In honor of the Oscars, I had to showcase some of my favorite spiritually themed films. Some of my choices are more obscure, and therefore less well-known. A few are controversial (big surprise!) while others are more mainstream, crowd pleasers.
Here’s an alphabetical list with my brief critiques below, enjoy!
Bee Season (2005)
This movie stars Richard Gere who mentors his daughter while his family falls apart. It was adapted from the book Bee Season about a young girl’s quest to win a spelling bee. It is a tale about both mysticism and alienation.
The Blue Bird ( 1940)
I first stumbled onto this Shirley Temple feature as a child and was mesmerized by this story about the search for the bluebird of happiness. The way in which the future was characterized was both otherworldly and heart wrenching The memory of this magical realm stayed with me for years and was just as captivating during a recent viewing.
City of Angels (1998)
This story about an Angel who risks everything for the woman he loves stars Meg Ryan and Nicholas Cage. The performances of the two principles are both soulful and nuanced.
This Steven Spielberg classic highlighted the theme of interconnection long before Babel, Crash, and Traffic and also demystified the concept of life on other planets. When I initially saw this film, I wondered if Spielberg was trying to prepare us for the possibility of some visitors! See it again with new eyes.
Cloud Atlas (2012)
( The last 4 digits of the URL are 1111, hmmmm. )
This was adapted from the book Cloud Atlas and features an ensemble cast whose multiple characters permeate each other’s orbits through time and space. It is a stunningly complex epic that left me enthralled long after the final credits. Incredible work by Halle Berry and Tom Hanks, supported by spectacular costumes, sets, and special effects.
Jodie Foster plays a lonely scientist who seeks out communication from the cosmos and meets a charismatic theologian in Matthew McConaughey along the way. David Morse’s performance as her father is noteworthy. Fabulous use of special effects adds to the appeal.
Defending Your Life ( 1991 )
This funny yet poignant story about the afterlife features Meryl Streep and Albert Brooks. Shirley MacLaine discusses reincarnation in a cameo role. The plot focuses on the impact of love and fear on one’s evolution. Wonder if the writers read A Course in Miracles ?
Groundhog Day ( 1993 )
Bill Murray does what he does best as he tries to win Andi MacDowell’s heart on Groundhog’s Day. After I watched the movie a few times, I was able to recognize the gradual soul development of Bill Murray’s character. There is more here than meets the eye.
Heaven Can Wait ( 1978 )
Warren Beatty is luminous as the football player who dies before his time in this remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan. His chemistry with Julie Christie here really makes the difference.
Made in Heaven ( 1987 )
This is another love story starring Timothy Hutton and Kelly McGillis. They meet in the afterlife and are forced to find each other again on Earth before Timothy Hutton’s character turns thirty. His real wife at the time , Debra Winger, plays God. Two souls head out on separate heroes’ journeys in order to have a chance to reunite. Watch for the surprise cameos along the way!
The Last Temptation of Christ ( 1988 )
I love Martin Scorsese so maybe I am a bit biased but I adored this over the top interpretation of the life of Christ based on the adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel . It is brilliantly acted by Willem Dafoe and thoughtfully depicts his inner struggle as he gradually comes to accept his divinity and ultimate fate.
The Sixth Sense ( 1999 )
One of Bruce Willis’s best performances and shot in Philly to boot! If you haven’t seen it yet, the ending will blow you away. I would consider this film a modern-day classic.
Sliding Doors ( 1998 )
This is a tale of parallel universes starring Gwyneth Paltrow as a young woman who makes different choices about her fate. It is a clever take on the road not traveled.
Somewhere in Time ( 1980 )
One of my favorites about reincarnation and time travel with Christopher Reeves and Jane Seymour. I especially liked Jane Seymour in this role as she seems to me to be from a previous era. Christopher Reeves also shows more dramatic range and magnetism that is less obvious in later roles. The story’s pace is nuanced yet compelling as you are transfixed by a stunning score, enchanting sets, and strong chemistry between the two leads. A truly romantic treasure.
Vanilla Sky ( 2001 )
Although I am not a Tom Cruise fan, I think he is fabulous as this cocky rich kid caught up in this trippy murder mystery. Penelope Cruz and Cameron Diaz are both excellent as the women in this enchanted love triangle. The ending was so incredible that I had to watch it over and over again to put the pieces together. Stunning visuals and great soundtrack by director Cameron Crowe’s ex-wife Nancy Wilson.
Waking Life ( 2001 )
Richard Linklater is one of my favorite filmmakers and it is very cool that he took on the topic of lucid dreaming. Yes it is very conversational, but this animated feature is thought-provoking and highly recommended for anyone interested in dream exploration.
What Dreams May Come ( 1998 )
This movie is an emotional roller coaster ride about suicide and the afterlife starring Robin Williams, Anabella Sciorra, and Cuba Gooding Jr. Using spectacular visuals based on Sciorra’s character’s paintings, you are taken on a journey of wonder, awe, and triumph. This is an intense story about tragedy and redemption.
What the Bleep Do We Know !? ( 2004 )
Quantum physics, basketball,a Polish wedding, and a woman’s transformation; this is the cosmic voyage of What the #$*! Do We (K)now!? ( or What the Bleep Do We Know!? ) This extraordinary film incorporates interviews with scientists and thought leaders into a scripted tale of a woman played by Marlee Matlin who is trying to get on with her life after a marital crisis. It was panned by some critics and applauded by others . I really am amazed that this film was able to get a distributor and reach as many people as it did. The DVD version can be programmed to shuffle the scenes randomly. This cult phenomenon has to be seen to be believed!!
Zardoz ( 1974 )
What would it be like if you could not die? Zardoz attempts to give you a perspective on eternal life on Earth. It is a somewhat cheesy take on The Wizard of Oz with a 1970’s mentality. I found the premise fascinating, despite its flaws.
Tell me about your favorite spiritual movies. What elements speak to you the most? :
Do you prefer sweeping cinematography, computer generated special effects, or an artfully crafted screenplay carefully translated onto the screen?
What role does the score and soundtrack play in your choices?
Classic black and white or strikingly vivid Technicolor?
Comedy, drama, documentary, fantasy, animated, sci-fi, , thriller, or mystery?
theatre image by https://commons.wikimedia.org