Charlton Heston, who died this morning at age 84, had the screen presence for larger than life, heroic roles, and often appeared in films with religious themes. He will be best remembered for his Oscar-winning performance as Ben-Hur and for appearing as Moses in The Ten Commandments. He also played John the Baptist in The Greatest Story Ever Told. Heston created audio recordings of the Bible and provided voice talent for a series of animated Bible stories for children.
I am especially fond of his performance in the brilliant Touch of Evil as a policeman who lives on the border, literally and metaphorically, and in a rare romantic comedy, “The Private War of Major Benson.” Whether he was leading a circus (The Greatest Show on Earth) or a stranded team of astronauts (Planet of the Apes) or even trying to survive as the last man on earth (The Omega Man), his conviction and commitment made him the essence of a movie star.
My friend Hoppy Gillmore of Fargo’s Froggy 99.9 has posted his list of the all-time best baseball movies, one for each inning. Here’s his list, with some comments from me in italics.
9. The Bad News Bears
Anyone who played Little League ball has lived this movie. Thanks Coach Flieth for spending your summers on the diamond with us! I know people love this one, but it is not on my list. I’m all for anti-hero movies that subvert the usual underdog formulas, but hearing kids use bad language and seeing adults misbehave in front of them just isn’t that funny.
8. The Sandlot
If you ever played neighborhood ball as a kid you’ve lived this movie as well. For me it was the empty lot next to Paul and Mitch Heinen’s house in Hillsboro. I love this movie — it’s my DVD pick of the week!
7. A League of Their Own
“There’s no crying in baseball!” I never knew about this piece of baseball history until I saw the movie.
There may be no crying in baseball (one of my favorite lines ever), but I cry in the last scene of this movie every time I watch. Ignore the sibling rivalry theme and enjoy the love of the game and the brilliant performances from everyone — Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Bill Pullman, Madonna, and Rosie O’Donnell.
6. For Love of the Game
This one’s good for women too because there’s a love story built into the story of baseball. Even my wife will sit down and watch this one. Agreed!
5. Major League
“Juuuuust a bit outside!” According to Chris Coste’s new book, The 33-Year-Old Rookie (http://www.chriscoste.com/) this could be a very accurate portrayal of minor league ball. Silly fun, and I love it when they play “Wild Thing.” (But stay away from the sequel.)
Yeah, I’m a homer. Billy Crystal’s tribute to who will ALWAYS be the single-season home run king. Terrific movie.
3. The Natural
One of the first baseball movies I remember watching. Who wouldn’t want to run the bases under a shower of sparks from the home run ball you hit that went into the lights? Love this one, too. Parental note: some mature material.
2. Field of Dreams
“If you build it, they will come.” The father-son playing catch at the end brings back memories of my dad and I doing the same thing whenever he’d grill. In-between flipping burgers we’d play catch. This is a movie that makes grown men cry. Touching and inspiring.
1. Bull Durham
Kevin Costner’s “Crash Davis” spews the best baseball philosophy around. He’s the Yoda of baseball. One of the great, great grown-up love stories ever put on film — love of baseball as well as romantic love. And I get a kick out of knowing that this is where Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins became a real-life couple!
Writer/director Jules Dassin died this week at age 96. He is perhaps most fondly remembered as a key figure in establishing the genres of film noir (Naked City) and the heist film (Topkapi and “Rififi”) and for the marvelous Never on Sunday, starring his wife, Melina Mercouri, as an earthy prostitute who is “educated” about ancient Greece by an American scholar (Dassin himself).
The movie I most want to remember today is one that Dassin wrote and directed early in his career, one of the most profoundly spiritual films I have ever seen. It is called “He Who Must Die,” and it is the story of a group of Greek villagers who put on a passion play each year. The powerful citizens of the town decide who will play each part. Almost contemptuously, they select a stuttering shepherd to play Jesus and the town prostitute to play Mary Magdalene. But when a real-life conflict comes to the town, the members of the passion play cast begin to take on the attributes of the New Testament figures they are portraying. Unfortunately, the film is not available on video or DVD, but I strongly recommend making every effort to try to see it.
Two of the best performances of the year so far were given by Victor Rasuk in “Stop Loss” and Melonie Diaz in “Be Kind Rewind.” Both got their start in a little-seen independent film called a “minor miracle” by Salon movie critic Stephanie Zacharek, “Raising Victor Vargas.” The young actors share their names with their characters, and the film has an intimate, improvised, documentary feel as it explores their struggles to find themselves and make connections. Watch for another supremely natural performance from first-timer Altagracia Guzman as the grandmother. Winner of Independent Spirit awards for direction and first screenplay, this is a quiet gem of a movie. I am delighted to see Rasuk and Diaz continuing to grow as performers and look forward to seeing what they do next.
Rotten Tomatoes has a new list of movies that feature God.
Not long ago, Beliefnet had its own list of memorable portrayals of God in the movies and television. I contributed a brief commentary on one of my favorites, Howie Mandel (yes, the “Deal or No Deal” guy) in the old television show, “St. Elsewhere.”
And try out Beliefnet’s quiz about some of the more than 200 movies that feature God in the title.
Do you have a favorite portrayal of a deity on the screen?