Thursday, March 24, 2022

Best Picture Nominee


When people want to make the argument that religion is a bad thing, history is sometimes a favorite point of reference. “What about the Crusades?” “What about the Witch Trials?” or sometimes, “What about the Troubles?”

So what about the Troubles? What were the Troubles? The term was used to describe the violent conflicts in Ireland from the late 1960s through the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The two conflicting groups were “The Protestants” and the “The Catholics,” so it's remembered as a religious conflict. The issues at stake, though, weren’t religious but rather political. Those who wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom tended to be Protestant while those who wanted to break away and be independent tended to be Catholic. The dividing issue was political, but it led to great religious prejudice.

Belfast, a film written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, is a semi-autographical story about Buddy (Jude Hill) and his family in the midst of the beginning of the troubles in the city of Belfast. Though Protestants, Buddy’s parents have no negative feelings against the Catholics in their neighborhood, so when local thugs ask for Buddy’s “Pa” (Jamie Dornan) to help fight the Catholics, the family finds themselves in the middle of the conflict.

Buddy's cousin, Moria (Lara McDonnell), has taken the side of the Protestants (“her gang”) in the conflict. She tries to get Buddy to join her gang as well. Buddy must make some very difficult choices.

And the wisdom to make those choices comes to Buddy in part from going to church.

One Sunday morning, Buddy’s Pa and Ma (Caitriona Balfe) send Buddy and his brother Will (Lewis McAskie) to church. Pa and Ma are looking for some quality, um, “alone time.” On that Sunday the minister (Turlough Convery) at the Protestant church delivers a stern sermon on the need to decide, upon reaching the fork in the road, between the road to Life or the road to Destruction.

The sermon is put in a comic light. Buddy’s cousin has just been telling him that the Catholics were all about guilt and fire and brimstone, and the (Protestant) sermon is presented as being of that type. Buddy obsesses about the sermon, making his own little drawing of the roads to Destruction or Life. Buddy is coming of age, and he soon will have to make difficult moral choices. Like his family, he must decide whether he should join those who want to attack his neighbors; to do what is right or what is wrong. The sermon used for comic effect is exactly the message that Buddy needed to hear.

is one of ten films nominated for Best Picture this year. Though I’ve only seen four of the nominees, this film is full of humor, wisdom, and heart, so I’d be happy to see it take the prize. But here at Movie Churches, we're able to award the film in another way. The church and minister in the film earn a Movie Churches rating of Three Steeples.

Postscript In the film, Buddy was born in 1960, making him one year older than us here at Movie Churches. We share with him many of the same pop culture touchstones such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the movie theater, Star Trek on the TV, and Matchbox cars. In fact, Buddy has the same Matchbox carrying case that I had as a kid (and still possess). I wonder if Kenneth Branagh has the same carrying case as well.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Best Picture Winners

A number of films that have won the Best Picture Oscar have had another privilege almost as distinguished: being featured in Movie Churches. So which were those double prize winners?

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) One of the great anti-war stories, wherein (sadly) there is little comfort from clergy to be found.

How Green Was My Valley (1941) When this film is remembered these days, it’s usually as the film that beat out Citizen Kane for Best Picture. It’s a warm-hearted story with a kind clergyman whose very Welsh name is Gruffydd.

Mrs. Miniver (1942) Joseph Goebbels, Hilter’s director of propaganda, considered this picture a masterpiece of political persuasion. Even the clergyman in the film seems more concerned about the King of England than the King of Heaven.

Going My Way (1944)  Back in the day, Hollywood was happy to portray priests as Regular Joes who were just (perhaps) a little nicer than other guys. As long as they weren’t too, you know, religious.

On the Waterfront (1954) One of my favorite portrayals of a priest, Karl Malden’s Father Berry, is looking to fight corruption, along with saving souls.

The Sound of Music (1965) In this beloved musical, a wonderful contrast to those nasty Nazis is provided by the spirited nuns of Nonnberg Abbey.

A Man for All Seasons (1966)  Screenwriter Robert Bolt challenges us to consider what we would be willing to sacrifice for our conscience and for our faith. 

The Godfather (1972) Often considered one of the best films ever made (especially if it’s a list of American films), the clergy in this saga is too often comfortable with men who do evil.

