Top 100 Spiritually-Significant Films
(Part 1)

by Arts & Faith

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Top 100 Spiritually-Significant Films: Arts & Faith, an online discussion group comprised of film critics and other movie buffs, announced its list of the Top 100 spiritually significant films ever made in mid-2004, detailed below.

The list is continually updated and changed, and therefore has been modified since 2004. The top 100 list, copyrighted 2004 by Arts & Faith, was used by permission.

Facts and Commentary About the List:

  • The Top 100 list of films with diverse transcendent themes drew upon decades of cinema and included U.S. and foreign movies.
  • Popular "blockbuster" films were balanced with cinematic landmarks and lesser-known art-house films.
  • The Top 100 list was developed over several months using a combination of anonymous voting, open debate, and expert jury selection. Participants in the selection process were all users of the free Arts & Faith website.
  • The focus of the list was the spiritual depth or focus of the films involved rather than their moral or commercial value.
Note: The films that are marked with a yellow star are the films that "The Greatest Films" site has selected as the "100 Greatest Films"

Top 100 Spiritually-Significant Films
(part 1, ordered alphabetically by original title, with year of release and director)
1. 13 Conversations About One Thing, 2001, Jill Sprecher

About the loosely-connected lives of a group of New Yorkers: Troy (Matthew McConaughey) - a smug, hot-shot lawyer, Gene (Alan Arkin) - a fatalistic and bitter insurance adjuster, Beatrice (Clea Duvall) - a beatific housecleaner, Walker (John Turturro) - a college physics professor with a failed marriage to Patricia (Amy Irving), and the people around them who intersect as they ponder fate and how to achieve happiness in the face of life's cold unpredictability and senselessness.

2. 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968, Stanley Kubrick

3. The Addiction, 1995, Abel Ferrara

In an unusual twist of the vampire genre, The Addiction uses the bloodlust of the undead as an original metaphor for original sin and mankind's ultimate addiction to evil. Kathleen Conklin (Lili Taylor), an NYU doctoral student in philosophy, finds herself with a new perspective on the nature of ultimate evil and redemption after being bitten by a vampire (Annabella Sciorra) in New York City as she walks home one night.

4. Amadeus, 1984, Milos Forman

Told in flashback, Amadeus is the story of institutionalized Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), an envious composer who cannot tolerate the genius of Mozart (Thomas Hulce) and who cannot comprehend that God would give so great a musical gift to so vulgar and sinful a person.

5. American Beauty, 1999, Sam Mendes

American Beauty looks at the quietly-desperate and miserable suburban and materialistic life of Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) who finds himself in a classic mid-life crisis, although living the American dream with real estate wife Carolyn (Annette Bening). Lester begins to question whether things have to be the way they are, after meeting his daughter Jane's (Thora Birch) cheerleader best friend (Mena Suvari).

6. Andrei Rublev, 1966, Andrei Tarkovsky

Andrei Rublev charts the life of the great icon painter (Anatoli Solonitsyn) through a turbulent period of 15th Century Russian history. Eight acts follow Rublev through the political and social upheavals of medieval Russia. As famine, the Tartars, and torture prevail, Rublev loses all sense of artistic purpose and comes to renounce his voice, his faith, and his art.

7. The Apostle, 1997, Robert Duvall

Robert Duvall, in a virtuoso performance in a multi-faceted film, portrays Euliss “Sonny” Dewey, a Southern Pentecostal preacher whose stable domestic life crumbles after committing a crime of homicidal jealousy when he discovers that his wife (Farrah Fawcett) is unfaithful. He leaves Texas, gives up his identity, calls himself "The Apostle E.F.", and takes up radio preaching in the Louisiana town of Bayou Boutte. His whole life, often succumbing to sensuality and fits of violent anger, is ultimately redeemed when he faces his sinful past. Disturbing but thought-provoking depiction of spiritual crisis.

8. Au Hasard Balthazar, 1966, Robert Bresson

Balthazar tells the wrenching, visually-told story of the life and death of a donkey (a "dumb animal") named Balthazar and the French country girl who grows up with him, Marie (Anne Wiazemsky), the rebellious daughter of a schoolteacher. His idyllic childhood turns to a burdened life of hardship as a laboring beast when he changes owners over the years, as he stoically observes human life around him - his life is paralleled in the painful, cruel lives of the villagers.

