We close out our Plugged In Movie Awards nominations with our picks for best Christian movie, and man, what a tough year it was. Faith-based films have never been better, and Hollywood made it extra tricky to decide even what, exactly, constituted a Christian movie. Could Martin Scorsese’s Silence or Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, both deeply religious but unquestionably problematic movies, qualify? On the flip side, more traditional Christian movies often didn’t feel very traditional at all, what with makers enlisting top-flight talent and seemingly more willing to take artistic and narrative chances.
Yes, it was super difficult to pick our top five contenders this year. But hey, that’s a nice problem to have. I hope we’ll always have such a stacked field. Check out our choices and vote for your favorite, either here or on our Facebook page. We’ll let you know the winners—both yours and ours—on Feb. 24.
Ben-Hur: More than a few eyebrows went up when Mark Burnett and Roma Downey announced that they were producing a new version of this timeless, epic tale. Why remake a movie that, in its last iteration in 1959, won 11 Academy Awards? For one thing, this newest Ben-Hur gives Jesus a more central, visible role here, allowing Him to preach His message of love and grace. (Jesus’ face was never shown in the 1959 version.) Judah Ben-Hur’s bitter rivalry with Messala takes a more poignant turn as well, suggesting that even the most fallen among us can be forgiven and saved. The Christian messages have always been present in Ben-Hur’s various iterations, but here they’re overt and unmistakable. And a special “Christian” version of the movie, out on DVD, emphasizes those messages all the more. And let’s not forget one more important point: Ben-Hur is always a fun, thrilling movie to watch—from its spectacular sea battles to the classic chariot race—and the action sequences in the new version don’t take a back seat to anything that’s come before.
I’m Not Ashamed: April 20, 1999, was a dark day. That morning, two young men walked into Columbine High School and killed 12 students and one teacher before taking their own lives. One of those was Rachel Joy Scott, a remarkable young woman whose embrace of her Christian faith had been anything but easy, a zig-zagging path recorded in angst-filled journals discovered after her death. As I wrote in my review of the film, “I’m Not Ashamed tells Rachel’s story, a narrative that’s informed by her journal entries. But it’s not, for the most part, a story about her death (though the film does chronicle her final brave moments). Instead, it’s about her life, the life of a normal teen grappling with young love and peer pressure, obedience and recklessness, faith and family. Rachel’s story is one of fortitude and frailty, bravery and fear.”
Miracles From Heaven: Lots of kids get sick. Then they get better. And that’s exactly what happened to Annabel Beam. But just how did it happen? The vaunted theoretical physicist Albert Einstein once said, “There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” This film is the Beam family’s true story … of everything being a miracle. It can be difficult to turn stories of faith into good movies. Our spiritual relationship with and belief in God are precious, ethereal things. So Miracles From Heaven doesn’t try so much to drive the concept of faith home, as it does simply to deliver a well-acted, well-directed and earnest movie—one with a gentle grace that even those hesitant to believe will understand and appreciate.
Risen: Pontius Pilate isn’t taking any chances. After crucifying the man who claimed to be the Messiah, Pilate assigns a Roman tribune named Clavius to make sure Jesus’ body stays where it belongs: in the grave. It doesn’t, of course. Which means Clavius, a hard-bitten but intellectually honest soldier, must figure out what happened to it. The conclusion he reaches in this imaginative, sometimes brutally violent first-century whodunit isn’t the one he expected. Why? Because ultimately he’s forced to conclude that the man who said he would rise from the dead has done exactly that. Boy, is Pilate ever going to be upset …
The Young Messiah: Have you ever wondered what Jesus might have been like as a boy? Novelist Anne Rice did, penning the speculative novel Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt during her return to Catholicism in 2005. The Young Messiah brings that story to the screen. It definitely takes dramatic license imagining what Jesus might have been like when he was 7 years old. He works miracles he doesn’t understand; Joseph and Mary disagree about when to tell him who he really is. Still, the story never wanders into blatantly heretical territory, even as it gives us a glimpse of the violent, volatile times Jesus grew up in. He—and we—get a firsthand look at Rome’s brutal, bloody oppression. But the story of his perilous return to Judea also prompts us to ponder once more the need for a Savior in such a broken, battered world.
Movie synopses by Paul Asay, Adam Holz and Bob Hoose.