Easter is a great time to reconnect with the great Christian and Biblical stories, many of which have been captured in splendid and moving cinematic versions. Stirring films of the life of Christ and the saints can inspire the whole family. Here are a few of our favorites:
1. The Greatest Story Ever Told: Max von Sydow gives the performance of a lifetime as Jesus, equal parts godly and human, showing nuance, grief and deep love for his fellow (flawed) men. The Greatest Story Ever Told takes its sweet time in unfolding the life of Jesus, and some parts seem slow--but all of it is deeply felt and deeply moving.
2. Song of Bernadette: There was a time in the '40s and '50s when most of Hollywood was eager to star in or direct religious features. Song of Bernadette (1943) features one of the era's biggest stars, Jennifer Jones, as Bernadette, the simple French peasant girl who claimed to see visions of a "beautiful lady" near the town of Lourdes. Jones won an Oscar for Best Actress for her subtle yet fervent performance, and the cinematography is gorgeous as well.
3. Lilies of the Field: Sidney Poitier won an Oscar for his role in Lilies of the Field, playing a handyman passing through a small town in New Mexico. He ends up staying and helping a convent of nuns build their chapel, and faith takes form among the small group of new friends.
4. Jesus Christ Superstar: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice were in top form when they composed this rock opera, and the score alone created pop-culture history. But the story of Jesus, told through a more earthy lens, is also very moving, and the conflict of some of the villains in the traditional telling--like Pontius Pilate--is portrayed with nuance. (Honorable musical mention to Godspell and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat)
5. Jesus of Nazareth: This masterpiece by Franco Zeffirelli was originally made as a TV miniseries, detailling every known minute of the life of Jesus. Its all-star cast, including James Mason, Robert Powell, Olivia Hussey and Stacy Keach, is so glittery it's almost distracting, but the attention to period detail and the sense of solemnity give Jesus of Nazareth gravitas as well as accessibility. Watch this over the course of Easter Week.
6. The Last Temptation of Christ: Martin Scorsese's controversial film (not suitable for little ones) is actually quite moving in its way. Whether or not Jesus had a wishful dream that he could have been a regular man, and be spared his ultimate sacrifice, it doesn't diminish the choice he made to fulfill his destiny. If you haven't seen this film based on the protests that greeted its release in theaters, you owe it to yourself to watch it. Clearly Scorsese is a man of deep faith.
7. The Ten Commandments: Even now, Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 epic telling of the Old Testament saga of Moses and the Israelites is impressive. Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner have never been more magisterial, and the sheer size of DeMille's vision is moving and thought-provoking.