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Joel Mayward

2018 Arts & Faith Ecumenical Jury: Nominations and Discussion

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Hello jury members,

Welcome to the 2018  Arts & Faith Ecumenical Jury! Here is our thread for nominating, seconding, and discussing films. Here's a statement Ken Morefield wrote up for our first jury in 2014, which I think is worth sharing again:

Quote

“The [Arts and Faith] Ecumenical Jury is made up of film critics and cinephiles who wish to recognize and celebrate films that use the medium to explore themes of religion, faith, or spirituality. We particularly seek to enlarge or expand the perception of what is meant by either labelling a film a "Christian" film or suggesting that it should be of interest to Christian audiences. The jury seeks to recognize quality films (regardless of genre) that have challenged, moved, enlightened, or entertained us and to draw the attention of Christian audiences to films it thinks have the potential to do the same for them."

I think the statement remains applicable--it's appropriately broad and ecumenical, while also having the particular faith-focused nature of this end-of-year-list.

Here’s our timeline for this process:

Nominations open on Thursday, November 1.  To nominate a film, simply post the film title in the forum thread or email it directly to me (jmayward@gmail.com). All nominated films must receive a "second" vote from another jury member in order to appear on the voting ballot, which can happen either by posting “seconded” in the forum or via email, or a jury member nominating the same film. Non-jurors can also recommend films for nomination in this thread, but they must be seconded by two jury members. I will keep a tally of all the nominated and seconded films within this thread, updating it regularly as we go.

You can use this same thread to discuss, advocate, question, process, or to direct folks to links to other threads or conversations about the nominated films. I'd encourage you to give your reasons behind nominating or seconding a film, especially during this nomination process—encourage us to check out great films we may not have seen yet!

Qualifying films: a first-time theatrical, DVD/Blu-ray, streaming, or festival release in the 2018 calendar year. Even though I presently live in the UK, I am going by North American releases as I find them on IMDB. Thus, a film like Paddington 2 (2017 release in UK, 2018 in US and Canada) can be nominated, while a film like Columbus (2017 release in North America, and on our top 10 list last year, but just released in the UK a month ago) would not be eligible. Regarding questions of release dates (e.g. First Reformed was a festival release last year and on our nominations ballot, but had a much wider release this year) and what constitutes a “film” (e.g. Twin Peaks: The Return), I put full trust in the jury’s viewing and voting practices, and in the conversation we will have within the forum.

Nominations will close at 11:59pm (PST) on Sunday, December 30. This is fairly late in the year for end-of-year film lists, but it follows our pattern from the previous two years. On December 31, I'll email jury members a link for a survey with all the nominated films that they can rank 1-5 (strongly disagree-strongly agree that the film should be on our jury's top 10 list). You are to vote only for films you have seen--if you haven't seen a film, simply leave that ballot blank or unranked. Again, how you rank/rate a film is entirely up to your discretion and judgment; I trust in the process.

Per our practice in previous years, a film is eligible if it's been viewed by at least 50% of the jury. So, 9 out of our 18 jury members. This is so a film with high scores seen by a minority of jurors doesn't have an undue advantage (i.e. a film with only three “5” votes in total would have a higher average score than a film with ten “5” votes and one “4” vote, but the latter film would be a better reflection of the jury's collective opinion and film-viewing experience). If there are not ten eligible films that score “4” or higher on average, the foreperson (that's me!) reserves the right to look at film(s) that averaged over 4 but had less eligible voters.

Voting closes on Monday, January 7. This gives a week for jury members to vote on the nominated films. After the totals have been added up using some math wizardry, I'll send out an email with the results. Then I’ll send you an optional second ballot with the ten finalists asking folks to rank them. This had a big impact on where certain films ranked in the final top 10 last year, so indicate on your first ballot if you'd like to receive this optional second ballot. If you choose not to ask for the second ballot, I'll base your rankings on your scores for this first ballot, giving equal weight to all films receiving the same designation/score.

Finally, I'll solicit "blurbs" for the final list, as well as your Honorable Mention--a film which did not end up on the top 10 list, but you would like to see recognized. I love the Honorable Mentions, as it’s always very diverse and interesting.