Chariots of Fire (1981) Based on the true Olympic exploits of Eric Liddle, whose love of running was only surpassed by his love for God.

Forrest Gump (1994) A very simple man with very simple faith, but the supporting characters, especially Lt. Dan, wrestle with more complex spiritual issues.

Million Dollar Baby (2004)  The second film that Clint Eastwood directed to a Best Picture win deals with the thorny issue of euthanasia. I wish Clint’s boxing manager in the film had listened more closely to his priest.

Spotlight (2015) The church and the clergy don’t come off well in this film, and rightly so, in this story based on true accounts of pedophilia in the Catholic Diocese of Boston. It's a film that brings Jesus’ teaching on millstones all too vividly to life.

We've added four films to this list this month: Patton, Amadeus, Driving Miss Daisy, and 12 Years a Slave. The big question at this year's Oscars is if the Movie Church featured in this week's post will be a winner as well.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Two Best Pictures

Driving Miss Daisy
and 12 Years a Slave (2013)
One can’t look at the history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences without being puzzled by how often it gets things wrong -- particularly when it comes to the Oscar for Best Picture. Just look at 1990, when the award for Best Picture was given to Driving Miss Daisy.

Driving Miss Daisy isn’t really a bad film. It’s quite competently made with two great actors (Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman) in good form. With a script adapted from a well-written play, it doesn’t stray too far from its stage origins. It’s fine. But Best Picture?

The members of the directors’ caucus of the Academy didn’t think enough of the film to nominate director Bruce Beresford for his work on the film (though he'd been nominated, justly, for his work on Breaker Morant and Tender Mercies.)

There were certainly more entertaining films released in 1990, such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Batman, and the immortal Road House

There were more emotionally satisfying films like Say Anything, When Harry Met Sally, and the film most likely to make a man cry, Field of Dreams

There were more artistically audacious films such as Henry V, My Left Foot, Drugstore Cowboy, and UHF. There were even films that were more bold and insightful on the subject of race, like Glory and Do the Right Thing, either of which would have been a far better choice for Best Picture.

And even more unfortunately for this blog, Driving Miss Daisy doesn’t have much in the way of church or clergy. But there is some.

The film tells the story of an old woman, Miss Daisy (Tandy) who needs a driver. Her son (Dan Aykroyd) hires an African American chauffeur (Freeman) and an unlikely friendship develops between driver and driven. Miss Daisy is Jewish and attends synagogue, but this blog is about Christian churches. The synagogue in the film seems nice enough, though people seem to attend more to meet social than spiritual needs. In fact, Miss Daisy accuses her daughter-in-law of a horrible social crime: “socializin’ with Episcopalians."

A Christian church makes a brief appearance for a funeral service where the choir gives a spirited rendition of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” (About the best thing about the church and the synagogue in the film is their good music programs.)

There is one prominent Christian clergyman in the film, the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King.

When the great civil rights leader speaks at a local dinner, Miss Daisy is excited and happy to attend. She doesn’t invite her friend Hoke to join her (though he drives her to the event, of course -- and she has an extra ticket). Though she claims to be a supporter of civil rights, she doesn’t think of Hoke as a person worthy of such an august social affair. So Hoke listens to the dinner speech on the radio in the car outside of the dinner.

Beresford made a really odd filmmaking choice in this scene. We hear King’s speech, but we don’t see the speaker. Using film footage of King speaking or using an actor to play the role, but instead, we hear a tinny recording of the great man, experiencing the speech rather like Hoke listening in the car. This choice might have been forced on the filmmakers by the King estate, notorious for their tight grip on the handling of MLK’s image.

A much more worthy recipient of the Best Picture Oscar was 2013’s 12 Years a Slave. Director Steve McQueen (not to be confused with the iconic, but deceased, actor) brought the true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free man, who was abducted and sold as a slave. As the title indicates, he was enslaved for twelve years.

It’s a powerful story and a helpful balance to the romanticized images of slavery presented in older films like Gone With the Wind.

And though we don’t see depictions of formal churches or clergy in the film, there are three informal gatherings of slaves that could be called “church” for good and ill.