9. Babettes Gæstebud ("Babette's Feast"), 1987, Gabriel Axel

Adapted from Isak Dinesen's short story, Babette’s Feast is a feast in itself, for the heart, the senses, and above all for the spirit. Winner of the Best Foreign Film Oscar, the film’s deceptively simple story is about a Parisian culinary genius named Babette (Ste'phane Audran) - with a secret - who is taken in by two aging sisters, Martina (Birgitte Federspiel) and Philippa (Bodil Kjer), daughters of a now-deceased Protestant minister on the isolated Jutland coast of Denmark.

10. Bad Lieutenant, 1987, Abel Ferrara

An NC-17 rated film about a debased, nameless police Lieutenant (Harvey Keitel), a lapsed Catholic, who investigates homicides, and has various 'bad' vices including compulsive gambling, drug use, and cavorting with prostitutes. The film has an almost biblical structure, set in New York during the seven games of the World Series between the Dodgers and the Mets. When he investigates the brutal rape of a young nun by a couple of neighborhood youths on her Spanish Harlem church altar, and she refuses to identify her attackers, the corrupted and defiled cop examines his own life and commits an act of self-redemption and forgiveness.

11. Bad ma ra khahad bord ("The Wind Will Carry Us"), 1999, Abbas Kiarostami

A busy video producer/engineer from Tehran named Behzad (Behzad Dourani) drives with a camera crew of three to a remote hillside Kurdish village in Iran to capture an obscure, ancient burial ceremony for a soon-to-die 100 year old woman named Mrs. Malek. But the 'subject' of his film doesn't die, forcing the impatient man and his production crew to slow down, linger in the serene village, and mingle with the local families and understand more fully their simple values.

12. The Big Kahuna, 1999, John Swanbeck

This film is a compelling dialogue between three men, Larry and Phil (Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito) - two industrial lubricant salesmen and a younger, naive, and earnest first-time sales member (Peter Facinelli), who are sent to a trade convention to make a company-saving sale to Mr. Fuller - the president of a large manufacturing company. The three sales reps wait in a hospitality suite of a Wichita hotel for the big man ('kahuna') who will change their lives.

13. Blade Runner, 1982, Ridley Scott

An intelligent and terrifying vision of the future, Blade Runner is based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the Philip K. Dick novel about the essence of what it is to be mortal, and the urge to confront one’s creator with questions about human imperfections and the inevitability of death.

14. Breaking The Waves, 1996, Lars von Trier

Manly oilman Jan (Stellan Skarsgard) becomes paraplegic after an accident. His newly-wed, pious wife Bess (Emily Watson), who prayed for his return to the Scottish coastal village in the early 1970s, feels guilty; even more, when Jan pleas with her that the only thing that will give him the will to live, is if she takes lovers and then describes the sex to him.

15. Changing Lanes, 2002, Roger Michell

A taut, film noirish psychological thriller about what happens one day in New York when hotshot young Wall Street lawyer Gavin (Ben Affleck) and struggling insurance agent Doyle (Samuel L. Jackson) have an automobile fender-bender on F.D.R. Drive. In Gavin's haste, he leaves Doyle stranded on the highway, causing the estranged middle-class family man to miss attending a hearing (hence being denied custody rights to his two young sons) -- although Gavin leaves an important file at the accident scene that has been pocketed by Doyle.

16. Chariots of Fire, 1981, Hugh Hudson

A glorious, spirited sports film about two British track athletes, one - Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), a determined Jew, and the other - Eric Lidell (Ian Charleson), a devout Christian, who compete in the 1924 Olympics held in Paris - a Best Picture winner in Oscar history.

17. Code inconnu ("Code Unknown"), 2000, Michael Haneke

This film about intolerant racism and hatred, Austrian director Haneke's first French language feature film, includes in its subtitle "incomplete tales of several journeys" of individuals with social and moral crises. The film - composed of 10-minute vignettes, opens when a sullen French farm youth (Alexandre Hamidi) throws a bag of half-eaten pastry onto the lap of a beggar woman at a crowded Paris shopping center - this sets off a chain reaction and street scuffle. A well-meaning African French teacher of deaf children, Amadou (Ona Lu Yenke) orders him to apologize, and the pair fight. The youth gets off scot-free, but the teacher is arrested and the Romanian refugee woman Maria (Luminita Gheorghiu) faces deportation. The film then branches off and expands into a multi-form narrative of other tales, including another story about French actress Anne (Juliette Binoche).