Here's our jury, listed alphabetically by first name, and with the website/"brand" I currently have for you (let me know if you want to update or change this, or if I’ve misspelled something):

1.   Anders Bergstrom (3 Brothers Film)

2.   Christian Hamaker (Patheos / Schaeffer's Ghost)

3.   Evan Cogswell (Catholic Cinephile)

4.   Gareth Higgins (The Porch)

5.   Jeffrey Overstreet (Looking Closer)

6.   Joel Mayward (Cinemayward / Think Christian)

7.   Josh Cabrita (MUBI Notebook / Cinema Scope)

8.   Josh Hamm (Freelance)

9.   Josh Larsen (Filmspotting / Think Christian)

10.  Ken Morefield (1More Film Blog)

11.  Kevin Sampson (Picture Lock)

12.  Melissa Tamminga (Seattle Screen Scene)

13.  Michael Leary (Freelance)

14.  Noel T. Manning (Cinemascene)

15.  Peter Chattaway (FilmChat)

16.  Philip Martin (Blood, Dirt & Angels)

17.  Sarah Welch-Larson (Think Christian / BW/DR / Freelance)

18.  Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films / National Catholic Register)

I'm excited to have Sarah, Josh L., and Philip as part of the jury this year, so welcome them to A&F! Looking forward to our discussion of these 2018 films, and for creating another unique end-of-year list.

Edited by Joel Mayward
correct 1More Film Blog spelling

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List of Nominated and Seconded Films (Seconded Films in Bold):

22 July

A Quiet Place

A Star Is Born

A Wrinkle in Time

Annihilation

Bad Times at the El Royale

Black Panther

BlacKkKlansman

Blaze

Blindspotting

Boy Erased

Chosen: Custody of the Eyes

Come Sunday

First Man

First Reformed

For the Birds

The Gospel of Eureka

Hale Country This Morning, This Evening

The Happy Prince

Hereditary

Isle of Dogs

Jinn

Leave No Trace

Lizzie

Madeline's Madeline

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Mary Magdalene

Minding the Gap

Monrovia, Indiana

Paddington 2

Roma

Support the Girls

The Rider

What They Had

The Wife

Wild Wild Country

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

You Were Never Really Here

Zama

Edited by Joel Mayward

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Regarding screening links: while some of us receive screeners or invitations to screenings from publicists, many of us may not. As the jury foreperson, I will try to request screening links and make them available with the filmmakers/production company's/publicists permission, so that we have access to more films.

So, as an example: I've requested and received a screening link for Chosen: Custody of the Eyes, a documentary about a young woman's desire to become a nun. I heard about it through the Filmspotting podcast, and received the link details from director Abbie Reese, as it sounds like it'd be right in the wheelhouse of this jury's interests. If you'd like the screening link for this film, DM or email me.

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I nominate First Reformed. 

Link to our dedicated thread

Link to my review at Christianity Today Movies and TV

Given the subject matter--a minister undergoing a crisis of faith--and that Schrader's cinematic influences are auteurs the pepper our Top 100 list, this would seem to be a film that is in the A & F wheelhouse. 

I nominate Boy Erased

Link to our dedicated thread.

Here again, the subject matter overtly deals with religious and our moral/spiritual issues. The son of a (Baptist?) preacher checks into an unlicensed gay-conversion program. This is not just a polemic about whether or not homosexuality is learned or ingrained behavior. It also is a penetrating if difficult critique of why families and churches utilize such programs even as evidence mounts of their abuses and ineffectiveness. 

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I nominate You Were Never Really Here, a film that does not deal with overtly spiritual themes but deals with a broken life in a broken world and implicitly asks the always-spiritually connected philosophical questions, "Given pain, what is the point?" "Given brokenness, is there redemption?" Ramsay's film, too, an externalized vision of a man's psychology, shifts and slips between the physical seen world and the unseen world of the mind, inviting questions about the connections between body and spirit and inviting questions about what it means to be human.

