When Paul Schrader finally reached for the tools of the transcendental toolkit in a theologically and existentially fraught film starring Ethan Hawke as a tortured pastor, it’s not surprising that the resulting film would rate high among cinephiles of faith, including the circle of friends and peers I survey each year as a cross-section of film appreciation among Christians.
First Reformed didn’t quite make my own top 10 list — it was one of three or four runners-up I most regretted relegating to the second rank — but it made more than half of the nine individual lists below, and unsurprisingly topped the year’s best films according to the Arts & Faith Ecumenical Jury, in which I vote each year.
What’s more surprising — anyway I’m a little surprised, and delighted — is that another film was even more esteemed in this little community … and it wasn’t any of the films I would have expected.
The Rider, my own no. 1 pick for 2018, would not have surprised me (see my top films of 2018). Nor would Roma, my best guess for this year’s Best Picture winner. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and Paddington 2 were also films I expected to be warmly received here — and all four films are well represented below, about equally so.
But the one film that stood above them all was an understated portrait of an extraordinary father-daughter relationship — a film that, like The Rider, First Reformed, and Roma, is about brokenness, but one that is also about love and hope.
Debra Granik’s last dramatic feature, Winter’s Bone, might be my favorite film of 2010. Leave No Trace, starring Ben Foster as a veteran father suffering from PTSD and Thomasin McKenzie as his teenaged daughter, appears on 6 of the 9 individual lists below — 7 out of 10, counting mine. It also placed no. 2 in the A&F Ecumenical Jury Awards, right behind First Reformed, which made half of the 10 lists.
After Leave No Trace and First Reformed, there is no clear third. Paddington 2, The Rider, Roma, and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? all got four mentions. The Rider was twice picked for no. 1, but Won’t You Be My Neighbor? had a slightly higher average ranking. (I picked Roma for my banner image above both for visual variety and for ethnic diversity.)
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, The Favourite, Lean on Pete, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse were all picked three times.
Here are the lists, with my rankings noted in parentheses where applicable. As always, I encourage you to click through to the source pages to read more about the films.
As in past years, I voted in the Arts & Faith Ecumenical Jury Awards (and wrote up one of the films, no. 8):
Evan Cogswell (Catholic Cinephile) has a top 35 with capsules:
Christian Hamaker (Schaeffer’s Ghost) has a top 10 with capsules:
Joel Mayward (Cinemayward) has a top 25 with capsules:
Kenneth R. Morefield (1More Film Blog) has a top 10:
Victor Morton (Rightwing Film Geek) has a bare top 10 with honorable mentions in various categories):
Sister Rose Pacatte (National Catholic Reporter) has a top 10 with capsules (to come):
Josh Larsen (Larsen on Film) has a top 10 with capsules in, um, haiku form:
Jeffrey Overstreet (Looking Closer) has a top 25 with (as is his wont) ample prologue and honorable mentions:
Alissa Wilkinson (Vox) has a top 21 with capsules and runners-up:
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