It’s an annual tradition; Oscar Season comes around and a Martin Scorcese picture is always sure to be getting plenty of buzz. This year the film in question is Silence starring Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man, Hacksaw Ridge), Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Inside Llewyn Davis), as missionary priests searching for their mentor (Liam Neeson) in feudal Japan. It’s not surprising that the movie has people talking; besides its all star pedigree, issues of faith particularly the priesthood often make for great cinematic drama. Consider the following.
Boys Town (1938) Spencer Tracy’s performance as Father Flanagan who founds a sanctuary for underprivileged and delinquent young boys named Boys Town, earned him an Oscar. The movie was nominated for four more Oscars and won for Best Original Story. It also brought a lot of public attention-and funding-for the real Father Flanagan’s work. Besides Tracy’s legendary performance, you also get Mickey Rooney, Henry Hull, and Gene Reynolds. Plus this was the movie, that originated, “He’s not heavy-he’s my brother!”
The Exorcist (1973) Directed by William Friedkin and based on the novel of the same name, this movie made pea soup a catch phrase and a certain set of steps at Georgetown University a place of pilgrimage. It’s not only considered not only one of the greatest scary movies of all time, but one of the greatest movies period, this one kicked off a whole genre of exorcism themed movies, none of which quite compare to the original. In great part that’s because it not only has Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair’s iconic performances, but Max von Sydow as well as Father Merrin. But the movie’s emotional heart and soul comes from Jason Miller as the tormented Father Damien who’s suffered a crisis of faith after the death of his mother.
The Name of the Rose (1986) Jean Jacques Anand (The Lover, Enemy at the Gates) directed this Italian-French-German mystery drama was adapted from the Umberto Eco novel of the same name. Young novice Adso (Christian Slater is his very early years,) and his mentor Franciscan Friar William of Baskerville (Sean Connery in one of his more memorable non-Bond roles) in 1327, journey to a remote Italian abbey for a papal debate. The abbey in question houses one of the greatest libraries in Europe; it’s also astir from the recent suspicious death of one of the monks. More bodies turn up and William races to solve the mystery before the Inquisition is called in. It won the Cesar Award for Best Foreign Film as well as two BAFTA awards including Sean Connery for Best Actor.
Black Robe (1991) Directed by Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Double Jeopardy) this adaption of the Brian Moore novel tells the story of how young Jesuit priest Father LaForgue (Lothaire Bluteau best known to American audiences for his roles on 24 and Vikings) is sent to a distant Catholic mission in a Huron village. LaForgue is accompanied by non-Jesuit assistant Daniel (Aden Young of The Starter Wife and I, Frankenstein) as well as a group of Algonquin Indians. Along the way complications in the form of Daniel falling for an Algonquin girl, and interactions with other First Nation peoples who are less than sympathetic to Father LaForgue and his mission. It is considered one of the best researched films featuring indigenous peoples and it includes dialogue spoken in the Cree, Mohawk, and Algonquin languages. It won the Genie Award for Best Canadian Film as well as Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor.
The Crime of Father Amaro (2002) Directed by Carlos Carrera and starring Gael Garcia Bernal (Babel, Y Tu Mama Tambien) as the titular father and Ana Claudia Talancon (Fast Food Nation, Love in the Time of Cholera) as the young girl he begins a passionate affair with. As you can imagine it doesn’t end well. The movie created a firestorm in Mexico and the Catholic Church actually attempted to ban it. Despite or perhaps because of that, it became the biggest box office success in the country’s history and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
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