18. Crimes And Misdemeanors, 1989, Woody Allen

Two films in one: opthalmologist Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau) has had an affair with unstable Dolores (Anjelica Huston) for several years, and now she threatens to ruin his life and tell his wife (Claire Bloom) if he doesn't marry her. When his brother Jack suggests to have Dolores murdered, Judah is faced with a big moral dilemma: allow the destruction of his life by coming clean, or hire a hitman and murder his mistress?....And documentary filmmaker Clifford Stern (Woody Allen), in romantic love with stammering Halley Reed (Mia Farrow), a PBS producer, is commissioned to make a portrait of successful but despised Hollywood TV producer and brother-in-law Lester (Alan Alda).

19. Days of Heaven, 1978, Terrence Malick

20. Dead Man Walking, 1995, Tim Robbins

Compelling exploration of issues surrounding the death penalty, based on the true story of idealistic Catholic nun, Sister Helen Prejean (Sarandon, Robbin’s wife), who spiritually advises, compassionately comforts and saves the soul of convicted murderer Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn) at Louisiana's Angola State Prison, who killed a pair of teenaged lovers. She emphathizes with both the victim's family and the killer's mother. She asks him to visualize her as he dies in the execution chamber -- "I want the last face you see to be the face of love."

21. Dekalog ("The Decalogue"), 1987, Krzysztof Kieslowski

Ten one-hour television dramas made for Polish TV, each one a modernized, free-standing part based on one of the Ten Commandments. Their themes include compassion, lust, fidelity, revenge, love, betrayal, death, idolatry, ethics, incest, adultery, and trust. Each one documents the lives of people living in a large Warsaw apartment complex.

22. Dersu Uzala, 1975, Akira Kurosawa

A joint Soviet-Japanese production, told in flashback - a deeply affecting portrait of nature, friendship, and survival - about a Russian army surveyor, Captain Arseniev (Yuri Solomin) who is rescued in Siberia by a rugged, nomadic, native Asiatic, aboriginal (Goldi) tribesman hunter (Maksim Munzuk, in the title role) - in 1901. They renew their friendship years later when the explorer returns at the head of a larger expedition. Later, the hunter accompanies the explorer back to civilization with a crushed spirit - where all of his nature lore is of no help to him - providing the film's cautionary advice about how western civilization lacks respect for nature.

23. Dogma, 1999, Kevin Smith

A thoughtful, ambitious and unique film - starring two fallen angels Loki and Bartleby (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck) who are cast out of heaven for misdeeds. After 2,000 years in exile in Wisconsin, the two renegades have discovered a loophole in church dogma that may allow them back into heaven, if only they can pass under the arch at a Catholic church in New Jersey. Bethany Sloane (Linda Fiorentino), a bitter abortion doctor, is chosen by God to stop them from crossing that threshold, since their return would prove God was fallible. She is assisted by Metatron (Alan Rickman), the voice of God, Rufus (Chris Rock), the ignored 13th apostle, Serendipity (Salma Hayek), a muse-turned-stripper, and the Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith) duo.

24. Dogville, 2003, Lars von Trier

A beautiful fugitive, Grace (Nicole Kidman) fleeing her past, arrives in the isolated, Rocky Mountain Colorado township of Dogville on the run from a team of Depression-era mob gangsters. With some encouragement from Tom Edison, Jr. (Paul Bettany), the self-appointed town spokesman, the little community reluctantly agrees to hide her. Later, when a "Wanted" poster of Grace is tacked up and searches occur, everyone’s accepting attitude changes and the townsfolk's demands become more arduous, mean and dangerous.

25. La Dolce Vita, 1960, Federico Fellini

Marcello Rubini (Marcello Mastroianni), a young playboy and celebrity gossip columnist/journalist, spends his days between celebrities and rich people, looking for decadence in parties and sex. When an alluring Hollywood film star named Sylvia (Anita Ekberg) comes to Rome, he contrives to meet her, and when he does - at the Trevi Fountain, he is totally charmed by her.

Top 100 List - Copyright 2004 © Arts & Faith. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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