CT Movies is getting some feedback on the movies chosen by their critics as the Best of 2004.

Here are some examples that editor Mark Moring has posted on the site. I’d encourage you to offer your own thoughts on the list. Send feedback to ctmovies@christianitytoday.com.

Here, I’ll take the time to briefly respond to each of the selected letters. CAUTION: This post includes plot spoilers for Million Dollar Baby!

I find it discouraging that two of your top ten movies of 2004 could be labeled as propaganda, Million Dollar Baby for euthanasia and Vera Drake for abortion. Why aren’t you making better “discerning choices”? It doesn’t disturb me that you cover these movies, but that you heartily endorse them without mention of their worldview. Why should reviewers like Michael Medved display better moral discernment about movies than CT? – Joel Turner

Joel: There is a lot of debate as to whether these films are actually propaganda for abortion and euthanasia. You say that we “heartily endorse them without mention of their worldview.” Did you read the CT Movies reviews of these films? They discussed the “worldviews.” Moreover, there is a lot more to good moviemaking than merely a “moral message.” This list was meant to acknowledge excellence on levels of technical achievement as well as storytelling. If you read the reviews, you will see that we have weighed these issues. I’m also curious: Are you calling these films propaganda because Michael Medved calls them propaganda? Or have you seen them for yourself to form your own opinion? Feel free to let me know at LookingCloserReview@msn.com.

Regarding your list: If your choices mirror that of Hollywood’s, does that say anything to you? To me, it says, “Why do I need you?” It also says to me that you “no longer speak the language of Judah” (Nehemiah). You have intermarried with our culture and there is nothing distinctive in your witness. – Jan Cowesposted

Jan: Do you consider “Hollywood” to be incapable of making good choices? Must a Christian’s Top Ten list look entirely different? Is “Hollywood” (That’s a vague term. Do you mean the Academy voters? Film critics? Filmmakers?) unable to recognize and give proper credit to craftsmanship? Scripture exhorts us to “test all things” … which would imply we should test more than just the “message” of a film, but also the craftsmanship … and acknowledge what is good. We have acknowledged both the bad and the good of each film, as is our responsibility. If our choices are also echoed by some mainstream critics, that’s reason to be encouraged. Now, when you say we have “intermarried with our culture,” I’m not sure what you mean. Do you mean we have “engaged the culture”? Just as Jesus chatted with the culture at the local pub, or as Paul talked with people among the idols at Mars Hill, we’re trying to follow their example. That’s our responsibility as Christians. Do you mean we have embraced non-Christian values? I think you need to re-read our reviews of these films and show me some evidence of that.

How can you include a movie that trumpets assisted suicide and even calls someone who helps someone kill themselves a hero? Remind me not to go to the Christianity Today movie reviews for honest information about films. – Diane L Asp

Have you seen “Million Dollar Baby”? I’d be interested in hearing you explain how the film TRUMPETS assisted suicide. The film portrays a character named Frankie making a choice. It also shows that Frankie suffers severe consequences for that choice. While the narrator does confuse the issue by praising this decision, we must also remember that the priest in the film… the representative of the church… tells Frankie that he will be “lost” if he does this thing. Clearly, the priest spoke the truth: Frankie is lost, burdened, racked with grief after that decision. Moreover, the recurring refrain of “everybody loses one fight” suggests that Frankie’s decision may indeed be a battle that he LOST. Have you taken these things into account in your response to this? Have you taken into account the excellence exhibited in the craftsmanship of the film? We are also responsible to acknowledge the film’s achievement on technical levels. You don’t judge plumbing by whether or not the plumber was a good, moral Christian–you judge plumbing by whether or not it’s done properly. Actually… I’m curious… have you seen the movie at all? If not, it’s interesting to me that you are so sure we are so very very wrong in acknowledging this movie. Would you also condemn Romeo and Juliet as “trumpeting” teen suicide? Or is there more to it than that?

