Even though the Oscars are over I’ve had movies on my mind and this led me to an unlikely source for film reviews. Certainly not as well-known as Ebert and Roper or as infamous as the web’s Rotten Tomatoes, a pontifical commission was established in 1995 by Pope John Paul II to  select  “worthwhile productions” during the first hundred years of modern cinema.  It seemed John Paul II was a film buff and wanted to acknowledge the contributions of the industry on their centenary celebration.  This social conscious Pope felt that movies where a “universal medium with a profound influence on the development of people’s attitudes and choices”.

I’m not sure if Pope John Paul II would have considered this to be a catalog of his favorite movies but he did consider them important enough to include in what would come to be called the Vatican Film List, 45 chosen films selected by a committee of twelve international movie scholars appointed by the head of the pontifical commission. The list was made up of 3 categories: Art, Religion and Values with 15 films in each of the categories. Some are well known favorites like the Wizard of Oz, others are more esoteric. They run the gamut from a wide screen Western (Stagecoach)  and a family classic (Little Women) to a Disney animated film (Fantasia) and a space odyssey ( 2001: A Space Odyssey).

As in any list, the selections merit attention according to the people who compile the list and you may not agree with all the choices. I certainly didn’t but I did find some interesting films I may never have known about.  Also the list was complied with the sensibility and norms of the 1990’s and we may well wonder what might have been included today. There was no imprimatur or ecclesiastical approval attached to the list, no thumbs up or thumbs down, no icons of rotten or fresh tomatoes, no stars, percentages or numbered order, no hint of papal infallibility only the word “important”.  Which means it is up to you decide if these are films of value. You be the critic.

The list for the 100th Anniversary of Cinema Pontifical Council for Social Communications 1995

Andrei Rublev * Andrei Tarkowsky (1969, USSR)

The Mission * Roland Joffé (1986, UK)

La passion de Jeanne d’Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc) * Carl T. Dreyer (1928, France)

La vie et la passion de Jésus Christ (Life and Passion of Christ) * Ferdinand Zecca and Lucien Nonguet (1905, France Identified on the Vatican film list as La Passion Pathé

Francesco, giullare di Dio (The Flowers of St. Francis / Francis, God’s Jester) * Roberto Rossellini (1950, Italy)

Il vangelo secondo Matteo (The Gospel According to Matthew) * Pier Paolo Pasolini (1964, France/Italy)

Thérèse * Alain Cavalier (1986, France)

Ordet (The Word) * Carl T. Dreyer (1955, Denmark)

Offret — Sacrificatio (The Sacrifice) * Andrei Tarkowsky (1986, Sweden/UK/France)

Francesco * Liliana Cavani (1989, Italy/Germany)

Ben-Hur [A Tale of the Christ] * William Wyler (1959, USA)

Babettes gæstebud (Babette’s Feast) * Gabriel Axel (1987, Denmark)

Nazarín * Luis Buñuel (1958, Mexico)

Monsieur Vincent * Maurice Cloche (1947, France)

A Man for All Seasons * Fred Zinnemann (1966, UK)

Gandhi * Richard Attenborough (1982, UK/USA/India)

Intolerance * D. W. Griffith (1916, USA)

Dekalog (The Decalogue) * Krzysztof Kieslowski (1987, Poland) Identified on the Vatican film list as Il Decalogo

Au Revoir, Les Enfants (Goodbye, Children) * Louis Malle (1987, France)

Dersu Uzala * Akira Kurosawa (1974, Japan)

L’albero degli zoccoli (The Tree of the Wooden Clogs) * Ermanno Olmi (1978, Italy/France)

Roma, città aperta (Open City) * Roberto Rossellini (1946, Italy)

Smultronstället (Wild Strawberries) * Ingmar Bergman (1957, Sweden)

Det sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal) * Ingmar Bergman (1957, Sweden)

Chariots of Fire * Hugh Hudson (1981, UK)

Ladri di biciclette (The Bicycle Thief) * Vittorio de Sica (1948, Italy)

It’s a Wonderful Life * Frank Capra (1946, USA)

Schindler’s List * Steven Spielberg (1993, USA)

On the Waterfront * Elia Kazan (1954, USA)

Biruma No Tategoto (The Burmese Harp) * Kon Ichikawa (1956, Japan)

2001: A Space Odyssey * Stanley Kubrick (1968, UK/USA)

La Strada * Federico Fellini (1954, Italy)

Citizen Kane * Orson Welles (1941, USA)

Metropolis * Fritz Lang (1927, Germany)

Modern Times * Charlie Chaplin (1936, USA)

Napoléon * Abel Gance (1927, Italy)

* Federico Fellini (1963, Italy)

La grande illusion (Grand Illusion) * Jean Renoir (1937, France)

Nosferatu * F. W. Murnau (1922, Germany)

Stagecoach * John Ford (1939, USA)

Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) * Luchino Visconti (1963, Italy/France)

Fantasia * (1940, USA)

The Wizard of Oz * Victor Fleming (1939, USA)

The Lavender Hill Mob * Charles Crichton (1951, UK)

Little Women * George Cukor (1933, USA)


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