Northup’s first owner, William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), gathers his slaves for the reading of Scripture, and he seems to believe it is for their benefit. He reads passages from the Gospels, including Jesus’ command to care for the “least of these,” without seeming to grasp the irony of the moment. Ford’s good intentions contrast sharply with Northup’s second owner, Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), who only reads the slaves passages of Scripture admonishing them to obey their masters and justifying his use of the whip. Far better than either of these is when the slaves gather by their own choosing to memorialize a murdered companion, comforting each other as they sing “Roll, Jordan, Roll”. This feels like the only true church in the film.

The combined churches and clergy in the two receive a Movie Churches rating of Two Steeples. That nasty Epps really brings the averages down.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Oscar Month: Best Picture Winner - Amadeus


Separating the art from the artist is an age-old problem.

It’s easier when the message of a work of art is as problematic as the person. When streaming Triumph of the Will or Olympia, you probably aren’t trying to figure out whether filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl was a good person or not, since the glorification of Adolf Hitler sort of speaks for itself. While viewing The Birth of a Nation, you probably aren’t perplexed about whether writer/director D. W. Griffith had racist tendencies when you see African Americans depicted as savage, unthinking animals. But knowing this about Griffith, do you want to watch his other work? Intolerance or Way Down East or Orphans of the Storm, all of which received a great deal of critical acclaim through the last century?

There are those who won’t watch the work of Roman Polanski (Chinatown, The Pianist) because of his conviction on the charge of sex with a minor. And others who won’t watch the work of Woody Allen because of accusations on the same charge.

Some will no longer watch an actor or actress because of the political stands they’ve taken. Because someone supported or attacked Donald Trump or Joe Biden, cancelation of that person’s career is the only viable option.

As I said, this is not a new problem.

The 1984 film Milos Forman's Amadeus (and the 1979 Peter Shaffer play it is based upon) puzzles about how to look at excellent, in fact, divine, music when it is the creation of a truly flawed man. The play and the film greatly fictionalize the life of Wolfgang “Wolfie” Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) in order to pursue this perplexing philosophical question.

The story is told from the perspective of Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), an actual composer of Mozart’s day, and the anti-hero of the piece.

Fortunately for this blog, examining churches and clergy, the film opens with a priest coming to visit Salieri, a resident in a madhouse. The priest tells Salieri, “I can’t leave alone a soul in pain,” and tries to assure him by saying, ‘“All men are equal in God’s eyes, I can offer God’s forgiveness.”

Salieri asks the priest what he knows about music. The priest says he studied music as a child and urges Salieri, “My son, if you have something to confess, do it now.” Salieri agrees to tell his story -- but to tell his story, he must tell Mozart’s story.

While Salieri sang in church as a boy, Mozart, as a child, was playing before the Pope. 

Salieri’s father prayed his son would be a man of commerce. Salieri prayed for God to make him a great composer. He promised in return to live a life of chastity, industry, and humility. Salieri considered his father’s death a gift of God. Before a crucifix, Salieri prays his thanks.

Salieri does experience great success as a composer. His works are played in the Hapsburg Court and his operas are quite popular. But then he encounters Mozart.

In Salieri's opinion, Mozart is a young, uncouth slob -- but Salieri hears Mozart’s music and realizes it far surpasses his own. He is filled with jealousy for the talent of Mozart, which he considers to be clearly divinely given. Salieri says, “If God did not want me to praise him with music, why did he give me the desire but not the talent?”

Salieri feels God has cheated him because the gift of musical genius was given to Mozart rather than himself. He burns a crucifix. He decides to war against God by secretly warring against Mozart. He sabotages the young composer's career and life. “I finally saw a way I could triumph over God,” he tells the priest. That secret war comprises most of the film, culminating in Mozart’s death.

Salieri believes that he killed Mozart, and that's what he tells the priest.

The priest is befuddled and has nothing to say at the conclusion of the confession. Salieri seems bemused by the priest’s sense of inadequacy. He sees a bit of himself in the priest, and says, “I will speak for you, Father, I speak for all the mediocrities of the world. Mediocrities everywhere, I absolve you.”

So does a composer's character matter? Beethoven’s "Ode to Joy" from his 9th Symphony is sung by churches around the world as “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee,” but that composer was a rather bitter man who argued with others throughout his life. Does that matter?

James 1: 17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” It is too bad Salieri didn’t take this Bible verse to heart and appreciate the music of Mozart as a gift of God. And we, perhaps, should do the same.

