2008 Beliefnet Film Awards

Every year, Beliefnet holds its own “Oscars”—the Beliefnet Film Awards—to recognize the “the highest-quality films that deal with spirituality, faith, and meaning.” There are only three categories: best spiritual film, best spiritual performance, and best spiritual documentary.

Before I discuss the nominees, a quick gripe: Enough with the cultural infatuation with “spirituality.” I was appalled recently when Jim Wallis was on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Wallis said that the younger generation is fed up with old-time conservative religion (true) and so they are embracing a new spirituality. He said this approvingly to Stewart as a mark of how younger people are getting it right where their parents got it wrong. Nein! Whether or not Wallis is right that “spirituality” is the proper nomenclature for contemporary evangelicalism is beside the point. But by no means should it be spoken of in approving terms. The infatuation with “spirituality” is precisely what is wrong with religion in the West today: it is individualistic, pietistic, quasi-mystical, anti-theological, and most importantly, anti-confessional. Beliefnet, sadly, epitomizes this new religious consciousness.

That said, here are the nominees for the 2008 Beliefnet Film Awards:

Best Spiritual Film:
Amazing Grace
Atonement
Away From Her
Juno
The Kite Runner

Best Spiritual Performance:
Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild)
Angelina Jolie (A Mighty Heart)
Ellen Page (Juno)
Julie Christie (Away From Her)
Will Smith (I Am Legend)

Best Spiritual Documentary:
Into Great Silence
For the Bible Tells Me So
Nanking
War/Dance
What Would Jesus Buy?

Apart from the documentaries, this list smacks of something that the editors put together based on what films they had personally seen this past year. I will grant that Amazing Grace and The Kite Runner probably belong on the list of “best spiritual films.” But Juno? Like most Americans, I enjoyed the film. It was charming, sweet, and meaningful—but spiritual? I realize the message of family and relationships is strong, but for all its sweetness, Juno is still rather shallow. And the writing is mixed—strong at times and quite weak at others. For a film that deals with some of the same themes but, I think, more profoundly, I would submit Ratatouille.

Next, Atonement? This is certainly a good movie (and a much better novel), but simply using a theologically loaded word as a title does not make a film qualify as “spiritual.” Again, there are important themes in this film that deserve to be recognized, but not at the expense of more deserving films.

Without question, the best film on their list is Away From Her. This movie belongs among the very best films of this decade, and I am glad to see it recognized here. But there is one conspicuous omission from this list which is simply inexcusable—namely, There Will Be Blood. There is no better film of 2007, both in general and in this particular category of “spiritual” film. Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest masterpiece is a deeply “spiritual” exploration of greed, pride, family, capitalism, and American religion. A more deserving film has perhaps never been made. I expect to see a lot of attention given to this film by the growing field of “theology and film” scholars. To leave it off this BFA list makes the whole thing a sham. Better luck next year, hopefully.

Comments

Troy Polidori said…
I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of There Will be Blood. I wrote a review of it a while back at my blog here.
R.O. Flyer said…
What the hell!?! Man, I am out of it. P.T. has a new film!? He is the best there is. Turns out I do live in a cave. Hanging out with Thomists all day will do this to you.