Your Critics’ Choice list was surprising. I understand the difference between this list and your previous one regarding the most redeeming films. I also agree that there is much artistic merit in the films that were chosen. Still, should we evaluate films strictly on the basis of artistic achievement without consideration of the moral content? Is this not part of the problem, and a contributing factor to the immoral nature of what is considered “art” today? What is the difference between your Critics’ Choice Awards and the critical choices of non-Christian film critics? If there is no major difference, what is the value of having Christian critics make such a
list? And if there is no difference between the critical choices of Christians and non-Christians, isn’t there something wrong? Shouldn’t critiques of the artistic merits of films by Christian critics be done from an intentional Christian worldview? I’m not saying that we should all agree on what films should be acceptable to Christians and worthy of our critical acclaim, but shouldn’t we at least be wrestling with that question? If our critical standards are the same as the world’s, what good are they? Judging from your choices, I don’t see a lot of difference. That concerns me. – Curt Parton

“And if there is no difference between the critical choices of Christians and non-Christians, isn’t there something wrong?” Did you notice our inclusion of The Story of the Weeping Camel and The Return? That suggests we’re looking at films through a different lens than most critics. Secondly, did you notice the absence of Sideways from the list? Most of us were less willing to celebrate that film than most mainstream critics. You ask about reviewing films “from an intentional Christian worldview.” We are all Christians, sharing our thoughts on the films we’ve studied. We would have to be very, very intentional to provide anything BUT a Christian worldview. There are many Chrsitians in the world, with different backgrounds, different opinions, different insights. There is not one, solid, indisputable, “intentional” Christian response to any particular work of art. Art is a matter of interpretation, and interpretations will differ based on personality, experience, understanding, and time. The CT Movies voters valued the films that you’re objecting to, and they explained why in their reviews. You might want to revisit those reviews to see if they offered any decent arguments as to why they valued them.

How could you leave out The Passion of the Christ? It should be No. 1. Without a doubt it brought the story of Christ’s sacrifice for humankind to a level of realization that most of us could ever imagine. Shame on you. – Scott Harris

Indeed, the story of Christ’s passion is the greatest story ever told. But that doesn’t mean anybody who makes a movie about it has  made the greatest movie of the year. Some of us were troubled by some of Mel Gibson’s choices in making the movie. Some of us thought that it could have been stronger. We thought that, as far as moviemaking goes, there were some better-made films, even if the stories weren’t as timeless and profound. Nobody can say about a work of art that it is “without a doubt” the best of anything. If you read the reviews of other Christians, you will find that there are quite a few doubts, actually, that it deserves the No. 1 position on our list. “Without a doubt” it touched a lot of people, yes. “Without a doubt” it was a big success. But regarding whether or not it was the finest, most accomplished work of art … that’s a much more complicated question. God will decide if we should be ashamed of paying attention to that question the way that we have.

Are you guys doing what the church has been doing for several decades now? Trying to fit in? While most of your list was really good, I thought I would take two exceptions: 1) The inclusion of Million Dollar Baby. While I agree the performances were stellar and the general moviemaking qualities suburb, I thought the general message was one of hopelessness and faithlessness. 2) The exclusion of The Passion of the Christ is my greatest irritation. While I can understand the gutless Hollywood crowd being afraid of TPOTC, I cannot understand you omitting it. Jim Caviezel’s performance was one of the best of the year. Gibson’s direction was superb and sharp. What are you thinking? – Jon Nichols

Are we trying to fit in? No.

For what it’s worth, The Passion just missed the cut of our Top Ten. It was held in high regard, though, and CT Movies has given the film so much coverage you wouldn’t be too far off to say we’ve given the film more promotion than any film ever made. (I personally have been writing about it and defending it against unfair attacks for a very long time.) It was not a matter of us “omitting” it. It was a matter of the CT voters being more impressed with the artistry of several other films. While we do, of course, consider the story of The Passion to be the most profound, we were less impressed with the film’s handling of that story, compared to the way other films handled their own stories.

Regarding Million Dollar Baby, I’m so glad Jeffrey Overstreet didn’t spoil the plot twist. Had I known the twist going in, it would have altered the film and gutted it of all impact. Up to the third act, it was essentially an uplifting boxing movie. Not knowing the ending totally yanked the rug from under me and made me go through the same emotions as the characters. Do I think Eastwood’s character make the wrong decision and that he give up way too soon? Yes. Having faced similar struggles in my life following my wife’s paralysis, was I absolutely angered at his choice? Definitely. But the movie isn’t about me. It’s about a fictitious trainer and a boxer. It forces people to think about what they would do in a similar situation. And I don’t think CT or any other media source needs to “protect” me from that by essentially shooing people away from the film. I support your call wholeheartedly. For the patron Jeffrey observed walking out on the film upon learning its conclusion: Why didn’t he walk out the first time someone swore, lied, attacked a defenseless person, used racist language, or took God’s name in vain? Those are sins, too. Thanks once again, CT, for provoking thought instead of knee-jerk reactions. – Johnny Sharp

And there you can see that not every Christian agrees that Million Dollar Baby is “propaganda.” Even those who have dealt better with some of the severe circumstances facing the burdened and unwise characters in the film.

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