All posts tagged: Academy Awards

The Grace Lurking in the Midst of an All-Consuming Anger

 SPOILER ALERT: This review does indeed contain spoilers. Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones) reads Flannery O’Connor. This is not a defining feature of his, and no neighbor would probably note his reading choice. But to the viewer of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, writer-director Martin McDonagh’s momentary close-up of A Good Man is Hard to Find in Red’s hands early in the film is full of meaning. I suggest that it may be the key to understanding what this film is trying to say. In spite of the cycles of anger that seem to define and consume the world, there are moments of grace that shake our expectations and show another path. It is up to us to choose whether we will walk that new path, or continue down our current road. Three Billboards is the story of Mildred Hayes (Best Actress nominee Frances McDormand), an acerbic woman who rents the titular billboards outside of her southern town to call attention to the unsolved rape and murder of her teenage daughter. Mildred’s message tries to …

The Shape of Water: An Accidental Allegory of the Sheep and the Goats

SPOILER ALERT: This review does indeed contain spoilers. The Shape of Water is a strange fairy tale about a mute cleaning lady named Elisa who falls in love with an anthropomorphic river creature. Despite the film’s oddity, and partly because of it, the selfless Elisa shines as a witness of how ordinary acts of charity can lead to unexpected happiness, or, dare I say (?) beatitude, after the pattern described by Christ in the judgment of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25. Elisa is a thirty-something mute woman working maintenance at a government research facility in the 1960’s. One day in a lab where Elisa is cleaning, a new specimen arrives: an Amazonian water creature that looks part human, part fish, and part Pokémon. The scientists in the lab see him as an object of study. His primary captor, Richard Strickland, sees him as an object of disdain. Elisa, his eventual lover, sees him as a creature desperately in need of help. Elisa, One of the Sheep When Elisa encounters the creature for the …

Desire Can Also Be Destructive

SPOILER ALERT: This review does indeed contain spoilers. Is it a video? Call Me By Your Name’s final moment is an elegantly enigmatic yet unambiguously poignant shot of Elio (Best Actor nominee Timothée Chalamet) staring into a roaring winter fireplace, transfixed by the memories of his summer romance with Oliver. The long unbroken take as the credits roll over his face is accompanied by the repeated refrain of Sufjan Stevens’ “Visions of Gideon” murmuring its yearning question: “Is it a video? Is it a video?” This last moment crystallizes the course the film charts: the troubling ambiguity of falling in love (or not) with an Other. Call Me By Your Name, based on André Aciman’s 2007 novel, is a tour-de-force portrait of desire which has prompted flurries of controversy concerning power imbalance, pedophilia, agency, and the depiction of queer romance on screen. This review will not attempt to enter those debates, but instead will attempt an explanation of why this film would necessarily raise those discussions. The project of a theological sexual ethics is interested …

Winston Churchill’s Dark Night of the Soul

SPOILER ALERT: This review does indeed contain spoilers. Darkest Hour is a compelling dramatization of the life of Prime Minister Winston Churchill during the time between the resignation of his predecessor, Neville Chamberlain (which coincided with the German invasion of Holland, Belgium, and France), and Churchill’s famous “We shall never surrender” speech to the House of Commons following the evacuation of the defeated British army at Dunkirk only a few weeks later. During this short period, the Allies experienced their worst defeat of World War II. However, the slow-motion disaster unfolding in France and the low countries is mostly in the background; the focus of the film is on Churchill, and his lonely struggle through Britain’s darkest hour. That struggle may truly be said to be a spiritual one. From the beginning, Churchill must contend not only with the collapse of the Allied forces, but also with the mistrust of his king and growing opposition from his political colleagues, several of whom wish to give up the fight and negotiate a peace with Hitler. The …

The 2018 Best Picture Nominees and the Script of Transcendence

The nominations for the 90th Academy Awards were announced on 23 January 2018. In recent years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences received harsh criticism for a lack of diversity among its nominees which many interpreted as an indication of the Academy’s lack of cultural awareness in general, and many people have simply written off the Oscars as an awards show that only means something for people of a certain gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or political affiliation. This year, thankfully, the nominees include a more diverse array of incredible talents, but the perennial conversation serves as a reminder of the fact that movies and awards, like most everything else, have become politicized, and it’s not necessarily the best picture that wins “Best Picture.” But, in the end, it doesn’t really matter which film wins the top honor year after year, for in reality, every film in the category is worth our attention for one reason or another. What matters is the fact that the stories told in these movies have the potential to change …