Here's my review for Seattle Screen Scene: review 

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Melissa: That's the best description I've read of YWNRH, a film that, frankly, I didn't much care for. But you've got me thinking I should give it another look. Thanks.

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Y'all, nominations begin on November 1--that's tomorrow! (This happened last year too).

And despite that correction, I strongly second You Were Never Really Here. Check out the incredible Blu-ray cover art for the UK release:

image.thumb.png.f4c6592dc495e298301371798a5b44f6.png

I'll save my other nominations for tomorrow! ;) 

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45 minutes ago, Christian said:

Melissa: That's the best description I've read of YWNRH, a film that, frankly, I didn't much care for. But you've got me thinking I should give it another look. Thanks.

I second this as well--there's a lot to unpack in that short synopsis, and it's very well stated, Melissa.

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10 hours ago, Christian said:

Melissa: That's the best description I've read of YWNRH, a film that, frankly, I didn't much care for. But you've got me thinking I should give it another look. Thanks.

 I hope you do check it out again! 

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I nominate:

The Rider (Chloe Zhao): At one point injured rodeo cowboy Brady tells his sister Lilly that just as mustangs were made by God to run on the plains, cowboys were made to ride. A beautiful, meditative film, Zhao’s camerawork lingers on both bodies and landscapes with a sense of genuine awe. Scenes with Brady training or riding horses are exhilarating even as they are intimate--the scene of him working alongside a horse over the course of a single day is pastoral in every sense of the word.

A Quiet Place (John Krasinski): A Quiet Place is a film with a monastic ethos. The family lives a quiet communal life on an isolated farm in the wilderness, going through the rhythms–the daily office–of survival in this silent post-apocalyptic world. They pray silently before sharing a meal together, holding hands in in solidarity. They gather food and do their chores in silent faithfulness. They light beacons at night to shine hope into the darkness, and see other fires signaling in the distance. Even their last name–Abbott–bespeaks of this cloistered lifestyle. It's also one of the most life- and family-affirming films of the year--even in an apocalyptic nightmare, family life is good, and worth living.

Black Panther (Ryan Coogler): Black Panther is cinematic black liberation theology, raising important questions about not only race, but also immigration and Otherness. It is a film about borders--American and African black experience; generational differences; political ideologies; science and spirituality; justice and mercy; popular film vs arthouse cinema. It subverts the grandiose myths of Western modernity subversively by working precisely within those myths, only to flip them upside down, breaching the borders from the inside out.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (Ol Parker): There is a baptism scene near the end of this film which might be one of my all-time favorite filmic baptism sequences. Dare I say, it’s the The Godfather Part II of ABBA-based musicals.

Edited by Joel Mayward

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I second all four of Joel's above nominations.

 

I nominate: (will try to write short summaries later, but I have to run right now)

Leave No Trace

Madeline's Madeline

BlacKkKlansman

Paddington 2

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Annihilation

 

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Excited to be here! Seconding Evan's nominations for Leave No Trace and Annihilation.

I nominate Support the Girls (Andrew Bujalski). A single day, give or take, in the life of Lisa (Regina Hall), a manager of a sports bar/knockoff Hooters in Texas. Lisa's day is packed with  the run of the mill difficulties that people in the service industry face daily: a racist/sexist boss, an understaffed restaurant, a waitress who can't find childcare for her son, horrible customers, and so on. Taken one at a time, these obstacles might be manageable, but piled together they make one of the worst days on the job imaginable. Lisa is stuck in an untenable situation, but she still loves her job, no matter how much heartbreak it gives her. She's there to give her employees the best possible workplace she can, she's there to advocate for her workers in an unfair environment, a living embodiment of Micah 6:8, and she does it all with no hope of recognition or reward. 

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I will give a hearty second for Paddington 2. And welcome, Sarah!

Edited by Joel Mayward

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Thankful to be a part of this group!

I second Chosen: Custody of the Eyes and Leave No Trace.

Also nominate:

Isle of Dogs

Roma

Hereditary

Minding the Gap

A Wrinkle in Time

Zama

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On 11/1/2018 at 8:27 AM, Evan C said:

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

 

Second. 

