By Deal W. Hudson
As with my list of Catholic novels, I am not following any rigid theory of the “Catholic film” in making these recommendations. Rather than advance a thesis about what constitutes an “authentic” or “orthodox” Catholic film, I’m hoping that you, the reader, will discover on this list some films that will bring you enjoyment. Perhaps you will find some inspirational or edifying and be moved to a renewed aspiration toward the source of all beauty.
It’s regrettable that Catholic educators have yet to regard cinema as an important artistic tradition, one that should be studied along with literature, painting, theater, and music. The advantage of studying film is its relative youth, having been born only a little over a century ago. The other, more obvious, advantage is that students will have spent literally hundreds of hours watching films of various kinds, as opposed to their time spent with books, or much less in a museum with the masterworks of painting and sculpture.
Here’s the good news: It’s still not too late for the diligent and perhaps obsessive student, with a few years of study, to gain a satisfactory overview of film history.The “Catholic film” is actually a good place to start on such a journey, since both Catholic filmmakers and Catholic subjects have been a part of film’s history from the beginning of the “silent” era to the present. (Remember, there were very few silent films since musical soundtracks were used in films since 1920. And, to add a curious side note, the capacity for “talking” films had been available for several years prior to the 1928 Jazz Singer but was considered unnecessary to film as a rapidly developing, and primarily visual, art form.)
You will see below my list of 100 Best Catholic Films in chronological order. The only difference between this list and the book list is that I am not insisting that the author be Catholic. My choices are made film qua film, not by any reference to the faith of the producer, director, or writer. Given that any object of art should be enjoyed and understood in itself, apart from its creator, I regret somewhat not using this criterion in making my list of 100 Best Catholic Novels, but then, what is done, is done.
Thus, I ask the reader not to take me to task if the director of a particular film is a notorious this-or-that, as is definitely the case with a number of the films listed below. And, after all, how do we know under what inspiration, or whose inspiration, an “unbelieving” director brought a film into being.
Unlike the 100 Best Catholic Novels, I have not added links to all my recommendations. The reader can easily search them out at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or any of the many film vendors on the Internet. If you don’t wish to buy them, you can find out the basic information on any of the films by making use of the International Movie Database at http://www.imdb.com.
1.Carl Theodore von Dreyer, The Passion of Joan of Arc, 1928.
2.Cecil B. DeMille, King of Kings, 1927.
3.Frank Capra, Lady for a Day, 1933.
4.John Ford, The Informer, 1935.
5.Frank Borzage, Strange Cargo, 1940
6.Henry King, The Song of Bernadette, 1943.
7.John M. Stahl, The Keys of the Kingdom, 1944.
8.Leo McCarey, Going My Way, 1944.
9.Leo McCarey, The Bells of St. Mary’s, 1945.
10.Frank Capra, It’s a Wonderful Life, 1946.
11.Robert Bresson, Au Hasard Balthasar, 1966.
12.Michael Powell, Black Narcissus, 1947.
13.John Ford, The Fugitive, 1947.
14.John Ford, Three Godfathers, 1948.
15.Leo McCarey, Make Way for Tomorrow, 1947.
16.Vittorio De Sica, The Bicycle Thieves, 1948.
17.Roberto Rossellini, Stromboli, 1950.
18.Roberto Rossellini, The Flowers of St. Francis, 1950.
19.Gordon Douglas, Come Fill the Cup, 1951.
20.Robert Bresson, The Dairy of a Country Priest, 1951.
21.Akira Kurosawa, Ikiru, 1952.
22.Vittorio De Sica, Umberto D, 1952.
23.Alfred Hitchcock, I Confess, 1953.
24.Elia Kazan, On the Waterfront, 1954.
25.Raffaello Matarazzo, The White Angel, 1955.
26.Carl Theodore von Dreyer, Ordet, 1955.
27.Alfred Hitchcock, The Wrong Man, 1956.
28.Luis Bunuel, Nazarin, 1959.
29.Fred Zinnemann, The Nun’s Story, 1959.
30.William Wyler, Ben Hur, 1959.
31.Robert Bresson, Pickpocket, 1959.
