Editor's choice

A year-end look at favorite movies and books

Issue: "Veggie Mania," Dec. 12, 1998

Throughout 1998 cultural arbiters such as the American Film Institute and Modern Library have been issuing their lists of best movies and the century's best books. The result has often been more heat than light: Just as WORLD's culture section engenders more critical letters, page for page, than any other part of the magazine, so thousands of complaints greeted the AFI and book lists. We make lots of recommendations in our culture pages this week, and some readers have asked for my favorite movies list. I know that the following suggestions will receive some heated attacks, but an editor has to live dangerously. My two favorite movies with a very strong Christian message, Tender Mercies and Chariots of Fire, may be above reproach, but several movies with questionable elements won't fare so well. Oh, well. Let me start with the three films from different eras that best show a don't-give-up spirit: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), The Great Escape (1963), and The Right Stuff (1984). The Right Stuff has some bad language and a bit of sexual innuendo, but its highlighting of the good, honorable part of American individualism compensates for that, I believe. Several movies on my list of favorites set in the French and Indian War and the Civil War era-The Last of the Mohicans, Glory, and The Outlaw Josie Wales-have violent scenes. Braveheart and Witness include depictions of not only killing but adultery, yet the former shows a fight for freedom and the latter a search for community that offer compensation (plus, as with all of the films I'm recommending here, they are wonderfully directed and acted). When my wife is choosing, we'll often go for a romantic comedy like While You Were Sleeping, Sleepless in Seattle, or Sense and Sensibility. Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing are our favorite recent Shakespeare adaptations. Susan doesn't really understand why baseball movies like Eight Men Out and Field of Dreams (even though that Kevin Costner vehicle has some weird elements and one obnoxious scene concerning "censorship") grip me. The Princess Bride and The Three Amigos are both good comedies watchable by children. Others, such as Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, are funny but have objectionable elements. And I like some oldtime westerns like She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, High Noon, The Searchers, The Magnificent Seven, and Ride the High Country, but that's a vanishing taste. I also like to watch with my children movies with positive but not politically correct views of minority members. Clifton Taulbert's Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored is a warm film with a Bible-based perspective on growing up in the South. Stand and Deliver celebrates Hispanic teacher Jaime Escalante. I'm on the lookout for other films that are neither Spike Lee nor Eddie Murphy. If selections above have not already gotten me in trouble, I'll mention funny and funky films like The Blues Brothers and Ferris Bueller's Day Off that do not honor authority but have whimsical charm. Parental discretion, yes-and when in doubt, go for some of the classics, like Casablanca, It's a Wonderful Life, Singin' in the Rain, and Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest. Now, for those who don't care about movies, I can help to fill our mailbag pages by mentioning some books. J. I. Packer, John Piper, and Sinclair Ferguson are three of my favorite contemporary Christian authors, but here also my tastes are eclectic enough to include John le Carré's Smiley trilogy, Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels, and everything of Tom Wolfe, whose new novel, A Man in Full, cements his position as the greatest living American writer. Going back awhile, I learned a lot from Whittaker Chambers's Witness and Shelby Foote's Civil War trilogy. In 1998 folks sent me lots of new books, and some, like Clint Bolick's nonfiction Transformation: The Promise and Politics of Empowerment, and J.D. Wetterling's Vietnam fighter pilot novel Son of Thunder, are good reads. Much of my reading these days, however, concerns particular issues in the news. Three new books that touch on race relations particularly impressed me. Ron Suskind's A Hope in the Unseen chronicles the movement of a Christian, black high school student from inner-city Washington, D.C., to the Ivy League, and the dangers he faces in both ghettoes. Thomas Sowell's Conquests and Cultures explains why neither genes nor government programs are key to understanding the progress or regress of particular ethnic groups. And James McBride's The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother is a moving and thoughtful account of how faith in Christ trumps racial barriers.

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Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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