Melissa, Josh, and Sarah, thanks for joining the jury and adding your comments/nominations to this thread. 

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I nominate 22 July, a difficult to watch but timely docunarrative about terrorist attack in Norway. 

Link to our dedicated thread

As far as our jury is concerned, I think the film depicts a broad culture with a Christian heritage struggling to determine what is the appropriate Christian (and democratic, humanist) response to terrorism. It is not just a critique of the ideology of the murderer, it is also a careful examination of the ideology of those who respond to him. (Celebration is not the right word here, but it does seem to affirm that religion embedded in social and political structures can be a positive force towards shaping policy as well as personal decisions.) 

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On 11/1/2018 at 8:27 AM, Evan C said:

I nominate: (will try to write short summaries later, but I have to run right now)

Leave No Trace

Madeline's Madeline

BlacKkKlansman

Paddington 2

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Annihilation

Slightly later than I thought but here they are.

Leave No Trace - a story about the need for family and community and the pain and tragedy that occurs when those needs come into conflict. It contains some of the best examples of compassion and mercy this year, and Thomasin McKenzie is incredible as a character who both wants to honor her father but also knows their way of life needs to change.

Madeline's Madeline - An unnerving case of art imitating life imitating art. Madeline is a rebellious teenager, seeking her own identity with an experimental acting troupe in NYC, which makes her more vulnerable to being exploited and lashing out at others while trying to pursue her acting vocation. The film makes the importance of vocation clear, while also showing the dangers of putting anything (career, performance) ahead of people.

BlacKkKlansman - Any story of seeking justice against racism should be of interest to Christians, because all people are made in the image of God. Spike Lee's mockery of the '70's KKK with its parallels to current events is equal parts funny and disturbing, but he makes a persuasive case for why everyone should care about any racial injustice.

Paddington 2 - A delightful joy-filled about looking for and finding the good in everyone, and Paddington lives the Gospel more fully than almost any other cinematic protagonist of this year.

Won't You Be My Neighbor? - A beautiful love letter to a man who saw everyone as his neighbor and the ways he lived his Christian faith through television.

Annihilation - A modern day search for the perfect organism and the question of what it means to be human, as well as a story about accepting loss and not trying to play God.

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FYI: Josh L "seconded" Chosen: Custody of the Eyes, but my post above about a screener link wasn't necessarily a nomination (I've yet to see it!), so it's been nominated but not seconded. I'm keeping track of the seconds and nominations in the second post above, as well as a separate document. If I miss something, please let me know!

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I watched Leave No Trace this week, and was absolutely floored by it. One of the strongest films of the year, and a cinematic parable if there ever was one.

I want to nominate two films which may push at the boundaries of our eligibility, but I think should be worth considering as a jury:

Mary Magdalene: My review, and my article for Transpositions on Mary Magdalene movies. An unexpected victim of Weinstein's downfall and the #MeToo movement, Mary Magdalene was never released in the US in 2018--it may never see a North American theatrical release. However, it's a beautiful, meditative Bible film and akin to Rodrigo Garcia's Last Days in the Desert in its combination of arthouse aesthetic and a loose adaptation of biblical narrative. I know Peter has seen the film, and it's available on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK.

Wild Wild Country: A 6-part documentary about the Rajneeshpuram community in eastern Oregon, the series explores so much about religion, politics, neighborliness, and idolatry. I've stayed at the Young Life camp in Oregon which took over the site after the cult disbanded, and you can still find remnants of their buildings. The documentary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, but IMDB lists it as a TV mini-series and it won an Emmy, and it doesn't appear on Mike D'Angelo's list of NYC 2018 releases. So, it may or may not qualify for this list, depending on how you interpret this documentary as "cinema." But it's still very much worth viewing.

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I second Support the Girls, Minding the Gap and, although I'm not sure what it all meant, the amazing Madeline's Madeline.

[EDIT: What follows is discussed below by Joel M., with a reply from me on the next page. I was going to delete the paragraphs below, but they were quoted before I could do so. So I'm leaving the post up in full, with this indication that I made a final decision later in this thread.]

