See also: 12 Years a Slave.
Running From Crazy
I love documentaries, but I know most people will only see one or two in a year, if that. (Quick: what won the Academy Award for Best Documentary last year? Answer: Searching for Sugar Man.) This year's documentary love has been split between Act of Killing and Stories We Tell, with Blackfish making a late run. Almost no honors have been paid to Barbara Kopple's Running From Crazy. Perhaps because of its affiliation with the Oprah Winfrey Network and the fact that it is not particularly experimental in its narrative approach, it has been the more easily dismissed at television fare.
I admit I have a preference for Crazy in part because it strikes me as more hopeful than most documentaries, but I also think Kopple's craftsmanship is underrated. She's not intrusive when subject Mariel Hemingway gives the film's most outwardly explosive reveal, and the way she overlays home movie footage with the actress' memories is at times so seamless that we forget it is constructed. Such is the way with great artists; their skill makes us mistake ease for easiness. At the end of the day, though, it is Hemingway's perseverance, compassion, and quiet strength that make the strongest impression. My admiration for her grew steadily long after my shock and disgust at the subjects of Act of Killing or Blackfish subsided.
See also: Far Out Isn't Far Enough; Good Ol' Freda; Muscle Shoals.
Best Movie Hinging on Prayer
(Rated R for disturbing violent content including torture, and language throughout)
The term "Christian," when applied to movies, has increasingly come to mean "evangelistic": movies made to proclaim and spread the faith. As such, the representation of Christians and Christianity has become more and more sub-textual in mainstream films. Christian critics pounce on any example of sacrifice as betokening a "Christ figure," and artists tend to limit markers of a characters' faith to visual cues (such as a cross necklace).
Occasionally, though, a film finds the sweet spot between preaching and hinting, and it is able to integrate a character's beliefs into a narrative that is about something other than describing those beliefs. We may question whether Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) shares quite the same Christian beliefs that we do, but there is no question that the film is about a man responding to his core beliefs being challenged in the most painful way. Prisoners begins and climaxes with prayer. There are no altar calls, but this is a "Christian" movie in the sense that it seeks to examine—and perhaps enlarge—our understanding of what it means to be Christian in a fallen world. Are we committed to the beliefs we proclaim, the words we speak? Do we even understand their meaning? (Brett McCracken's review for CT.)
One Film I Wish Everyone Would See
12 Years a Slave
(Rated R for violence/cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality)
Film is visual. Film is narrative. But at its very best, film is immersive. We lose ourselves in the experience. We identify with what we see. As Sidney and Shelley both argued centuries apart in their defenses of art, good art strengthens our morals by strengthening our imaginations. That imagination is at the core of our ability to love our neighbors, for how can we love that which we cannot identify with, cannot imagine, cannot understand? Steve McQueen's film has engendered arguments about its historicity, but I found those irrelevant. 12 Years a Slave is a film that invokes in us something more than sympathy. It invokes a glimmer, a shadow, a sidewise glance at understanding. And when we understand we do more than sympathize. We empathize. We share. We walk alongside. (Ken's review for CT.)