Nine Documentaries for the Grace Addict

The Best Films You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Mockingbird / 8.25.21

Looking for a movie to watch to pass these last few days of summer? In this excerpt from our book, Mockingbird at the Movies, John Zahl has compiled a superb list of real-life dramas for the grace addict (i.e. everyone). 

Undefeated (2011)

The real-life Friday Night Lights, Undefeated is a crash course not only in grace-centered coaching, but in fatherhood and ministry. The filmmakers were somehow able to capture the infectious, transforming power of grace (in practice) on film, not just once or twice, but with about nine major wallops to the old ticker! No wonder it won the Academy Award for Best Documentary 2011. Love for the loveless shown.

Rising Son: The Legend of Skateboarder Christian Hosoi (2006)

Ever wondered what the conversion of a hopeless case by God’s grace alone looks like? Look no further than this short documentary on the coolest professional skateboarder of the 1980s. The stamp of God’s call upon Christian’s life from long before he could recognize it is something to behold. Hosoi’s signature move was called “the Christ air” for crying out loud! He now serves as a pastor for a massive Vineyard church.

Unguarded (2011)

Extreme cases create circumstances where grace abounds. This is one of them. How does God redeem—and make something beautiful—out of failure? Unguarded provides a moving example of the answer our faith affirms.

Buck (2011)

Can love really achieve that which the law fails to do? Buck says yes and backs it up with examples galore, including an amazing portrait of adoption and a father-son story about a pair of gloves that will leave your heart on the floor and your eyes streaming.

The Cruise (1998)

This one is top-drawer, but not for the faint of heart. It tracks the brilliant and mercurial Timothy “Speed” Levitch, Manhattan’s greatest tour guide, through his ups and downs. The 9/11 material is uncanny in its strange, prophetic apprehension, and the confession on the Brooklyn Bridge is not to be believed. This one is primarily a portrait of idol worship, and wasted genius, but to an extent that is mind-blowing.

Rize (2005)

God sees hope in the most forgotten places … and His ways are not our ways. No film better makes this point than Rize. Imagine a spiritual movement taking form in a gang-ridden ghetto, where instead of joining gangs, kids join troops of birthday party clowns. As a result they rise (rize!) above the troubles that plague their daily lives. Be sure to notice how, in the end, the local church plays an immensely positive and pivotal role.

The King of Kong (2007)

The ascendancy of the underdog, and the greatest documentary villain yet discovered. Can there be a new high-score contender in the world of arcade Donkey Kong gaming? The world says “No,” but God says “Yes.” If you watch the deleted scenes on the DVD, you may not be surprised to find out that St. Wiebe also writes praise songs in his spare time.

Bill Cunningham New York (2010)

Another beautiful portrait of good-ole-fashioned faith in a modern world and God’s ability to shine even in a place where everything sparkles. Cunningham is the Pope Francis of fashion (with Grace Codington being runner up). See also: The September Issue for Law/Gospel themes writ large in fashion.

Make Believe (2010)

“And a child shall lead them …” Who is the best teen magician in the world? He has been plucked, like King David, from the rural pastures — in this case, of Japan. Before him every (teen magician) knee shall bow.


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