Since we began writing this column in 1995, we have covered over 200 films that have ranged in the values they portray from inspirational to spiritually destructive. We continually are struck by the power that films have to influence and reflect the human condition.
Even more so, we are struck by the increasing worldwide power that the film and television media have in shaping the values of people throughout the world. Today, even the worst films produced in the US take in more money overseas than they do at home.
Therefore, we strongly urge people who are concerned about the spiritual health of our world to understand the impact that the media has in our lives, and to encourage those who make moral stories which come to life on the screen. One film which includes positive spiritual values can reach over a billion people in less than 90 days.
AND NOW, as the 71st annual Academy Awards are about to present their Oscars for artistic excellence in movies, we would like to present
Our Cinema In Focus Awards to our choices for the best films of 1998:
BEST FOCUS ON FORGIVENESS AND RESTORATION: LES MISÉRABLES
The enduring quality of Victor Hugo's "Les Misérables" is that it is as fresh today as it was in 1862. Set in the squalor and struggles of France following its revolution, this is a classic story of the redemption of man told at its best. History is filled with stories of heroic action and evil deeds, but rarely is a story better told of how one man overcame his own devastating background through the transforming power of a single encounter with loving forgiveness.
BEST FOCUS ON HOPE AND FAITH: SIMON BIRCH
Based loosely on the novel by John Irving entitled, "A Prayer for Owen Meany," the film is about a boy with a debilitating birth defect who has a God-given faith, hope and an enduring sense of his own destiny.
"Simon Birch" is a film about the grace that each of us needs to both receive love and to give it to others. Even though he lives a short life, it is Simon's faith that builds up the faith of everyone around him. And, in his best friend's life, it is Simon's faith that ultimately leads Joe to know who his real Father is.
BEST FOCUS ON HEALING IN RELATIONSHIPS: SMOKE SIGNALS
Billed as the first Native American film written, directed, co-produced and acted by American Indians, its self-deprecating humor and honest insight is a joy to watch and enlightens us about one tribe of American Indians in today's world.
The story focuses on the lives of two young men who are bonded together from infancy when a tragic fire accidentally caused the death of the parents of one of the boys. The circle of healing is completed as adults as they take a journey back home and explore the roots of their relationship.
BEST FOCUS ON SACRIFICE: SAVING PRIVATE RYAN
Our belief that film has the power to change people's attitudes is never more hopeful than in Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan." The spiritual insights with which Spielberg presents his stories are not only illuminating about humanity as a whole, but also reach into the depths of each of us as individuals.
Although there are few who fought in World War II who did not have a pervasive sense that they were stopping a greater evil, the moral struggle of killing another human is still present.
If others gave their lives so that you might live, what weight of responsibility would that put on you? How would you ever repay such a sacrificial gift?
BEST FOCUS ON LOVE AND COURAGE: LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL
Written and directed by its star, Roberto Benigni, this film is a comic masterpiece of courage and love. "Life is Beautiful" portrays a courage that not only keeps a child protected in the midst of unbelievable horror, but is also able to retain the humanity of father, mother and son in doing so. The inhumane conditions of the Nazi concentration camps provide the vehicle by which Benigni presents his inspiring message that love conquers evil and humor preserves our humanity.
BEST FOCUS ON A BIBLICAL STORY: PRINCE OF EGYPT
When the miracles of the Exodus are projected onto the big screen, there is no mistaking the power of God or the spiritual implications of His acts. This animated film stays true to the meaning of the Biblical story: Oppressive people who enslave and abuse others will be judged by God for their deeds, while God will save His people from their oppression and set them free.