


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