As for the Movie Churches rating for that little priest who came for Salieri’s confession? He did his best and for that, we’ll give him Three Steeples.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

More Best Picture Nominees: 1960s through 2010s

The 1960s brought in a new era in Hollywood. With the end of the Hayes Code and the beginning of the rating system, movies were allowed to portray more sex, violence, and questionable morality than they had for years. In addition, lawsuits during the previous decade ended exclusive talent contacts and studio ownership of movie theaters, further weakening the old studio system. 

Earlier in the 20th century, studios had exclusive contracts with directors, writers, and actors. They could put together a package for a film and demand theaters to play it. When Oscar time came around, a studio head could strongly suggest that everyone who worked for MGM or Columbia or Warner Brothers should vote for the film of his (always “his”) choosing.

With the 1960s, the tone of films changed, and it may well be that the changes especially impacted Oscar nominees. These are some of the Best Picture nominees we’ve looked at in Movie Churches:

1960’s Elmer Gantry, about a corrupt evangelist, pushed the envelope not just on religion but also sexuality as well. Though it didn’t win the Best Picture Oscar, it did win Academy Awards for Burt Lancaster (Best Actor), Shirley Jones (Best Supporting Actress), and Best Adapted Screenplay for Richard Brooks.

1963’s Lilies of the Field won the late Sidney Poitier a Best Actor Oscar. This film offered a much more kindly presentation of organized religion with a very sweet cloister of nuns.

1967’s The Graduate featured a church setting that Mindy and I were actually able to visit. The film itself was an iconic symbol of the younger generation's alienation. 

Though based on a story that was hundreds of years old, 1968’s Romeo and Juliet also became a symbol for the younger generation of the 1960s.

1970’s M*A*S*H was an anti-war comedy that attacked the military, the government, and also religion. 

On the other hand, 1973’s The Exorcist was a horror film that depicted the Roman Catholic Church in a most favorable light, but many churches advised their congregants not to see the film because of its violence, obscenity, and perceived blasphemy. 

1982’s legal drama, The Verdict, was also quite critical of organized religion -- at least the bureaucracy of the Roman Catholic Church.

I have often referred to 1983’s Tender Mercies as my favorite film for depicting the Christian faith. It didn’t win for Best Picture (though it was better than Terms of Endearment, the winner that year), but it did win Oscars for Robert Duvall (Best Actor) and Best Original Screenplay for Horton Foote. 

It was a time when country-themed films seemed all the rage. In 1984 three prominent films about family farms came out: Country, The River, and Places in the Heart. Only the latter was nominated for Best Picture, and Sally Field won Best Actress and Robert Benton won for Best Original Screenplay.

1986’s The Mission is the story of missionaries, so the church and clergy are much more central than in most of these films -- but the only Oscar this Best Picture nominee won was Best Cinematography.

In 1990’s The Godfather III, the church and the clergy play a bigger role than in the previous Godfather films (which is a good thing for Movie Churches), but the film isn’t nearly as good as the previous two.

2007’s There Will Be Blood managed to have an even bleaker view of life and the church than the Godfather films. It also won a cinematography Oscar as well as a Best Actor Oscar for Daniel Day-Lewis.

Clint Eastwood’s 2014 war film, American Sniper, won only one Academy Award, for Sound Editing. Its Best Picture competitor, the family drama Boyhood, won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Patricia Arquette.

In two weeks we’ll look at the Best Picture winners we've featured in Movie Churches over the years.

Friday, March 4, 2022

Best Picture Winners: Patton


Many people have complained about the Oscars becoming too political, but I don’t think that’s the reason for the current decline in interest in the ceremony. Other years have had far more political overtones. 

Take the 1978 Academy Awards, for example.

When Vanessa Redgrave was announced as the winner for Best Supporting Actress for her work in Julia, she used her moment on the platform to denounce the “the hoodlums” attacking the Palestinians. The audience responded with both applause and loud boos. Later in the ceremony, before presenting the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, Paddy Chayefsky chastised Redgrave for her remarks and was loudly cheered.

Whatever view you take on this issue, you’ve got to admit this was great theater and greatly entertaining.

The problem with Oscars now is that the politics are so very monolithic and boring. Someone will get up and say, “Down with Trump” or “Racism is bad,” and everyone will cheer. Perhaps not everyone in the Academy has the same political views, but it appears that only one set of views may be freely expressed. 

