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As Spiritual Cinema Circle enters its ninth year, we have distributed more than 400 films, and the one element that they all have in common is a sense of hope. In the world of Spiritual Cinema, hope infuses every film that we have grown to love … and every film that we distribute.
Yes, it may get dark out there at times.
Yes, there are times when we indeed stare into the abyss, both personally and as a society.
And yes, we have all lived through the challenges, pains and fears of dark nights of the soul.
But, when the dawn comes, hope is always born anew.
Hope is the lifeblood that flows through the veins of every human being. It is sometimes muted. Sometimes so faint that only our hearts feel its echo. And sometimes we wonder how we can keep it alive.
But hope lives on. Always has. Always will.
Here are just a few examples of the hope that permeates film:
Even though it contains echoes of films such as 1984, Network and The Lord of The Flies, The Hunger Games is singularly unique in that it represents a very “right now” look at our celebrity-worshiping, violence-laden, reality-television culture, and it throws in some chilling warnings about the dangers of all-powerful government.
Having not read any of Suzanne Collins’ three books from which this film springs, my first impression upon hearing about the film’s central theme of a nationwide contest that pits 24 teenagers against each other in a fight to the death was ”Uh-oh, here we go again with the mindless violence…”
Although I am proud to be a voting member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, I have a conceptual issue with the notion of “Best” film, actor, etc. Art is way too subjective to be making objective distinctions. For me, it is simply impossible call one film or a performance “better” than another. Who, for instance, is to say that Mozart wrote “better” music than Chopin, or that Gauguin was a “better” painter than Van Gogh?
For these reasons (as well as the incredible personal politics surrounding nominations), I feel much more comfortable using the phrase “favorite film.”
Another criteria for this list is a simple question that I ask myself: Do I feel better about being human after having seen the movie? This personal qualifier is certainly not a part of the Academy voting rules, but it is an essential one for me.
While I respect others who praise the “craft” of slickly produced and directed films that illustrate how violent, cruel and/or awful we can be as human beings, I personally do not want to feel assaulted or depressed by a dramatic film. I acknowledge all the fear, cruelty and negativity in the world and need only read a newspaper or watch the news or any one of several documentaries to see that side of our humanity. For me to enjoy and recommend a narrative film, however, I want it to show that, despite all the challenges and frailties we have as human beings, we can also be a generous, compassionate species that consciously loves, forgives and embraces the wonder and magic of life itself.
Here are my favorite, life-affirming films of 2011:
My wife Lauren and I were delighted to see Woody Allen’s new film, Midnight in Paris, over the weekend. The film is wonderfully entertaining, very sweet and really a lot of fun.
Owen Wilson plays a successful screenwriter who has come to Paris with his fiancée and her parents. While his fiancée sees the trip as a shopping opportunity, Mr. Wilson has a different agenda. He has always loved the notion of being a novelist, has indeed written his first book, and is enamored with the whole concept of being an artist in Paris, not a commercial “hack.” Unfortunately, his fiancée (played with great audacity and courage by Rachel McAdams) is shallow, materialistic and totally horrified that her soon-to-be husband is actually considering a career that is not based solely on making money.
From time to time, I will highlight a classic film that some — maybe even many — people might have missed. Or forgotten. Or maybe you did see it, and forgot that you asked for it to be erased it from your memory?
Your heart has been broken in a love relationship that ends.
Someone offers you the chance to literally erase that relationship — that person — and everything about it and them from your memory forever.
Would you do it?
Should you do it?
COULD you do it?
Such is the provocative premise of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind from 2004.
As a parent and grandparent, I was very hesitant to watch Rabbit Hole because I knew that it focused on parents who were dealing with the death of their child. After much encouragement from my wife, Lauren, and one of our community members (Mark), and with the tragedy in Tucson in the background, we watched the film last night and were absolutely mesmerized.
I am honored and proud to be a voting member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that nominates and then votes each year for the Oscars.
To be honest, I have absolutely no idea how to judge a “best” film or actor or screenplay or anything else. To try to do so seems akin to going into the Louvre and picking out the “best” painting. So the Van Gogh is “better” than the Renoir or Gauguin or any other painting? Oh, please! I hope we get to a time when the Academy changes “Best” to “Favorite,” to more accurately define the process.
That being said, I always look forward to your responses to my personal favorites, and to seeing a list of your favorite films of 2010. Here are mine:
“The” holidays. Family. Close friends. The end of one year and the beginning of a new one. A time when one’s heart may be at its most vulnerable — either fully open to the warmth of all the love that the season can imply, or, perhaps, fully susceptible to the loneliness that can seem almost unbearable in the longing for family, a significant other, health, or peace of mind.
The Old Hollywood often embraced this season with films that touch the beauty within the soul of humanity, the best known and most enduring example being perhaps It’s a Wonderful Life which always plays innumerable times during this season (and in which I get lost each and every time I happen to flip to it when it’s on — I’m always hooked!).
For our family, another film has arisen as a classic Holiday film. Love Actually is “actually” that wonderful and it is a pleasure to be able to luxuriate in its dizzying and intoxicating recipe for joy, laughter, pathos, and life.
The Oscar nominations are in. As a 25 year Academy member who votes each year for these awards, here’s my perspective on the crosscurrents I sense this year from my fellow Academy members:
I’m personally thrilled that Avatar and The Blind Side are the two most nominated films. Yes! They both richly deserve that recognition. While I expected Avatar to get its due, I was very pleasantly surprised to see such warm acceptance of The Blind Side. Usually, the Academy is very snooty about films that do not win critical accolades, and it was not exactly a critic’s favorite. It’s way too positive and emotionally satisfying for the cynics, uh, critics.
As always, my list includes my own personal favorites, not the films I consider best — a classification I find to be both impossible and absurd. I have no idea what the “best film” is, but I know the films I enjoyed the most. I also only reference films that have played or will play widely in theaters. If I included our Spiritual Cinema Circle films, this would be a completely different list!