Thursday, April 21, 2011

10 FAVORITES (30) - Movies Get Biblical!

We are almost at the end of April and Easter is finally fast approaching (April 24th is the latest the holiday can be!).  This particular holiday can be just a tad controversial for some and cause the political correctness scale to go a little haywire.  But I shall brave the controversy and the political correctness to talk about movies.  In particular, movies that have drawn their source from quite possibly the most influential book in all of Western Culture.  But, since I couldn't get my hands on a copy of Snooki's book, we'll have to talk about the Bible.

The stories from the Bible have been some of the most difficult to depict on film.  Some films have gotten overly preachy (King of Kings), some get too ambitious for their own good (John Huston's massive flop The Bible) and some go too far in their dramatic interpretation (Samson and Delilah).  There have been few films that have that happy medium between knowing what they are (i.e. what genre they are!), knowing what they are based on (The Bible!) and knowing how to best serve their audience (who are really only looking for entertainment when they go to the movies!).  So this week's 10 FAVORITES are:


The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Mel Gibson's controversial and graphic interpretation of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is one of the most poignant of the Bible films (and the most successful!).  I must admit that I avoided this movie for the longest time (pretty much because of the controversy surrounding it). But once I saw it, I discovered what there is to appreciate about it.  It's not the absolute best, but it is worth watching (especially around Easter time!).

The Ten Commandments (1956)
Talk about another must-watch! This film is the It's a Wonderful Life of Easter time (even though it's about Moses, not Jesus!).  And there is much to appreciate about it, especially considering what master filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille was able to accomplish in 1956.  The parting of the Red Sea scene is particularly fascinating.

King David (1985)
This film is little known and it does get a little overly dramatic, especially in Richard Gere's performance as the title character.  But it is nice to see a Biblical movie that doesn't involve Moses, Jesus or Noah!

Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)
The first of three musicals to appear on this list, this too also gets a little uber-dramatic in its interpretation, but it IS a musical (and a musical in the rock opera sense!).  Once you accept the genre you are in, you can thoroughly enjoy the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice score and the rockin' performances coming from Ted Neeley (in the title role), Yvonne Elliman (repeating her Tony-nominated performance as Mary Magdalene) and the late Carl Anderson (who was absolutely phenomenal as Judas).

The Prince of Egypt (1998)
Dreamworks wanted to prove they could do the animated musical as well as Disney and, in order to do that, they got Biblical! This film is quite enjoyable each time I see it, especially because of the songs by Oscar-winner Stephen Schwartz (Wicked).

Ben-Hur (1959)
Okay, technically it is not a Bible film, but it does incorporate Jesus' story with that of Ben-Hur's.  And the film is constantly pointed to as part of the "Biblical" genre.  Like DeMille's Ten Commandments (which also starred Charlton Heston), William Wyler's massive epic is quite stunning (especially the groundbreaking and thrilling Chariot race!).  It was the first film to garner 11 Academy Awards, a record that took almost 40 years to be tied (by Titanic in 1998).

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
Before Mel Gibson tampered with controversy and Christ, there was Marty.  Martin Scorsese, who is quite possibly one of the greatest film directors of all-time, played with fire and directed a dramatic look at Jesus' inner struggle.  When it comes to storytelling, no one does it like Scorsese and this film is among his best.  It features jarring imagery and stellar performances from Willem Dafoe (as Christ), Barbara Heshey (as Mary Magdalene), Harvey Keitel (as Judas) and (in the role of Pontius Pilate) David Bowie!

Godspell (1973)
This one is like a mix of the previous two musicals: The story of Jesus with the songs of Stephen Schwartz!  Honestly, Schwartz' score is the major reason I love this film, but the movie does make great use of its New York scenery (especially the World Trade Center) and delightfully fits into the Biblical film genre.

The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)
Of all the Biblical epics (Ben-Hur, Ten Commandments, etc.), this one is truly the best and filled with an all-star cast.  George Stevens (who helmed legendary films like Giant and The Diary of Anne Frank) gives his audience a picturesque and dramatic narrative.  And the performances (led by Max Von Sydow's amazing performance as Jesus) are first rate.

Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)
Okay, once again, people may think I'm cheating but I just love this film! And if Ben-Hur counts, then so does this one! There's not much I can say about this film that I haven't said already on this blog.  Everything about it makes me smile, especially the final song.

As I may have just angered a lot of people with my #1 choice, I will sign off now.  But I do hope my regular readers come back next week as we talk British royalty (in honor of Prince William's upcoming nuptials!).  In the meantime, enjoy your Easter holiday!  (And if you don't celebrate Easter, have a great weekend!)

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