For Sunday January 1, 2017
Lectionary Readings (Revised Common Lectionary, Year A)
In his book Sculpting in Time (1986), the Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky says that "the allotted function of art is not, as is often assumed, to put across ideas, to propagate thoughts, to serve as an example. The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning to good."
Here are ten films from our 2016 reviews that "ploughed my soul," and, I pray, "rendered it capable of turning to good."
The blue hotlinks take you to my full review. And don't forget — you can search JwJ's 750 film reviews from 104 countries by title or by country. Just use the drop down menu under "Film" at the top of any page.
This PBS documentary commemorates the 50th anniversary of the founding of what was originally the "Black Panther Party for Self Defense" in Oakland. As the name implies, the BPP was founded to monitor police behavior in order to stop its brutality.
For the most part, we try to forget about our wars, or hide the horrible consequences of war, whereas the disabled veterans who come home after the war are a symbol and reminder of the horrific human costs of war — physical, psychological, emotional, and surely spiritual. This one-hour PBS documentary starts with the American Revolution, and, war by war, shows how our country's treatment of our disabled veterans has evolved.
Father Joseph (2015) — Haiti
This film tells the remarkably inspiring story of the Haitian priest Father Joseph Philippe, who was born into a peasant family, studied in the United States, and then returned to minister to his own people in the isolated mountain community of Fondwa — where 90% of the people had no water or electricity. That was before Joseph started thirty years of sustainable development.
Finding Vivian Maier (2013)
In the winter of 2007, the photographer John Maloof paid $380 at an auction for a suit case full of photography negatives that he hoped to use for a book project about Chicago. That project never materialized, because ever since then he has been unraveling the mystery of Vivian Maier (1926–2009), an unknown street photographer who took those pictures. The critical consensus is that Maier is one of the most important photographers of her time, even though she never published, or, in many cases, even developed her work.
Knight of Cups (2016)
Even those who admire the work of director Terrence Malick can feel ambivalent about his films. "That was a long two hours," said my viewing partner. Maybe that's no surprise for a movie with no script and no dialogue, only improvisations based upon character descriptions at the beginning of each day's shoot. There's no linear narrative in "Knight of Cups," just a succession of dreamy film fragments with whispery voice overs.
The Revenant (2016)
This period piece by the Mexican director, producer and writer Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, Biutiful, Birdman) led all movies with twelve Oscar nominations in 2016. It also won Golden Globes for best picture, best actor, and best director. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a 19th-century fur trapper named Hugh Glass.
This historical drama tells how in 2001 a Boston Globe investigative team called "Spotlight" documented and then published proof that the Catholic Archdiocese in Boston had actively and systematically covered up a massive pedophilia scandal in its churches. Before it was over, similar revelations the world over rocked Catholicism. But to its credit, the movie shows that the truth is not quite so simple.
The Testimony (2015) — Democratic Republic of Congo
This 28-minute documentary tells the story of the Minova Trial, in which 39 Congolese soldiers were accused of systematically raping their own citizens in the village of Minova. The film was short listed for the 2015 best Documentary Short Subject.
What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)
This Netflix-produced bio-documentary about the legendary Nina Simone (1933–2003) opened the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, and was later short-listed for a 2016 Oscar for Best Documentary. The director Liz Garbus does many things well in this film, the best of which is simply to let us linger, watch, and listen to the legendary blues and jazz artist display her musical genius and free spirit.
Zero Days (2016)
This documentary film by Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) reviews the history and collateral damage of the Stuxnet malware that was launched by the United States and Israel against Iran's Natanz nuclear facility in 2010. The original story is scary enough, and scarier still when you consider that the events it describes took place over six years ago. We can only imagine the advancements in even more vicious cyber warfare since then.