And the Nominees Are . . . Moonlight

Editors’ Note: In anticipation of the 89th Academy Awards on February 26, we present a series exploring the philosophical and theological elements in each of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. This post contains no spoilers. A while back, I wrote an essay for Church Life Journal in which I argued that, before a theology of women or a theology of men can be articulated, what is needed is a theology of empathy, in which both women and men learn to encounter the other as an extension of the self, to enter into the experience of the other—without losing the essential qualities of the self—in order to better understand the other, and in the process, come to a better understanding of the self. I remember thinking at the time that a theology of empathy had implications beyond gender relations, that this was something essential for all human relationships—that empathy could serve as a foundation for dialogue between people of different races, religions, political affiliations, socioeconomic backgrounds, education levels, sexual orientations, even ages. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come …

And the Nominees Are . . . Hell or High Water

Editors’ Note: In anticipation of the 89th Academy Awards on February 26, we present a series exploring the philosophical and theological elements in each of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. This review contains no spoilers. The best stories take us to new places and in doing so give a better understanding of ourselves. They persuade us to sympathize with the heroes—their struggles crush us—while sharing their ire for the dirty, no-good louts presented against them. Great plots challenge, intrigue, enchant, and ultimately force us to come to decide: What am I to do—who am I to be—in light of what’s happening here? Good stories end happily ever after but great ones leave us thirsting for more. This year’s Best Picture nominee Hell or High Water is a great one. Set in present-day West Texas, we meet cowboys, Comanches, and Texas Rangers in a desert expanse peppered with depressing “Fast Cash” billboards and flashing casino lights. The film tells of two brothers, Tanner and Toby Howard (played by Ben Foster and Chris Pine, respectively), who resort to robbing Texas Midland Banks in order …

And the Nominees Are . . . Hacksaw Ridge

Editors’ Note: In anticipation of the 89th Academy Awards on February 26, we present a series exploring the philosophical and theological elements in each of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. This post contains no spoilers. Walking out of the theater after seeing Hacksaw Ridge, my senses were on high alert. Sitting through the graphic, suspense-filled battle scenes of this based-on-a-true-story war movie left me waiting for an enemy soldier (or, more realistically, a car or pedestrian) to jump out in front of us on the drive home. Luckily my less-fazed husband was driving and we made it home safely. I left feeling slightly traumatized by the battle scenes, but I can appreciate what Mel Gibson was trying to do with his realistic portrayal of the horrors of war Desmond Doss faced. In a press conference, Gibson described his intentions in directing these violent scenes for the movie: [The realistic portrayal of the Battle of Okinawa] highlights what it means for a man with conviction and faith to go into a situation that is a hell on earth, that reduces most men …

And the Nominees Are . . . Manchester By the Sea

Editors’ Note: In anticipation of the 89th Academy Awards on February 26, we present a series exploring the philosophical and theological elements in each of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. Caveat: this review contains spoilers. When life is defined by the worst mistake you’ve ever made, how do you go on living? Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan poses this heart-wrenching question and several others like it in Manchester By the Sea, the story of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), an isolated janitor living in Boston who must return to his hometown after his beloved brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) passes away unexpectedly, and, even more unexpectedly, names Lee the legal guardian of sixteen-year-old Patrick (Lucas Hedges), Joe’s only son and Lee’s only nephew. When Lee learns that Joe has not only named him Patrick’s guardian but has also provided funds for him to return to Manchester permanently, he recoils, making every attempt to find another way to provide for his nephew’s care. At first, this seems like the reaction of a selfish, irresponsible man who doesn’t want to be saddled with the burden of an unexpected, …

And the Nominees Are . . . Fences

Editors’ Note: In anticipation of the 89th Academy Awards on February 26, we present a series exploring the philosophical and theological elements in each of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. This post contains no spoilers. What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up Like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore— And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over— Like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags Like a heavy load. Or does it explode? —Langston Hughes, “Harlem” Through a few short lines in his 1951 poem “Harlem,” Langston Hughes asks his readers to consider a response through brief but vivid imagery. Far from a whimsical thought experiment, these words capture the voices and experiences of an African American community whose bright American dreams have been too often lost amid the ugly shadows of racism. In director Denzel Washington’s Fences, adapted from August Wilson’s 1983 play, this societal sin forms the backdrop against which the richness of its narrative blooms. The depth of Wilson’s characters (and of the actors bringing …