Call it the Vatican’s guide to the greatest movies of all time.
“Ben-Hur” made the list. “The Ten Commandments” didn’t. “Gandhi,” “The Bicycle Thief” and the “Wizard of Oz” all made the cut. But not “Casablanca” or any film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jean Claude Van Damme.
In a document marking the centennial of film, a Vatican committee has selected 45 movies--from Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” to Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal"--that represent the best film has to offer from the church’s perspective.
For those who view religious groups as unrelenting critics of Hollywood, there are a few surprises.
For example, the movies the Vatican gives two thumbs up to include a number of films that take a critical look at religion, including Roland Joffe’s “The Mission,” Luis Bunuel’s atheistic satire “Nazarin” and the R-rated “Schindler’s List,” in which nudity and violence are integral to depicting the horrors of the Holocaust.
For pure enjoyment, the faithful are advised to scour their video stores for films ranging from “It’s a Wonderful Life” to “The Lavender Hill Mob.”
The Vatican list--modestly titled “Some Important Films"--was compiled as part of a larger effort during the 100th anniversary of filmmaking to encourage the faithful to be discriminating viewers of movies, according to Archbishop John Foley, head of the Pontifical Council on Social Communications.
In the United States, the Catholic Communication Campaign last fall launched an 800 telephone line of movie reviews to assist people in choosing movies and videos for their families. The church’s Office for Film and Broadcasting reviews current movies for the line, which logged 100,000 calls in its first four months.
To give some examples of good films, Foley and about a dozen experts on film, including movie librarians and academics, compiled the list.
“It was not an attempt to canonize films, but it was an attempt to indicate what some good films are,” Foley said.
The Vatican committee divided the films into three categories: religion, values and art. What the church is trying to do is to help people become critical rather than passive consumers of movies, Foley said.
Important films on religion, according to the Vatican list, included such familiar pictures as “Ben-Hur” and “A Man for All Seasons,” the story of Thomas More.
Not all the movies selected presented flattering portraits of Catholics and members of the church hierarchy. In “Nazarin,” hypocritical church members dump their priest for trying to live up to his faith by aiding a prostitute. In “The Mission,” heroic missionaries in Brazil are undermined by a cynical church leader.
In the category of films that invite reflections on spiritual values, the committee selected works ranging from “Chariots of Fire,” the story of two runners in the 1924 Olympics, to “Schindler’s List,” about the effort of one man to save hundreds of Jews from the Holocaust.
Other popular films on the list included Elia Kazan’s “On the Waterfront.”
The third category is for movies “which are, simply, masterpieces of cinematic language and art.”
These include films such as Walt Disney’s “Fantasia,” Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” John Ford’s “Stagecoach” and “Wizard of Oz.”
It all goes to show, said Foley, that excellent films can be made without pandering to violent or pornographic interests.
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The Vatican’s Top 45
The Vatican’s list of best movies, in three categories:
La Passion de Jeanne
La Passion Pathe
Francesco, Giullare di Dio
Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo
A Man for All Seasons
Au Revoir les Enfants
L’Albero Degli Zoccoli
Roma Citta’ Aperta
Det Sjunde Inselglet
Chariots of Fire
Ladri di Biciclette
It’s a Wonderful Life
On the Waterfront
Biruma No Tategoto
2001: A Space Odyssey
Otto e Mezzo
La Grande Illusion
Wizard of Oz
The Lavender Hill Mob