32.Mervyn LeRoy, The Devil of 4 O’Clock, 1961.
33.Richard Fleischer, Barabbas, 1961.
34.Nicholas Ray, King of Kings, 1961.
35.Otto Preminger, The Cardinal, 1963.
36.Peter Glenville, Becket, 1964.
37.Pier Paolo Pasolini, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, 1964.
38.Carol Reed, The Agony and the Ecstasy, 1965.
39.Luis Bunuel, Simon of the Desert, 1965.
40.Fred Zinnemann, A Man for All Seasons, 1966.
41.Robert Bresson, Mouchette, 1967.
42.Michael Anderson, The Shoes of the Fisherman, 1968.
43.Franco Zefferelli, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, 1972.
44.William Friedkin, The Exorcist, 1973.
45.Anthony Harvey, The Abdication, 1974.
46.Joseph Hardy, The Lady’s Not for Burning, 1974.
47.Franco Zefferelli, Jesus of Nazareth, 1977.
48.Robert Bresson, The Devil Probably, 1977.
49.Ermanno Olmi, Tree of the Wooden Clogs, 1978.
50.John Huston, Wise Blood, 1979.
51.Francesco Rosi, Christ Stopped at Eboli, 1979.
52.Hugh Hudson, Chariots of Fire, 1981.
53.Charles Sturridge & Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Brideshead Revisited, 1981.
54.Ulu Grosbard, True Confessions, 1981.
55.Martin Scorcese, The Age of Innocence, 1982.
56.Paolo & Vittorio Taviani, Night of the Shooting Stars, 1982.
57.Jerry London, The Scarlet and the Black, 1983.
58.Robert Bresson, L’argent, 1983.
59.Norman Stone, Shadowlands, 1885.
60.Alain Cavalier, Therese, 1986.
61.Roland Jaffe, The Mission, 1986.
62.Wim Wenders, Wings of Desire, 1987.
63.Gabriel Axel, Babette’s Feast, 1987.
64.Rodney Bennett, Monsignor Quixote, 1987.
65.Maurice Pialat, Under the Star of Satan, 1987.
66.John Huston, The Dead, 1987.
67.Krzysztof Kieslowski, The Decalogue, 1988.
68.Krzysztof Kieslowski, A Short Film About Love, 1988.
69.Ermanno Olmi, Legend of the Holy Drinker, 1988.
70.John Duigan, Romero, 1989.
71.Denys Arcand, Jesus of Montreal, 1989.
72.Bruce Beresford, Black Robe, 1991.
73.Stijn Coninx, Daens, 1992.
74.Nancy Savoca, Household Saints, 1993.
75.Mel Gibson, Braveheart, 1995.
76.Liv Ullmann, Kristin Lavransdatter, 1995.
77.Lee David Slotoff, Spitfire Grill, 1996.
78.Marta Meszaros, The Seventh Room, 1996.
79.M. Knight Shyamalan, Wide Awake, 1998.
80.Joe Johnston, October Sky, 1999.
81.David Lynch, The Straight Story, 1999.
82.Agnieszka Holland, The Third Miracle, 1999.
83.Patrice Leconte, The Widow of Saint-Pierre, 2000.
84.Jim Sheridan, In America, 2002.
85.Alexander Payne, About Schmidt, 2002.
86.Bruce Beresford, Evelyn, 2002.
87.Denys Arcand, Barbarian Invasions, 2003.
88.Mel Gibson, The Passion of the Christ, 2004.
89.Tommy Lee Jones, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, 2005.
90.Christian Carion, Joyeux Noel, 2005.
91.Pavel Lungin, The Island, 2006
92.Alejandro Monteverde, Bella, 2006.
93.Jean-Pierre Dardenne, L’enfant, 2006.
94.Martin Provost, Seraphine, 2008.
95.Mark Pellington, Henry Poole is Here, 2008.
96.John Patrick Shanley, Doubt, 2008.
97.Klaus Haro, Letters to Father Jaakob, 2009.
98.Xavier Beauvois, Of Gods and Men, 2010.
99.Philip Groning, Into the Great Silence, 2007.
100.100. Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life, 2011.
Published at Catholic Online, December 12, 2014.