The Christ and Pop Culture Oscar Preview

I am so happy with myself. I have long been a fan of movies, and a pretty faithful watcher of the Academy Awards. Yet, I rarely ever seem to have the time or drive it takes to see all the Best Picture nominees. This year, however, I made a concerted effort to see as many as possible, along with movies from other categories, as well. I had an excellent reason this year…an Oscar Party. I am currently involved with a great movie viewing/ discussion group called Art on Life, and for our Oscar party, I wanted to be as prepared as I could be, so that my picks would be informed. After all, is hard to  vote on a fake Oscar ballot if you don’t know for what you are casting your vote.

For the purposes of this post, I will mainly focus on the Best Picture category, and how those nominated films fare against each other. I have seen nine of the ten nominated films, and I will thereby rule myself qualified to write with decent authority on the subject. At the end, though, I will give my predictions for several of the major categories. I’ll write about these in the order in which I saw them. Oh, and there will be some spoilers.

Finally, before we dive in, the question should be asked, “Why should a Christian care about the Oscars?” My answer is that it is likely that someone you know, and more likely a lot of people you know, will be interested in the movies, the gossip, the dresses, or some aspect of the Academy Awards, and as long as it does no harm to you spiritually, it’s always good to be aware of what is going on in pop culture so that you can have a say and be a relevant presence in the lives of your friends and neighbors. It is, I believe, one of the reasons this site exists.

Inception: This is probably the movie viewed by the most people of all the nominees. It was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay, but not for Best Director, and Christopher Nolan is responsible for both. It was a unique, though sometimes convoluted story, so kudos to Nolan for being able to direct this story with the clarity it has. The acting was excellent (Cillian Murphy, I love you), but the movie’s actors were slighted in the Best Acting categories. Inception was not, however, up to par with most of its fellow nominees. Because it was extremely high-concept, the script spends too much time explaining, and then explaining again, what the rules are in this particular game. It is fun to look at, though, and I like the movie.

True Grit: I went to see this with a friend and we spent most of the movie giggling, right up until it was not funny anymore. Were we supposed to react this way to the Coen Brothers latest production? I think so. We were still able to appreciate the greater themes- the need for justice, the lost father figure and his less-than-perfect replacement, but come on. Matt Damon’s cowlick was enough to keep us thrown off kilter for half the movie. It was a nice relief after the tragedy of No Country for Old Men. Hailee Steinfeld’s performance was more impressive to me than Jeff Bridges’, especially considering she was thirteen when the movie was filmed. And yet, she was nominated for a supporting role in a film she drove from the beginning. Puzzling. The cinematography is beautiful, and supports the themes of innocence and treachery. In a different year, True Grit might be good enough to pull a win, but I believe the competition is just too strong this year.

The Social Network: I loved this movie. When I first heard Trent Reznor had scored it, I was skeptical. But the music (great direction, Mr. Fincher) creates a tension as early as the opening sequence so that, even if you didn’t know what was about to happen, you would be filled with a thrill of expectation. The simple genius of the powerful, sparse chords chosen by Reznor and Atticus Ross serve as a metaphor for the film, and the idea behind the movie itself – Facebook was successful, according to its creators, because of people’s desire for exclusivity. I had to watch the movie twice to appreciate Jesse Eisenberg’s performance, but he won me over with his jerk-faced, understated brilliance, and I so wish Andrew Garfield had gotten a supporting nomination. And don’t forget the writing. Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue was fast-paced and dead on. All the elements come together to make a great film in The Social Network. This one could easily take the win.

The King’s Speech: I knocked this and The Fighter out in one Saturday, which I have to say, was one great Saturday. I had the best time spending my day watching, truly, two of the best films of the year. After The King’s Speech, the nearly full theater applauded. I have never seen that happen except at a midnight premier where the fans are hardcore, usually of a book, comic, or film franchise which already has a strong following. I am happy to say about this movie (and The Fighter) that they leave you filled with hope, which is not typically true of movies chosen for Best Picture. From this true story, those with eyes to see should recognize God’s sovereign hand bringing these two men together to fulfill the need of a future king, which at the time no one, including himself, ever thought he would be – a king who would need strong speech to lead a nation against the threat of fascism. This film is brilliant in its storytelling, its pacing, its acting (Colin Firth is in a league all his own, and I can never get enough of Geoffrey Rush). Let’s do this just because it’s fun: Most of us know Colin Firth from the best adaptation of Pride and Prejudice ever, as the haughty Mr. Darcy. Also in The King’s Speech was Jennifer Ehle, who played Mr. Logue’s wife, Myrtle, and was Eliza Bennett in P & P. Additionally, David Bamber, whose unforgettable turn as Mr. Collins in P & P does not allow me to miss him in his little cameo as the theater director who turns down Logue for a role in a play. Also, as a Potterphile, I was not shocked that the king-to-be had a speech problem. After all, his dad was Dumbledore and his wife was Bellatrix LeStrange. Talk about family issues. This one gets my vote for Best Picture. It is one of the best I have seen in years.

