Another Easter season comes and goes without a single offering from mainstream Hollywood to attract oh, say, a billion or so believers into theatres. We're not political,
they say. We're not agenda-driven,
they say. Our choices are based on profit,
they say. We have to appeal to an international audience,
"The Pink Panther" sequel no one asked for we get, but where's, "The Passion II: Acts of the Apostles?" --and anyone familiar with the Bible knows I'm not joking.
Once again Hollywood steps over dollars to make pennies on "Observe and Report
" and we're forced to return to a more tolerant Hollywood on DVD. Congratulate me, tomorrow I celebrate my first year as a Roman Catholic and here are my five favorites over this Holy Week.
1. The Ten Commandments (1956)
- At 220 minutes, this magnificent piece of epic storytelling that will outlive every elitist snob who tries to smear it as camp, feels like 90, thanks mainly to Charlton Heston's performance as Moses, which is bold with sincerity. Not to be forgotten is Yul Brynner as the bewildered and prideful Rameses whose masculinity and regal bearing manages to convince us that God Himself has a worthy adversary. For as long as there's a civilization, people will watch Cecil B. DeMille's sweeping story of Moses leading the first people God made His own out of slavery.
2. Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
- Franco Zeffirelli's loving, detailed and faithful telling of the life of Christ from Bethlehem to Resurrection is more than just a translation of the Gospels (mainly Matthew, Mark and Luke), it's an enormously impressive piece of filmmaking in its realism and ability to capture your attention for over six hours. I'd like to think the historical Jesus was more accessible than Robert Powell's reverent portrayal, but offered up in two or three-hour chunks, this well-acted and beautifully scored television film featuring Michael York, Laurence Olivier, Anne Bancroft, Anthony Quinn, James Earl Jones, Tony Lo Bianco, James Mason and many others, is a perfect cinematic way to introduce the Son of Man to your children.
3. The Passion of the Christ (2004)
- Were this a Good Friday list, Mel Gibson's masterpiece would hold all five slots. For believers looking to better understand Christ's suffering on our behalf, there's no other emotional experience on film that even comes close. So powerful is Gibson's story of Gethsemane to Golgotha that untold non-believers can't help but rage against it at every opportunity. So many factors contribute to the experience, including the use of Latin and Aramaic, but not to be overlooked are the perfect casting choices made from top to bottom, including Maia Morgenstern
as Mary, Monica Bellucci
as Magdalen, Hristo Shopov
as Pilate, Rosalinda Celentano
unforgettable as Satan, but especially James Caviezel
, who infuses Jesus with an accessible warmth and humanity in just a few flashbacks. Caviezel's Sermon on the Mount and playful scenes with Mary are every bit as memorable and emotionally affecting as the Passion, but critics never mention those.
4. The Robe (1953)
- The fictional story of Marcellus Gallio (Richard Burton), the Roman centurian who wins Christ's robe after overseeing the crucifixion. After the robe begins to torment him with nightmares, Marcellus sets out to learn more about this "nobody" he saw executed and in the process is changed forever and wins the love of Jean Simmons (you could do worse). This big budget spectacle, the first filmed in glorious widescreen CinemaScope (to combat the rising popularity of television), may drag in spots but is rich in theme and spirit. Epics are at their best when telling small, human stories against big backdrops. "The Robe" is not a perfect film, but adjusted for inflation it remains one of the biggest money-makers in history, and it was more than CinemaScope that kept them coming back.
5. Easter Parade (1948)
- Nothing wrong with a little secular fun on this glorious day, and most of that fun comes from watching Ann Miller, in just a few scenes, nearly steal the movie out from under Fred and Judy. Innocent, delightful, magnificent entertainment set to Irving Berlin's score and luscious Technicolor.
Some have questioned my choice of "Easter Parade," so let me explain: Art and artists are one of God's great blessings and artistry reached a peak at the height of the MGM musical when story, photography, music, dance, performance, design, song, and choreography came together like never before, and probably never again. This was art designed to ennoble the human spirit and transcend differences. It may not be religious or even spiritual, but it is good.