A couple of years ago, I asked my Twitter followers for help curating some high-quality, not kitschy, thought-provoking films. It’s a thread that surprised me when it blew up, but perhaps it shouldn’t have: we all know how hard it is to find entertainment that qualifies as art, let alone stands on its artistic merits rather than the soft-core pornography that floats most stuff on Netflix. From that thread, I’ve gathered together my favorite four, each of which is ripe fruit for thought and discussion.
- The Passion of the Christ
You may already have seen this one, but it’s worth another watch. A lack of traditional masculinity is a frequently bemoaned aspect of modern culture by conservative commentators. They’re right, and while there are so many vitally important truths this film can help us remember, this is the one that stands out in the current year: Christ as the perfect icon of masculinity. This is a classic movie from which some reviewers recoil on the basis of it being too bloody. But isn’t that the essence of Christian masculinity: dying to self in service of love? How often do we forget the brutality of Christ’s sacrifice? How often do we forget that we are directly metaphysically responsible for it? If all we can do is recoil at the messes we’ve made, can we even be contrite? This is the film that shows us Christ the man, his grieving mother, his imperfect friends, and the reason for our redemption.
- Au Hasard Balthazar
From a review in The New Criterion: “a profound masterpiece from one of the most revered filmmakers in the history of cinema, Robert Bresson’s Au hasard Balthazar follows the donkey Balthazar as he is passed from owner to owner, some kind and some cruel but all with motivations beyond his understanding. Balthazar, whose life parallels that of his first keeper, Marie, is truly a beast of burden, suffering the sins of humankind. But despite his powerlessness, he accepts his fate nobly. Through Bresson’s unconventional approach to composition, sound, and narrative, this simple story becomes a moving parable about purity and transcendence.”
- A Hidden Life
This is the story of Austrian man Franz Jägerstätter, a conscientious objector, who refuses to fight for the Nazis in World War II. Visually stunning, it is a love story between man and wife, man and country, and that same man and God.
My favorite movie of all time, this is a story of a lifelong friendship between King Henry II of England and Thomas Becket, the future Archbishop of Canterbury, whose journey finding his true honor in service of God eventually leads to conflict that is equal parts personal and political. A timeless treasure.