Now, let me ask about some nominations of my own. I'm unsure whether or not to nominate Blindspottiing, Damsel and Let the Sunshine In. I have to run out the door and don't have time to flesh out reasons, or lack thereof, to nominate them or not. I have distinct ideas about which films should be on our list, and I'm not sure I'm entirely on board with those three films for this list. But they're each quite good in their own way. 

So I'll leave it at this: Would you nominate any of those three? If so, why?

Yes, this is now a discussion of whether or not certain films qualify for our list, and that might open a can of worms. But I'm reluctant to nominate any of those three films without some discussion of whether they "fit" on our list. 

Ken: If this isn't an appropriate use of this thread, just let me know and I'll delete everything after the first paragraph seconding earlier nominations.

Edited by Christian

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I nominate Monrovia, Indiana. My first Frederick Wiseman documentary, and it certainly won't be the last. The film's first and last spoken words are those of a pastor speaking to a group of listeners about troubles and tribulations--first at a Bible study, last at a memorial service. In between is an intimate portrait of small-town life in mid-America, with Wiseman's fly-on-the-wall observational approach imbuing the ordinary moments and places with a genuine sense of transcendence. Really great work, and now I need to work my way through his filmography on Kanopy (they have a lot of his films available via streaming).

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18 hours ago, Christian said:

So I'll leave it at this: Would you nominate any of those three? If so, why?

Yes, this is now a discussion of whether or not certain films qualify for our list, and that might open a can of worms. But I'm reluctant to nominate any of those three films without some discussion of whether they "fit" on our list. 

I haven't seen any of the films in question, so I can't really make an informed comment. I'm wondering why you would be hesitant about nominating films which qualify for our list. Like my two semi-questionable nominations above, I wanted to put the films out there to the jury members and trust our collective wisdom/judgment. Are you wondering if these three films shouldn't even be potential nominees? I guess (having not seen the films) I can't discern what is causing the hesitancy. Do the films have objectionable or offensive content? Are they mediocre or poorly-made? Are they boring? Do they never address any spiritual/religious/existential/ethical concerns? Would I be worse off as a person for having watched them?

I'd also point you to our jury aims: "We particularly seek to enlarge or expand the perception of what is meant by either labelling a film a 'Christian' film or suggesting that it should be of interest to Christian audiences. The jury seeks to recognize quality films (regardless of genre) that have challenged, moved, enlightened, or entertained us and to draw the attention of Christian audiences to films it thinks have the potential to do the same for them." So, if any of those three films have challenged/moved/enlightened/entertained you, and you'd want to draw a Christian audience's attention to them, I think that's a valid reason for nominating them.

If nothing else, reading about each film on IMDB, I'm intrigued and want to seek them out for myself!

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I nominate What They Had, a film about middle-aged siblings (Michael Shannon and Hilary Swank) dealing with their mother (Blythe Danner)'s Alzheimer's and their stubborn father (Robert Forster)'s refusal to seek help outside the home. This movie caught me by surprise at this year's VIFF; I happened to catch a preview screening simply because there was time in my schedule, and by the end I was shedding tears. (The fact that the film touches on some of my favorite themes -- such as adult brother-sister relationships and the nature of memory -- no doubt had an impact here.) All of the actors do great work here, Shannon in particular, and there's also a nod or two to the family's Catholicism. I wrote a capsule review of the film here.

Meanwhile, I'll tentatively second Joel's nomination of Mary Magdalene -- "tentatively" because I wouldn't mind hearing what the rest of the community thinks about the film's eligibility. As Joel says, it might never get an American theatrical release, and it certainly won't get one *this* year; the Weinstein Company (or whoever owns its assets now) has sold the North American rights for *some* of its films to other distributors, but I have not heard anything about this one yet. But it's already being nominated for awards in Australia, etc. I acquired a copy of the UK DVD a few months ago and watched it at the time but never got around to writing up a review, partly because of VIFF and partly because of my stay-at-home-dad duties. It's an odd film but worth considering, at least.

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