Pulitzer-prize winning film critic Roger Ebert died today at the age of 70. Although he had some confused views on faith (“I consider myself Catholic, lock, stock and barrel, with this technical loophole: I cannot believe in God.”), Ebert often provided insightful criticism of religiously themed films. Since he never (that I know of) composed a list of his favorite Christian-themed movies, I've decided to put one together for him based on films that he gave a four star review or included on his Great Movies list.
While I refrained from commenting on his selections, I've ranked them in order of best to worst (the first six are all superb; the last is an atrocity).
Ebert Quote: “Some movies, even good ones, should only be seen once. When we know how they turn out, they've surrendered their mystery and appeal. Other movies can be viewed an indefinite number of times. Like great music, they improve with familiarity. “It's a Wonderful Life” falls in the second category.”
Ebert Quote: “To modern audiences, raised on films where emotion is conveyed by dialogue and action more than by faces, a film like “The Passion of Joan of Arc'' is an unsettling experience—so intimate we fear we will discover more secrets than we desire.”
Ebert Quote: “Sonny is different from most movie preachers. He's not a fraud, for one thing; Hollywood tilts toward the Elmer Gantry stereotype. Sonny has a one-on-one relationship with God, takes his work seriously, and in the movie's opening scene, the preacher pauses at an auto accident to ask one of the victims to accept Jesus Christ, “who you're going to soon meet.'' Sonny is flawed, with a quick temper, but he's a good man, and the film is about his struggle back to redemption after his anger explodes.”
Ebert Quote: “For the ordinary filmgoer, and I include myself, “Ordet” is a difficult film to enter. But once you're inside, it is impossible to escape. Lean, quiet, deeply serious, populated with odd religious obsessives, it takes place in winter in Denmark in 1925, in a rural district that has a cold austere beauty.”
Ebert Quote: “At the end you see that the Commandments work not like science but like art; they are instructions for how to paint a worthy portrait with our lives.”
Ebert Quote: “Like many great films, Chariots of Fire takes its nominal subjects as occasions for much larger statements about human nature.”
Ebert Quote: “Pasolini's is one of the most effective films on a religious theme I have ever seen, perhaps because it was made by a nonbeliever who did not preach, glorify, underline, sentimentalize or romanticize his famous story, but tried his best to simply record it.” Note: You can watch the entire film online here.
Ebert Quote: “Terrence Malick's “The Tree of Life” is a film of vast ambition and deep humility, attempting no less than to encompass all of existence and view it through the prism of a few infinitesimal lives.”
Ebert Quote: “What Gibson has provided for me, for the first time in my life, is a visceral idea of what the Passion consisted of. That his film is superficial in terms of the surrounding message—that we get only a few passing references to the teachings of Jesus—is, I suppose, not the point. This is not a sermon or a homily, but a visualization of the central event in the Christian religion. Take it or leave it.”
Ebert Quote: “The astonishing controversy that has raged around this film is primarily the work of fundamentalists who have their own view of Christ and are offended by a film that they feel questions his divinity. But in the father's house are many mansions, and there is more than one way to consider the story of Christ—why else are there four Gospels? Among those who do not already have rigid views on the subject, this film is likely to inspire more serious thought on the nature of Jesus than any other ever made.”