In 1970, when Patton was released -- or when Patton won the Oscar in 1971 -- this wasn't the case. The Vietnam war was raging. Just as the nation was divided by the war, so was the Academy. Everyone knew that John Wayne and Jane Fonda had diametrically opposed views, but both had a place in the Academy and the Oscar ceremonies.

Francis Ford Coppola has said that when he was writing the screenplay for Patton, he knew that some in the audience would view the general as a hero and others as a jingoistic warmonger --so he included both Patton’s slapping a soldier for cowardice and his rescue of the soldiers of Bastogne. People who opposed the Vietnam war and those who supported it saw arguments for their case in the film. So they voted for it. And it won Best Picture because it's a film that is art rather than propaganda. It presents the complexity of this man, of war, and of life.

The film, fortunately for us here at Movie Churches, presents clergy but avoids simplicity in its presentation of the church.

One device used throughout the film is cutting to German military headquarters and listening in on German officers' comments about Patton. Field Marshall Erwin Rommel (Karl Michael Vogler) mentions that Patton (George C. Scott) “prays on his knees but curses like a stable boy.”

We are shown this contrast in Patton's personality when a group of clergymen meets with him. They are introduced as “men from the states here to look after the spiritual welfare of the men.” Patton greets them warmly. One of the chaplains says, “I was glad to see a Bible by your bed. Do you find time to read it?” Patton answers, “I sure do. Every G*d d**n day.”

Patton always seems to show great respect for the church and the clergy. When he entered the liberated city of Messina, Italy, he knelt before the Bishop of the city to receive his blessing. On the other hand, his theology wasn't strictly orthodox for a Christian. He also believed in reincarnation.

One of the most damaging moments in his career occurred shortly after Patton’s successful campaign in Sicily: the Slapping Incident. While visiting men in the infirmary, he encountered a man who claimed to be there because of shell shock. He had lost the nerve to fight. Patton reprimanded him for his cowardice and said his presence was an affront to the brave men in the tent who had been physically wounded in battle. He slapped the man and demanded he be removed from the tent.

This incident made headlines back in the States and caused great turmoil in political and military circles. Many demanded that Patton be booted out of service, or at least demoted. In the film, he rightly fears his career might be over. What bothers him most is that he won’t be able to fulfill what he feels is his divinely appointed destiny of glory in battle.

Patton goes to a church, kneels near the altar, and recites Psalm 63:

“O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee:
my soul thirsteth for thee,
my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is;
to see thy power and thy glory,
so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary.
Because thy lovingkindness is better than life,
my lips shall praise thee.
Thus will I bless thee while I live:
I will lift up my hands in thy name.
My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness;
and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips:
when I remember thee upon my bed,
and meditate on thee in the night watches.
Because thou hast been my help,
therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice.
My soul followeth hard after thee:
thy right hand upholdeth me.
But those that seek my soul, to destroy it, shall go into the lower parts of the earth.
They shall fall by the sword:
they shall be a portion for foxes.
But the king shall rejoice in God;
every one that sweareth by him shall glory:
but the mouth of them that speak lies shall be stopped.”

He seems most fervent in the prayer for enemies to fall by the sword and be the portion of foxes, but he does ask for God’s will to be done.

Patton’s command is restored for what is arguably the most important battle of his career, the Seige of Bastogne. Part of the Battle of Bulge, this was the last great German offensive action of the war. In the Ardennes Woods of Belgium, a small contingent of American soldiers held out against the great Nazi war machine. On Christmas Day of 1944, the Nazi forces demanded that General Anthony McAuliffe surrender. His one-word reply was, “Nuts!” 

Patton said a man of such eloquence must be rescued.

But there were obstacles to that rescue, chief of which was brutal winter weather hindering adequate aerial coverage for an attack. Patton recognized the problem and said, “If we have 24 hours of decent weather, we might make it.” He was told the weather forecast was for more snow, and his advisor said they would have to wait. Patton said, “We’re going to keep moving.”

Nonetheless, Patton realized he needed help, so he called in the Third Army Chaplain (Lionel Murton).

“You wanted to see me, General?”

“Oh, yes, Chaplain. I’m sick and tired of the 3rd Army having to fight the Germans without the support of the Supreme Command, no gasoline, and now this ungodly weather. I want a prayer. A weather prayer.”

