AT THE MOVIES: The best movie ever made

by Phil Boatwright, posted Thursday, December 18, 2014 (4 years ago)

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP) -- What's the best movie ever made? A subjective question, if ever there was one. That's the magic of movies: some folks will enjoy a film that may seem an endurance test for others.

While "Casablanca," "Citizen Kane" or "Lawrence of Arabia" may be prime examples of technical and artistic innovators, I challenge you to suggest a more important message than that found in "It's A Wonderful Life."

In this film about an angel sent to Earth to rescue a man on the brink of suicide, James Stewart's George Bailey is given the opportunity to see what his community would have been like had he never been born. Director Frank Capra reminds us that our compassion and responsibility make a difference in the lives of those with whom we come in contact.

The things we say and do affect the lives of others. Hard to top that concept. Well, what about the movies that tell of Jesus, you ask? Good question. You are astute.

I can recall countless moments in "Jesus movies" that have touched, taught and inspired me. "The Passion of The Christ," for example, dynamically reenacts the physical horrors Christ endured. The movie is not really about what mankind did to Him, but about what He did for us.

But I would submit that It's A Wonderful Life shows Christ's teachings being put into action by a Believer.

I concede that there is no scene showing George hearing the Gospel and responding to it, so I'm making an assumption. That's another magic of the medium: the best movies let us project our sensibilities onto a film's theme. But when you analyze the consistency of George's caring nature that puts others first, is it really difficult to see him as a man of faith?

Some may not consider my film choice worthy of the title "Best Film" due to my least favorite element in the story -- the goofy angel. Clarence is good for a couple of laughs, but what impresses me with each viewing is the nature of the protagonist.

George is a real person, one with faults and foibles as well as nobility. We're allowed to see him struggle with frustration ("Why do we have to have all these kids!"). He's not a saint, but neither is he the average guy.

George is a complex fellow. While he dreams of adventures, again and again, he sets aside what he wants in order to serve other people. Something has impacted him throughout his life, some element that causes him to continually see the value in others. What makes a man do that even during the depth of self-despair?

Even during a clouded moment when he considers the proposition that he's worth more dead than alive, he abandons his suicidal choice to rescue a drowning stranger. Suddenly, his convictions remind him of life's sanctity.

I like to think of this as an example of how Christ has affected George. Yeah, I'm projecting, but it does add up. Something very spiritual is going on in this guy.

These are other prime contenders for the best film of all time.

The Oscar winning "All About Eve" has sophisticated dialogue unlike any other. "The Tree of Life" is a visual and viscerally emotional feast, with its exquisite imagery used to make profound statements. "Dr. Strangelove" is perhaps the best example of comic point-making satire. And each new "Star Wars" entry wows with special effects.

But the greatest aspect of any film is that which explores the soul of man. Without any sermons or altar calls, It's a Wonderful Life reveals how God's love transforms and sustains. For me, that makes it the best film of all time.

In addition to writing for Baptist Press, Phil Boatwright reviews films for www.previewonline.org and is a regular contributor to "The World and Everything In It," a weekly radio program from WORLD News Group. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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