The Fighter: I was expecting to be disappointed by The Fighter, because I had just come out of The King’s Speech, and I had fallen in love with it. But I was wrong. The only thing I really knew about The Fighter going in is that it was about…a fighter, and it had Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg in it. It was great fun, and it was also tragic in some ways, and since the movie was primarily about family, that was a perfect way to approach the film. Even less dysfunctional families have both elements, and I sat there thinking, “I’ve just seen a story about a king and now I’m watching a story about Massachusetts rednecks, and I feel like they’re the same story.” Good call, Academy, for nominating David O. Russell for best director. He basically takes a film set in the 1990’s and makes it a legitimate period piece, with the time and place becoming characters themselves, and though the themes are universal, seeing them through the lens of this particular setting and these particular people makes for a unique and crazy ride. I just want to add a note here on Mark Wahlberg, who plays Micky Ward. He is under-appreciated in anchoring this film in the realm of normalcy, where all around him are characters in the truest sense of the word. Melissa Leo, as his mother Alice, and Christian Bale who plays his brother, Dicky (yes, Micky and Dicky) Eklund, lead the pack, which includes seven sisters in this family of crazies who are trying to control Micky but favor Dicky, and in the process are ruining Micky’s potential boxing career. The craziness cannot work unless the film has a base to stand on, and in The Fighter, it stands on the shoulders of Mark Wahlberg. I cannot wait to see this one again.

Toy Story 3: Great storytelling is great storytelling, whatever the format, so yay to the Academy for including this film in this category. I continue to be impressed with Pixar for being willing to address such large and sometimes heavy themes in what is still mostly considered a children’s film genre. I was crying in the first few minutes, and again at the end. Good grief- who wouldn’t? No seriously, I want to know. If you didn’t cry over this movie, please contact me, so I can gawk and point at you like a strange animal on exhibition.

127 Hours: I wanted to see this one, even though I was a little scared of “the scene”, but by the time you get to “the scene”, you’ve earned it, and you’re ready for Aron to be free. I was asking my friend what he thought of it, and he said something like Danny Boyle made that movie as well as that movie could be made. A great observation, I thought. It cannot be easy to make a movie as compelling as 127 Hours when most of the movie is one guy trapped in one place. Of course, his mind isn’t trapped, but are we willing to journey with Ralston to the sometimes dark places his mind goes as he relives his choices and mistakes – the ones he admits led to his current predicament? The movie bares the signature stamp of Danny Boyle- the driving musical score, especially. I particularly liked the electric sound which accompanied Ralston’s breaking through his own arm nerve – you knew exactly what was happening there because of the music and the pain on James Franco’s face. I think The Coen Brothers’ nomination for directing this year should have been Boyle’s instead. Also, I have a new respect for James Franco now. But how can you not admire a guy who, in the middle of a successful film career, does a 41-episode stint on General Hospital?

Black Swan: This is the one over which I had the greatest spiritual dilemma; I wondered whether I should even see it at all. This is, of course, partly because of the highly graphic sexual scene between Natalie Portman’s Nina and Mila Kunis’ Lily, on which most of the talk surrounding the film had been focused. It is unfortunate this scene pulled so much focus, though, because there are important issues raised in the film which should receive more attention than they have. As I learned more about the movie, I heard it was almost a psychological horror movie, following one girl’s descent into madness. This, also, gave me pause, as did the fact that it was directed by Darren Aronofsky, whose films are typically not my bag. I only made it through about ten minutes of The Fountain, and greatly regretted that ten minutes. Thankfully, though, a couple of girlfriends from my church family also wanted to see it, so I was able to tell them about my concerns, and warned them that if I needed to leave during the movie, I would, and they understood that completely. As it turned out, it was a much more coherent, linear film than I expected from Aronofsky, and the questions it raised were well-worth those parts which were tough to watch. The sexual scene isn’t as much about the sex itself as it is about Nina trying to tap into the dark side of herself, in order to better play the Black Swan in a ballet performance. One of the excellent questions raised here is how far a performer should go for a role, and it warns of tapping into a world of darkness which cannot be controlled, but will, in the end, control the one who seeks it. Maybe I will return to this film for a separate article. It really should be addressed further. Also, shocking I know, but I am not a huge Natalie Portman lover like practically everyone else in the world. People trash Hayden Christensen for his wood-like performance in the Star Wars prequels, but she was just as blah, or worse. I think the main problem there was George Lucas. But I digress. My point here is that I have overcome this prejudice to see that she should win the Best Actress award this year. She rocked both swans.

