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favorite classic films

10 of my Favorite Classic Films

classic film


On Friday, I posted a list of movies I’ve seen—some I liked, some that made me cry. All of those, though, were from the last 25 years or so. Today’s list is of classic films from the 20th century. No particular order here--just as they came to mind.

  1. Lilies of the Field (1963) You’ll notice pretty quickly that I’m a sucker for Sidney Poitier. This movie, though, is my favorite classic film. There’s religion, injustice, redemption, conflict, resolution, AND gospel music. Oh yeah. It’s that good.
  2. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) Sidney Poitier again, this time with Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn. Made just three years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, this was a ground breaking film in its day. See it for that reason, or just see it because you get to see these three Hollywood phenoms on one screen. A real treat.
  3. Heat of the Night (1967) Sidney Poitier was busy in 1967. This film portrays him as Officer Virgil Tibbs who, after being wrongly accused, helps to solve a difficult murder investigation. (An African American man, arrested for no reason; the more things change . . ..) Plot twists and turns make this one a must see.
  4. 12 Angry Men (1957) Henry Fonda stars in this classic that follows the process of a jury deciding a murder case. With the budget of today’s movies being in the billions, it’s hard to imagine that this low-tech movie could hold a viewer’s attention. Give it a try. And prepare to be caught up in the drama of 12 people deciding the fate of one young man. I found it intriguing and compelling.
  5. Harvey (1950) James Stewart plays Elwood P. Dodd, a grown man whose best friend is a pooka in the form of a six-foot tall invisible rabbit. It’s fantastically clever and hilariously funny. Plus, Josephine Hull who plays Dodd’s sister Veta Louise, is magnificent, so much so that she won an Academy Award for Supporting Actress in 1951. I can watch it over and over again. And then watch it again.
  6. Classic FilmsBreakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) I love Audrey Hepburn’s quirky character Holly Golightly in this romantic comedy/drama. Familiar faces pop up throughout the film: Patricia Neal, Buddy Ebsen, and John McGiver for example. This one is a real gem.
  7. Sound of Music (1965) Julie Andrews. “Do Re Mi.” Austria. If you don’t like this one, you should, so just keep watching it until you do.
  8. Wizard of Oz (1939) Seriously though: 1939! When you watch this classic, keep that in mind. Every special effect you see was done the old fashioned way: slowly and deliberately with simple equipment and creative ingenuity. Be amazed.
  9. Mary Poppins (1964) This is another one you should see for the shear history of the thing. It received 13 Academy Award Nominations and won five. While it wasn’t the first in which Disney mixed live action and animation, it was early in the process. The technical precision is brilliant. Plus Dick Van Dyke dances with penguins. So there you go.
  10. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) Another Dick Van Dyke musical, this movie opened to mixed reviews, but wound up 10th in earnings at the box office that year. Not sure what I’d think of it today, but as a child, I thought it was delightful.

What are your favorite classic films? Your favorite classic actors? Comment below to share your thoughts.

20 Movies

20 Movies I've Watched

Planning to watch a movie this weekend? Need some help sorting through your Netflix, Amazon Prime, and On Demand options? As luck would have it, I have an opinion or two on this very topic. Here you go.

8 Movies that Made Me Cry

  1. Driving Ms. Daisy (1989): The scene in the nursing home when he feeds her? Gets me every time.
  2. Nell (1994): Saw it once. Will let you know when I stop crying. The scene with the shrine? Yeah. That one.
  3. On Golden Pond (1981): An older couple growing old together. What’s not to cry about here?
  4. Steel Magnolias (1989): One of the funniest movies ever. But then there’s the whole “I’d rather have 30 minutes of wonderful . . .” Have mercy.
  5. Spirit (2002): It gets to me.
  6. Terms of Endearment (1983): Don’t watch it. Too sad. Way.
  7. Toy Story 3 (2010): Boy grows up, moves, gives toys away. Makes me tear up just writing that.
  8. Up (2009): Sure, it ends well. But within the first five minutes I was sobbing. Took me half the movie to get it together.

12 Romantic Comedies that Made Me Say, "Awwwww . . ."

  1. 50 First Dates (2004): My favorite romantic comedy of all time. The premise is that Adam Sandler’s character has to get Drew Barrymore’s character to fall in love with him every single day. What woman wouldn’t love that? It’s adorable.
  2. About Time (2013): This one is a fantasy/romantic comedy which is typically not my fave. But this movie is absolutely dear. Don’t miss it.
  3. Fever Pitch (2005): I really like Drew Barrymore. And Fallon is hilarious. Loved it.
  4. Guess Who (2005): Love this twist on the classic. Plus Bernie Mac.
  5. Hitch (2005): Will Smith and Kevin James seem like an odd pairing. Watch it for the dancing if nothing else. Kevin James nails it.
  6. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003): Kate Hudson is comic genius in this one. The plant. The dog. The whole shtick made me laugh.
  7. Legally Blond (2001): She plays a caricature, but Reese Witherspoon does it perfectly.
  8. Miss Congeniality (2000): Yeah, the water glasses talent? The only person who could pull that off is Sandra Bullock.
  9. My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002): We quote it regularly around here. This one--“You no eat meat? You NO eat MEAT? Is okay. I make lamb”—and many more.
  10. Something’s Got to Give (2003): Diane Keaton. Jack Nicholson. What more do you need?
  11. Sweet Home Alabama (2002): The South rises again. And it’s classic.
  12. Two Weeks Notice (2002): Sandra Bullock never disappoints, but in this one with Hugh Grant she is at her finest.

What are some of your favorites? Comment below to share your thoughts.