“A weather prayer, sir?”

“Yes, let’s see if you can’t get God working with us on this thing.”

“It’ll take a pretty thick rug for that kind of praying.”

“I don’t care if it takes a flying carpet.”

“Well, I don’t know how this is gonna be received, General. Praying for good weather so we can kill our fellow man.”

“Well, I can assure you, sir, because of my intimate relations with the Almighty… If you write a good prayer, we’ll have good weather. And I expect that prayer within an hour.”

“Yes, sir.”

The chaplain writes a prayer, and Patton prays it.

“Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech thee of thy great goodness to restrain this immoderate weather with which we’ve had to contend. Grant us fair weather for battle. Graciously harken unto us as soldiers who call upon thee that armed with thy power we may advance from victory to victory and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish thy justice among men and nations. Amen.”

Director Franklin Schaffner allows us to hear the prayer over brutal scenes of battle as Patton’s forces savage the German troops. (It’s rather amazing that this film is rated PG. The PG-13 rating didn’t exist in 1970, but I would think today the realistic violence of the film could earn it an R rating.)

Patton doesn’t forget to whom he owes the conditions that allowed for the attack. He says, “Weather’s perfect. Cod, get me that Chaplain. He stands in good with the Lord, and I want him decorated.”

But after the victory in Europe, Patton is not sent to the ongoing war in the Pacific. Patton recognizes his day is done. He remembers that Roman conquerors would have a slave whisper in his ear, “All glory is fleeting.” I do wish we had seen the clergy in the film more strongly remind Patton that God’s glory was eternal. Still, we’re giving the clergy and the churches in the film a Three Steeple rating.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

It's Oscar Month at Movie Churches!

As a kid, I got very excited about the Oscars (okay, sure, I was a strange kid). I would beg my parents to let me stay up and watch the whole thing. I remember in elementary school faking sick to miss a 4-H event so I wouldn’t miss the ceremony. We even hosted (and attended) Oscar parties through the years.

I’ve lost interest in the last five years or so. Some reasons include the Oscars not showing the lifetime achievement awards, and this year dropping the technical awards so they can show Twitter vote competitions. The ceremony has just become less fun.

But I’ll always appreciate one thing about the Academy Awards: the Oscars led me to track down and watch some great films I might never have watched otherwise (and some stinkers, but the good ones made it worthwhile). The Academy Awards are at the end of this month, so we’re looking back at films featured here at Movie Churches in the past as well (follow the links.) And we will be writing about other Oscar-winning and nominated films in the weeks to come.

(Best Picture Nominees from the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties)

Two of the biggest stars from the Thirties, Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy, starred in one of the early disaster films, San Francisco (1936), recreating the 1906 earthquake. For our purposes, we can be thankful the film has a boxing preacher as well.

The 1938 Best Picture winner, The Life of Emile Zola, is… fine. Another of the nominees that year has weathered the test of time much better.  The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Errol Flynn and Olivia De Havilland, tells a story that has been told in many films through the decades, but this is still the best. Fortunately for Movie Churches, Friar Tuck is featured in the film.

Back in the Golden Days of Hollywood, clergy often were featured as heroic figures, though their theology was usually bland and little mentioned. Films that exemplified this hagiographic view of clergy include Spencer Tracy’s priest in Boys Town (1938), Ingrid Bergman’s nun in The Bells of St. Mary's (1945), and David Niven’s pastor in The Bishop’s Wife (1947).

At the start of World War II, studios did their part for the war effort, making films glorifying heroes and battles of the past. Sergeant York (1941) with Gary Cooper also included a theological defense for going to war.

Like The Bishop’s Wife and It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street (1947) is one of the few classic Christmas films to be nominated for Best Picture (no such luck for Elf or National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation).

The Fifties were the era of big-screen Biblical epics. Two of those featured churches and were nominated for Best Picture: Quo Vadis (1951) and The Robe (1953). A different kind of religious epic, The Nun’s Story (1959) starred Audrey Hepburn.

Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth is widely regarded as one of the Academy’s worst picks for Best Picture. It beat two classic films: The Quiet Man (1952) -- one of John Ford and John Wayne’s best efforts  -- and one of the greatest of Westerns, High Noon (1952).

Over the next two weeks, we’ll look at the other Best Picture nominees featured in Movie Churches -- along with the winners.