All posts tagged: Oscars

Gravity and Grace and Lady Bird

Given its setting in a Catholic high school, Lady Bird is a natural draw for Catholic audiences, especially those who attended Catholic grade schools or high schools. Nearly all of the typical Catholic school jokes are there in some way, shape, or form: nuns performing random spot checks to make sure uniform skirts are the appropriate length, stolen glances between the boys and girls across the aisles during the all-school Masses, even leaving room for the Holy Spirit during school dances. What distinguishes Lady Bird is the fact that these jokes, these moments, are never mean-spirited toward the Catholic school or the Catholic Church as an institution. These moments are wryly-observed, lovingly crafted, and beautifully acted with a quietly joyous humor that disarms audience members who would view the Catholic school with scorn, and thaws audience members who would place the Catholic school on an idealized (and utterly unrealistic) pedestal. Even the moments that could be considered borderline irreverent never cross the line into sacrilegious, because these moments, too, are rooted in truth and joy …

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 …

And the Nominees Are . . . Hidden Figures

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. Oh, I’ll tell you where to begin: Three Negro women chasing a white police officer down a highway in Hampton, Virginia in 1961. Ladies, that there is a God-ordained miracle! —Mary Jackson, Hidden Figures And with Mary Jackson’s tongue-in-cheek prophetic diagnosis, Hidden Figures revs into full, Technicolor life. A sepia-tinged prologue has identified the central protagonist among our three musketeers—Katherine Johnson—whose patched-together wire-rimmed glasses are two windows into the kaleidoscopic world which she inhabits. For Katherine, the world is knit together in geometric forms; tetrahedrons, triangles, and rhombi camouflage themselves in windowpanes. For Katherine, numbers are the backbone of nature, and she spends each day counting the vertebrae. Her eyes light up when a teacher asks her to solve a problem and hands her the chalk. He doesn’t simply hand her a blunt stub of chalk, he hands her a sharp sword of possibility, with which …

And the Nominees Are . . . Arrival

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. The film Arrival, starring Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks, linguistics scholar, takes the science fiction trope of first contact and explores it from an astonishingly intimate perspective: through the memories and experiences of Adams’ character as she, and the rest of the world, come to know humanity’s new extraterrestrial visitors. Louise, whose life, we see, has involved terrible heartache, is chosen by the government for her linguistics expertise and tasked with finding a means of communication with the visitors: unraveling their language, teaching them our own, and, most importantly, finding out what they want. She is paired with a physicist, Ian Donelly (Jeremy Renner), who is supposed to make sense of the alien technology and scientific knowledge. Instead, he comes to serve as mostly a partner and visual aid for Louise’s communication work. And as they work against the clock to comprehend the alien language …

And the Nominees Are . . . La La Land

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. I grew up on movie musicals. The Wizard of Oz. Singin’ in the Rain. The Sound of Music. The Music Man. Some of my earliest memories are of watching these iconic films and singing along. As I grew up and started performing in musicals myself, I discovered other greats like An American in Paris and West Side Story, and more recently, I’ve reveled in modern movie musicals like Newsies and Once and Enchanted as well as film adaptations of Broadway shows like Chicago and Into the Woods. So when I heard about La La Land, I was instantly intrigued. The buzz lauded it as a glorious throwback to the glittering extravaganzas filmed in Technicolor and Cinemascope, as writer-director Damien Chazelle’s effort to create an homage, really a valentine, to the Golden Age of the movie musical. And visually, he succeeds, literally with flying colors—the gorgeously saturated …

And the Nominees Are . . . Lion

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. So they were there even before I had learnt them, but were not in my memory. . . . They were already in the memory, but so remote and pushed into the background, as if in most secret caverns, that unless they were dug out by someone drawing attention to them, perhaps I could not have thought of them. (Confessions Book X, 17) In book ten of his Confessions, St. Augustine writes of memory as a re-learning, a re-discovering. Deep in our memory there are visions of truth that we re-learn as life prompts their recall. Garth Davis’ Lion dives into the intimate quest of a human severed from his origins. How do the memories of who he once was and those who loved him reach through the rupture between them? And how must he respond once those memories reach him? Based on a true story, …