Tender Mercies (1983)
directed by Bruce Beresford and starring Robert Duvall, Tess Harper, Allan Hubbard, and Betty Buckley
Before there was Crazy Heart , there was Tender Mercies , a story about a washed-up country music singer who struggles to move forward in his failure-littered life. The fits and starts of Mac Sledge’s recovery remind us that redemption is rarely a perfect melody, but rather a slow, uneven beat.
Food, Inc. (2008)
directed by Robert Kenner
This compelling documentary asks a simple question: Where does our food come from? The answer may make you lose your appetite. This peppy film offers a macro-level view of how current methods of food processing have troubling implications for consumer health, workers’ safety, and animal rights. And while you’re at it, read anything by Norman Wirzba. His theological reflections on food and creation will have you praying in new ways as you bow your head before a meal.
The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)
directed by Harold Young, starring Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon
No offense to the French, but the 1934 film adaptation of The Scarlet Pimpernel is still one of my favorites. In the thick of the French Revolution, the dashing Sir Percy (Leslie Howard) evades bloodthirsty revolutionaries to save aristocrats from the guillotine. Though viewers might wonder why his terrible disguises dupe anyone, few will object to this Brit being everyone’s hero.
Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
directed by Craig Gillespie and starring Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, and Patricia Clarkson
This unusual film takes a potentially creepy story line (man introduces an inflatable doll into his family’s life as his girlfriend) and tells a sweet story about the meaning of love and loss in community.
A Room with a View (1985)
directed by James Ivory and starring Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith, Julian Sands, and Daniel Day-Lewis
Though gentlemen might roll their eyes, this lush adaptation of E.M. Forster’s classic novel spins a timeless love story out of travel, propriety, and good manners. The clergyman Mr. Beebe’s observation upon hearing the young Lucy Honeychurch play piano reveals the take-away dictum: “If she ever takes to living as she plays, it will be very exciting— both for us and for her.” And if anyone doesn’t laugh at fiancé Cecil (Daniel Day-Lewis) in his blithely awkward attempts to secure Lucy’s love, they are dead inside.
Dark Days (2000)
directed by Marc Singer
This documentary gives an unvarnished portrait of Manhattan’s homeless surviving in the abandoned Amtrak tunnels to escape the danger of the streets. This gritty movie rewards viewers with an unexpectedly touching ending and a reminder that we all, blinking, long to be in the light.
Can’t Wait to See
Away from Her ( 2006)
directed by Sarah Polley and starring Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie
This has all the markings of greatness: subtlety, a literary backbone, and a Canadian pedigree. With stars like Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent, chances are good that this end-of-life drama about Alzheimer’s will be less embarrassing to love than The Notebook.
Get Low (2009)
directed by Aaron Schneider and starring Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Bill Murray
The mysterious recluse Felix Bush (brilliantly played by Duvall) wants a beautiful funeral. And much to the consternation of Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) of Quinn Funeral Home, Felix wants to attend, alive and kicking. This bittersweet story follows a man trying to break free from shame and a life that he built as a prison for himself. Set in 1930 Tennessee, this charmer is a deeply Christian folk tale of a community prodding Felix to “get low,” get down to the painful reckoning of confession and forgiveness.