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FIRST-PERSON: Poignancy at the cineplex, 2003

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (BP)–As a film reviewer, I sit through about 200 movies a year. That’s a lot of Jujubees! Overall, this year was decidedly disappointing. Even when films were artistically rewarding (“Lost in Translation”) or attempted affirmative life lessons (“Big Fish”), there was so much negative content that I had to be careful that my readers didn’t misconstrue any praise as an endorsement.

However, I did come across a few films that contained something spiritually thought-provoking. Here are a few examples from this past year:

— “Together,” which deals with a widowed father who sacrifices everything in order to support his teenage son’s gifted musical abilities. The son can’t see the sacrifices made on his behalf by his father until the end. Beautifully filmed in the “Forbidden City” of China, full of humor, drama and insight, Together is a powerful morality tale with an ending that moved me to tears.

— “Levity.” As a teenager, Manual Jordan (Billy Bob Thornton) kills another teenager as he robs a convenience store. He spends the next 23 years in his prison cell, staring at the yellowing newspaper photo of his victim, desperately trying to understand the event that destroyed both their lives. When he is unexpectedly released into the world, he is haunted and lost. Wandering ghostlike through the neighborhood where he committed the crime, he answers a ringing payphone that was intended for someone else and finds a temporary home in a community center run by an enigmatic street preacher (Morgan Freeman). Although rated R for its emotional intensity and the obscenity sprinkled throughout, none of the content is of an exploitive nature. Levity is full of wounded people, all searching for inner healing. There is a great deal of symbolism and imagery that suggests Christ’s atonement, even if not intended by the filmmaker. (Am I saying, “See this R-rated movie”? No. I’m telling you that out of all the gratuitous violence and exploitive sexuality I’ve had to sit through, this film avoided exploitation and contained spiritually rewarding messages. While some churchgoers will avoid it due to the R rating, there’s a good chance that this film will stimulate nonbelievers to further a spiritual investigation).

— “The Guys.” In this powerfully moving and unexpectedly humorous film, a New York City journalist (Sigourney Weaver) is called on to help a fire captain (Anthony LaPaglia) write a series of eulogies for the men he lost in the twin towers on 9/11. The Guys points out that we have no idea what wonders are hidden in the people around us. It states without any reservation that we’re all connected, and that we have something to offer one another if we just open our eyes. When your life is diminished, so is mine. When it is uplifted, so too is mine. That’s not New Age or humanism, that’s Hebrews 10:25!

— “Radio.” Smartly written, reflective in its style and surprisingly witty, Radio reminds us cinephiles of why we keep going to movies — because select ones make us feel good. Mike Rich, author of “The Rookie,” tells the true story of a mentoring relationship between a high school football coach (Ed Harris) and Radio (Cuba Gooding Jr.), an illiterate, mentally challenged man who helped transform a small South Carolina town. The writer has dramatized powerful themes such as forgiving others who have mistreated you, giving out of your need, self-sacrifice, making churchgoing a part of your life, learning from your mistakes, and loving your enemy. Not a film designed to proselytize, but like “A Walk To Remember,” Radio features people whose faith is an understood part of their daily lives. At one point, the coach takes Radio to a black Baptist church. As we see them exiting the building, it is obvious that Radio has enjoyed the service and that churchgoing will become a routine. No more is made of it, but what a remarkable visual from a Hollywood film — seeing movie people taking time to reverence God.

— “Luther,” a compelling look at Martin Luther, the 16th-century Christian reformer and one of the most important figures in Western civilization. The filmmakers have interwoven a clear presentation of the Gospel in this suspense-filled epic. While it is a movie, therefore subject to dramatizing and maybe even occasionally elongating the facts, Luther reminds viewers of the importance of the Reformation — it took sole interpretation away from one religious figurehead and put the written Word into the hands of the people.

For a complete list of Phil Boatwright’s favorite films of 2003, which also contains the reason for the ratings, e-mail him at [email protected]. Phil Boatwright is the editor and film reviewer for The Movie Reporter, a monthly film guide from a Christian perspective. For further information visit his website, www.moviereporter.com.

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  • Phil Boatwright