Sometimes you watch a movie featuring the historical Jesus - long flowing locks, middle eastern garb, wistful looks - and there is nothing particularly Christlike about the film.
Case in point: take my advice and DON'T bother watching Last Days in the Desert - a spectacularly bad movie.
Then other times you watch a movie that doesn't even mention Jesus by name - except as a swearword in the midst of flying F-bombs, and yet there are underlying themes and ideas that are totally Christlike - IF you have eyes to see and ears to hear. Those are the movies I want to highlight in this post.
So, here you go - my top 5 movies from 2016. These are the ones that spoke to my soul, stirred my conscience, and nourished my spirit. Perhaps you'll like them too...
This one flew under the radar, so you might not have noticed it. But MAN, what a great movie. Yes it's pretty intense - heavy themes, a lot of serious gang activity, and f-bombs galore - but it's well worth any discomfort.
The main character, based on a true story, is a young Maori guy struggling with mental illness, who finds a sense of purpose teaching some tough local kids about chess.
But if you think this is another "white saviour" movie, think again. The final scene alone, where he overcomes the violent recruitment tactics of a local gang by non-violent direct action will send shivers down your spine.
This is the compelling true story of conscientious objector Desmond T. Doss who saved 75 men in Okinawa, during the bloodiest battle of World War 2, without firing a single shot.
You have heard it said, an eye for an eye, BUT I SAY TO YOU, love your enemies.... These words of Jesus have had Christians doing theological gymnastics since the day they were uttered.
Here we have the story of one who chose to believe that loving our enemies is incompatible with killing them. This movie is topping a lot of lists for 2016. Don't miss it.
3. Lost Kites
This beautifully shot documentary-style film follows the lives of three orphans, each from a different country. As the film unfolds we begin to glimpse a subversive underlying idea - that God's heart is to place the lonely in families, not orphanages.
Full disclosure - I am in this film as a "talking head" expert. So that's reason enough to check it out right? Nah, this is really well made and with a powerful story and message. Get on it.
4. The 13th
This documentary takes us on a historical tour of the prison system in the United States, examining its roots in slavery and through to the modern day war on drugs. It's a brutal and unflinching portayal of entrenced racism in a nation that still hasn't exorcised its ghosts.
We serve One who chose to come and be executed as a common criminal. This film, together with Shane Claiborne's new book, "Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why it's Killing Us" will deeply challenge your understanding of criminal justice.
This movie only came out a couple of days ago, so I haven't seen it. But I think it's safe to say that this is going to be one CRAZY powerful film.
Directed by Martin Scorsese and based on the 1966 book about Jesuit missionaries in Japan, the story touches on themes of martyrdom, faith, sacrifice, persecution, suffering and mission.
Looks like a must-see!
Bonus extra for families: Moana
What's not to love about Moana?
We have a powerful polynesian heroine who's not waiting to be rescued, a lovable cast of characters and a super cool soundtrack.
But that's not why I chose it for this list. All of that makes it a fun, inclusive and empowering movie. But then we get to the end (spoiler alert...) and the heinous lava-encased enemy is defeated not by power and violence, but by vulnerability and love. If that's not a nod to the way of Christ, I don't know what is.