It’s the time of year when film awards are handed out by various organizations and critics publish their year-end favorites lists. In keeping with a three year tradition, the Arts & Faith community has released a new top 25 films list right before the Academy Awards. Last year, the theme of the list was films about marriage. This year the theme is divine comedies.
In addition to being a wordplay on Dante’s Divine Comedy, the idea behind this list was that the members of Arts & Faith could craft a list of films which not only make us laugh, but also touch on themes of spiritual importance.
As Steven D. Greydanus’ writes in his terrific introduction to the list:
The internet abounds with best movies lists, including lists of comedies of all types: screwball and slapstick, comedies romantic and black; comedies of manners and of mannerlessness. There are even lists of religion-themed comedies, though of course a transcendently funny joke is not necessarily about religion, and jokes about religion are not necessarily transcendent or profound.
The Arts & Faith Top 25 Divine Comedies offers what may be, but should not be, an unusual angle on the comedy genre: It focuses on movies that explore the space between the ridiculous and the sublime. Explicit religious themes are not a notable feature in most of these films, yet all of them, in different ways, touch on questions of ultimate import.
This is in keeping with the tenor of conversation carried out for the past fifteen years among the online community at ArtsandFaith.com, a diverse group including critics and artists, pastors and seminarians, believers of various stripes and individuals of no particular faith.
I have only been a member of Arts & Faith for a little over a year, but in that time I have been privileged to participate in many fruitful and informative discussions. I was one of the voters for this list, and I am thrilled that I had the opportunity to contribute short reviews for two of my favorite films: Moonrise Kingdom and Dr. Strangelove.
No list is ever complete or definitive. I think the presence of every film on this list is justifiable, (there were a few I was questioning until I read the excellent reviews that other Arts & Faith members wrote for them); however, I would like to highlight a few nominated titles which I was sorry to see miss the cut.
Network – This barely missed making the list, which I think is a pity, because it is a brilliant, biting satire of corporation greed and the tragic absurdity of using people as commodities to make profit.
Frances Ha – Yes, I love everything about this film, but it is saturated with optimism and a sense of humor which enables the characters to realize their own imperfections and need for meaningful relationships.
The Hudsucker Proxy – Three Coen brothers films made the list, so this would have been automatically disqualified had it made the cut (there is a rule of no more than three films per director), but I would have loved if this screwball comedy about forgiveness, redemption, and second chances had been included.
The Ruling Class – Peter O’Toole’s performance as a British lord who believes he is Jesus is off-the-charts hysterical, but as he transitions from acting as a god of mercy and love to a god of unrelenting anger, the reactions of the other ruling class members reveal their grave misunderstandings of the Gospel.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen – Two deserving Terry Gilliam films did make the list, but the spirit of joy and wonder in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, as well as the important role of fantasy in viewing the world, makes this epic, mythological fairytale positively Chestertonian and Tolkien-esque.
I highly recommend all of the above titles, in addition to the 25 that made the list. Now check it out!