I’m lucky enough to have the job of leading ILLUMINATE Film Festival’s global pursuit for the year’s most paradigm-shifting, awareness-building, life-affirming films.
Lucky for you, you won’t have to wade through 1000 hours of films to get your best shot at some serious wisdom and inspiration. A review of 2017 makes clear that seekers and movie-lovers alike were spoiled this year with an array of conscious movies worth watching, and pondering, from mainstream blockbusters and character-driven docs to mindful meditations and masterful animations.
For the conscious moviegoer, the screen is our mirror. Movie characters become to us a blank slate upon whom we can project ourselves, and their struggles and triumphs become our own. Perhaps within my picks for best movies of the year, you’ll find reflections of your own hero’s journey … and leverage them for personal transformation that is thrilling to your soul. Here they are in no particular order:
Lucky follows the spiritual journey of a 90-year-old atheist and the quirky characters that inhabit his off-the-map desert town. Having outlived and out smoked all of his contemporaries, the fiercely independent Lucky finds himself at the precipice of life, thrust into a journey of self-exploration leading toward that which is so often unattainable: enlightenment. Lucky, is at once a love letter to the life and career of Harry Dean Stanton as well as a meditation on mortality, loneliness, spirituality, and human connection. Starring Harry Dean Stanton, Ed Bigley, Jr., Ron Livingston and David Lynch.
2. Walk With Me
Narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, Walk With Me is a cinematic journey into the world of mindfulness and the Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh. Offering a vacation for the overloaded mind, the film goes deep inside the Plum Village Monastery where devotees have given up all their possessions and committed to a life of chastity for one common purpose — to transform their suffering and practice the art of mindfulness with the world-famous teacher.
3. Chasing Coral
From the director of Chasing Ice comes an epic adventure to save a crucial creature in our earth’s complex ecosystem – coral. This timely, character-driven doc feels more like a suspense thriller, with Zack Rago as its protagonist, a self-proclaimed coral nerd who will stop short of nothing to capture visual proof of the organism’s heartbreaking decline. A Sundance 2017 favorite, the film palpably and infectiously brings the possibilities of saving our environment into focus, and gives us a dose of hope.
4. The Last Dalai Lama?
Director Mickey Lemle (Ram Dass Fierce Grace) brings to the big screen a very powerful and personal portrait of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Lemie filmed extensively with the Dalai Lama with an intimacy only made possible by their 30-year relationship. In this uplifting film, the Dalai Lama speaks candidly about the issues that come with aging that can disquiet the mind: regrets, unfulfilled dreams, frustrations, and the inevitability of death, and explores the persistent questions about his next reincarnation. The Last Dalai Lama? also includes interviews with Daniel Goleman, Richard Davidson, Matthieu Ricard, George W. Bush, members of the Dalai Lama’s family, and features the music of Philip Glass.
In this surprise hit by Lionsgate, starring Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson, young Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay of Room) is born with congenital facial deformities, karmically destined to navigate roads of ridicule and bullying. A sensitive, humanistic tale that coaches us in the spiritual practices of tolerance, acceptance and unconditional self love, Wonder ultimately satisfies us with the believe that people can be good.
Director Kelly Noonan crafts a life-affirming documentary about the power of the mind to heal the body. This film will empower you with a new understanding of the extraordinary healer within us all. HEAL not only taps into the brilliant minds of leading scientists and spiritual teachers, but follows three people on actual high-stakes healing journeys. The film, which became a top-selling doc on iTunes, features Dr. Deepak Chopra, Dr. Joe Dispenza, Anita Moorjani, Marianne Williamson and Dr. Michael Beckwith, among others.
7. The Red Turtle
Incredibly profound and yet alluringly simple, this mystical, wordless story about a stranded castaway offers timeless teachings on empathy and love, longing for what we leave behind, and the beauty of family. Gorgeously crafted by Oscar-winning animator Michael Dudok de Wit, this French-Japanese co-production will enchant you with magical realism, if you have the patience. Those with a taste for more mainland family-focused animation should try Coco.
8. RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked The World
A celebratory examination of the often-underappreciated role of Native American tradition in the evolution of American popular music, the film stars Link Wray, Robbie Robertson, Jesse Ed Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Randy Castillo, Martin Scorsese, Quincy Jones, Steven Tyler, Iggy Pop, Tony Bennett and George Clinton. This star-studded tribute, both captivating and defiant, brings much needed attention to the value of indigenous wisdom and heritage in American culture. After a thunderous applause at our fourth annual ILLUMINATE Film Fest, and a round of foot-stomping, I wasn’t surprised when RUMBLE won the Audience Award for Best Feature Film.
9. The Farthest
The list would not be complete without a science or space pic, and The Farthest excels in both categories. This irresistible Irish documentary explores NASA’s 1977 mission to send two Voyager satellites into space. Critic Glenn Dunks describes the film as one that “grapples with the concept of not just what this giant science experiment is, but what it means to us, to the Earth, and to the very idea of humanity. It’s also just a whole lot of wide-eyed fun, a scintillating journey through the galaxy that is as illuminating as it is exciting…”
Engrossing from start to finish, this animated feature tells the story of a young farm girl named Mija who risks everything to save her best friend Okja, a genetically engineered pig, from becoming a multinational company’s next commercial meat product. A Bong Joon-ho masterpiece featuring Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal, Okja delights audiences with its emotional and political astuteness and reinforces the enlightened notion that all animals are created equal.
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