It’s that time of the year where you start to see end-of-year lists for about anything imaginable, including Best Films. I thought about putting my own list together. What I want to offer up is a list of the most redemptive films from the past decade. These are some of my personal favorites, films that you don’t mind seeing over and over. I always find something new or interesting after each viewing. I believe that’s the standard for a great film—if you can watch it several times without becoming bored.
I chose redemptive films for my list because they are often the most powerful and inspiring movies produced. Done right, they can move us to be a better human being and lead us away from our self-destructive behavior. They can often challenge us to explore our life’s pathway and the decisions we are making. In a Christian sense, redemptive films often lead us to salvation. In a broader sense, they are about becoming fully human and becoming fully capable of expressing emotions.
Redemptive stories are about change and huge character arcs. This often challenges screen writers to reach deep and take chances.
So let’s get started. The first is Walk the Line, staring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon as Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. Both of these actors get completely lost and emerged in their roles. It’s a story where Johnny Cash could have easily fallen off the edge with a life of drugs and alcohol. But, as you may be aware, Cash became a devoted Christian and one of the most influential artists in the history of music. If you are a fan of Johnny Cash, you need to check this film out.
Reservation Road explores the aftermath of a tragic car accident. It looks at a universal theme we can all relate to, trying to get away with something that we know is wrong. It deals with guilt, forgiveness and learning how to move on.
I’ve talked about To End All Wars in previous articles. It features 24’s Keifer Sutherland. It is perhaps one of the best examples of a redemptive story produced in recent years. It was released in 2001 and was considered a low-budget film that received inadequate promotion and marketing. That’s too bad. It deserved a much larger audience. It’s well worth your time to discover it on DVD.
Michael Clayton, for some, will be a controversial choice. It offers up a fair amount of bad language. But if you are looking for redemption, this film is a prime example. It stars George Clooney, who is one of my favorite actors. We may not always agree with his politics, but he certainly delivers the goods.
Clooney plays an attorney with a gambling problem. He is what’s called a “fixer” for a major and prestigious law firm. His job is to make problems go away by any means necessary. The film was produced by the late Sidney Pollack, who was one of the best producers working in Hollywood.
If you are a Christian filmmaker and trying to understand the best way to be a media missionary, you need to check out Bella. This film is the type of movie that Christians should be making. It is a Christian film without being a “Christian” film. Bella was honored with the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival. It takes a hard look at self-forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption. I saw it first at the Biola Media Conference before its theatrical release. It was emotionally moving. It had a huge impact on me.
Never once did I think that the film had an agenda or was a message picture. Many critics criticized the film for that very thing. I totally disagree. Perhaps, the marketing and advertising plan could have been aimed at a broader audience. They should have let the film stand on its own two feet without tying it to the
Putting Gran Torino on my list will make a lot of Christians uneasy. I know it has some bad language, but that is not enough to disqualify it. The film was directed by Clint Eastwood, who also plays the lead role. Clint Eastwood’s movies are always about something important. He is perhaps the best filmmaker over the past 25 years.
Here he plays Walt Kowalsk, who is a bitter, lonely, Korean war veteran and very much a bigot. This film explores the possibilities that we all have the capacity to change and to make great sacrifice.
Bruce Almighty features Jim Carey in the role of Bruce Nolan who believes he can do a better job of being God than God. This movie is absolutely amazing. Here’s a Hollywood, mainstream movie talking about free will, prayer and asking God to take control of your life. It’s really hard to believe. It’s done in such an entertaining fashion and at the same time takes a look at complex philosophical and theological issues. And frankly, can you go wrong with Morgan Freeman playing God?
Finally, Family Man. I love this film. It’s a cross between It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol. “What if” films are always interesting. If you are looking for a great character arc, Family Man is your film. Family Man stars the always versatile Nicholas Cage as Jack Campbell, a man who does not understand the true value of life. This movie is an interesting look at what life could be like in a alternative universe.
Ok. That’s my list. I’m sure I missed plenty of deserving films. What’s your thoughts? Do you have any other redemptive films to add.