6 Movies That Say Something About God*

Movies and God“For this assignment,” Dr. Danny West said, “I want you to watch a movie and then write a reflection on what that movie says theologically.”

It was one of my first assignments for my Introduction to Preaching class at Gardner-Webb University Divinity School. Ever since then, I’ve been watching movies with that idea in mind. I’m amazed by how often I see theological themes in theater. You should try it! In fact, to get you started, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite examples.

So get some popcorn, sit back, and listen to the testimony of these six films. (Spoiler Alert: if you haven’t watched these awesome movies, first slap yourself, then get to it. You can finish this after you’ve caught up. If you choose to read on anyway, be forewarned: spoilers abound.)

God Restores. Places in the Heart (1984). This classic starring Sally Field tells the story of a young widow trying to make a way for herself and her children in 1930’s America. Field’s character and her community experience all kinds of loss and disconnection, but the movie ends with everyone together in church, celebrating The Lord’s Supper. The choir is singing “This is my story, this is my song; Praising my Savior, all the day long . . .” as the communion elements are passed from person to person and pew to pew. In this scene, we at first see the main characters interacting with each other, but as the Eucharist moves through the congregation, we notice unexpected participants. There’s the boy who died, and the man who killed him; there’s the widow’s husband (supernaturally alive and well), and her farm hand who has recently and permanently left the area. For a moment it’s confusing. But then you realize: it’s a glimpse of the Kingdom. As the congregation comes together at the Lord ’s Table, sinners join with saints, humanity joins with divine, and restoration—if only for a moment—is complete.

God Redeems. Steel Magnolias (1989). Aside from being chocked full of timely and hilarious one-liners, this movie delivers a message of redemption that brings to mind the Gospel promise of salvation. The story takes place mainly in a southern beauty shop. There, good friends face life’s travails—from graying hair to infidelity. In the midst of the mundane, we find Shelby (Julia Roberts), a diabetic whose life is endangered when she becomes pregnant. Her mother M’Lynn (Sally Field), is all but paralyzed by fear and dread. Shelby’s slow decline is heartbreaking and painful. We all hurt with M’Lynn; no parent should have to bury a child. But in the midst of the unimaginable, there is joy in the form of a little boy: Jack, Shelby’s son, M’Lynn’s grandson. When hope seems lost, mercy toddles in with fresh giggles and new life. (Can I get an “Amen?”)

God’s Family Crosses Boundaries. Remember the Titans (2000). Based on a true story, this film set in Northern Virginia in 1971, recalls racial tension in a newly integrated high school football team. Central to the story is the relationship between black defensive end Julius Campbell and white linebacker Gerry Bertier. The film portrays the early days of their relationship as cautious and hostile. As the story unfolds though, they become so close that when Gerry is in a near fatal car crash, he only wants to see one person: Julius. When Julius steps into Gerry’s hospital room, the nurse says to him, “Sorry, only kin’s allowed in here.” Gerry responds, “Are you blind? Don’t you see the family resemblance? That’s my brother.” That’s family; that’s Love—the agapé kind.

God Transforms. Gran Torino (2008). If ever a character has been set in his ways, it is Walt Kowalski. A retired auto worker and decorated Korean War vet who recently has been widowed, Walt has his way of doing things. Routines—orderly routines—keep Walt focused and in control. He takes care of himself. He takes care of his dog. And he doesn’t bother people. He has a few friends; he doesn’t need any new ones. Walt is concretely set in his ways and has no intention of changing. Love has another plan; it sneaks into his life by way of a most unexpected source, and persists, unyielding and determined. That love—it’s like the Hound of Heaven—pursues Walt Kowalski past prejudice and obstinacy, beyond rejection and denial. And Love—as Love always does—wins.

God Calls Imperfect People. How to Train Your Dragon (2010). The movie opens with “This is Berk. It's twelve days north of Hopeless and a few degrees south of Freezing to Death. It's located solidly on the Meridian of Misery.” In addition to its unfortunate location, the island of Berk is plagued by a terrible nuisance: Dragons! The dragons steal food from Berk and terrorize the villagers. Here in Berk, we meet a young Viking boy named, of all things, “Hiccup.” Hiccup comes from a long line of great and fierce Viking leaders, but he is still just a boy and not at all ready to be a full-fledged dragon-killing Viking. Nevertheless, Hiccup finds himself in charge of an effort to save his village. He’s the most unlikely candidate for the task, but he’s the one chosen. Because he’s willing to answer the call despite his own insecurities, Hiccup does the impossible. Like Moses did. And David. And Paul.

Godly Community Makes Life Easier. Toy Story 3 (2010). This third installment of the Toy Story Trilogy completes the story of Andy and his toys. Andy is now all grown up and headed to college with no need for childhood playthings. Facing uncertainty, the toys fight to stay together and to find a sense of purpose. Despite their efforts, friends Buzz Lightyear, Woody, and the rest wind up on a conveyer belt headed towards an incinerator. There’s no way out, no hope. As they move slowly and unavoidably towards the fiery furnace and certain death, they reach out to each other. One by one, they clasp hands. The fire rages on. But once they are all connected, something miraculous happens. In their connection, they find peace despite their circumstances. That’s church, my friends; that’s church as Christ intended.

Before that divinity school assignment, I’d never given any thought to God speaking to me through movies. Now that I’m listening, I hear God’s voice nearly every time I watch Netflix™ or go to the cinema. How about you? What movies have you watched lately that delivered not just entertainment, but the abiding truths of God?

 *This piece was first published on February 9, 2015, by Baptist News Global (formerly Associated Baptist Press). I’m delighted to be associated with this great organization and am honored to be among the gifted writers and thinkers featured there. Watch for my BNG column, appearing on the second Monday of each month at baptistnews.com.

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