Winter’s Bone: The title creates the tone for this film, set in the Missouri Ozarks, where nearly every man around has fallen into manufacturing meth, and nearly every family suffers the effects of that insidious pestilence. If I was not so won over by Natalie Portman’s performance, I would vote for Jennifer Lawrence in a heartbeat, who plays seventeen year-old Ree, who has to go through hell to find out if her father is alive or dead, in an effort to save her house and keep a roof over the heads of her brother, sister, and sick mother. John Hawkes is amazing. He makes you somehow love him as Teardrop, Ree’s addict uncle, even as he threatens her with violence and waves bags of meth under her nose. This one is a bleak look at rural life, but offers redemption where it can be found, in the love of one sister for her family, and her willingness to self-sacrifice to ensure their survival. Like True Grit, I don’t think it will stand this year among so many tough competitors, but is a great movie.

Disclaimer: I have not seen The Kids are All Right, so my picks are a little lacking. I am making the choices I can based on the information I currently have…

My picks for the winners:

Best Picture: The King’s Speech
Best Director: Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
Best Actor- Lead: Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
Best Actress- Lead: Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Best Actor- Supporting: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Best Actress- Supporting: Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Art Direction: Inception (though I’d love to see Deathly Hallows, Part 1 win)
Cinematography: True Grit
Editing: 127 Hours
Writing- Adapted: The Social Network
Writing- Original: The King’s Speech

About Kristi Israel
  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    Kristi,

    I don’t think anyone is going to hold it against you that you didn’t see one of the 10 nominees! I am impressed that you made it through as many as you did!

    This article is a lot of fun to read and gives me enough of a glimpse into the movies that I didn’t get to see to be intrigued and accurately highlights the strengths of the films I did see.

    And good call on Toy Story 3–I definitely cried–who wouldn’t? I suppose we shouldn’t hold it against them but that movie really impressed me because I did not expect it to be so intense and affecting given that is in fact a movie about toys.

  • Chase

    Great coverage, Kristi!

    I’ve seen 7 out of 10 and by and large I agree with your picks. The King’s Speech, all the way.

    The Social Network, also really solid. I wouldn’t be too disappointed if Eisenberg won best actor. His performance was on the level of Rain Man.

    I did see The Kids Are All right and I don’t think it should win. I’m not convinced it should have been nominated. My dismissal of the movie is not on account of its content. I could have saved myself a dollar if it were that simple. For my money, this was just not a five star feature. Intriguing story. Good performances. Above average writing. But, at best, this is a 4/5. At best.

    Toy Story 3 didn’t make me cry. Up? Yes. TS3? No. I love that animated features are getting more recognition but this is not a best picture winner. Up was a real winner. TS3 is great in the same way that all Toy Story movies are great. We loved it because we love the whole idea. But, on its own merit, it doesn’t stand up as well. It’s just a hair above Disney’s endless cycle of direct-to-DVD sequels.

  • http://www.alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    Alas, I have only seen Toy Story 3. I’m trying to figure out exactly what that says about me.

  • Kristi

    Chase, you can’t see me, but rest assured I am pointing and gawking!!! A hair above straight-to-dvd? Come on! The reason this one is different is that, not only did the toys go through the loss of their ‘kid”, their owner, their reason for existence, they had to face their own extermination in the fiery pit. That scene where they all grab hands as they prepared for death didn’t get ya? And what about their kid’s bittersweet journey- I liked how they explored some of what he was going through as he was leaving his childhood behind. Sad to say I haven’t seen “Up”. I need to put that on my list.

    Drew and Brad, I’m always bummed when the Oscars get here and I’m so ill-informed. I’m hoping for a much more enjoyable time watching them this year, plus seeing them with a group of movie lovers should be a lot of fun! Brad, the King’s Speech is the best movie, I believe, but for sheer entertainment value, check out The Fighter. Oh, I was so delighted by that movie.

  • Kristi

    And Chase, glad to hear that about “The Kids”. I took into account what I had heard about it from people whose opinions I trust, and weighed what I had heard about the amount of content I thought would be too much for me against its likelihood of winning, or not winning. I wanted to see the ones I really thought, based on the buzz, might win, so I would be knowledgable on those, and I didn’t think that one would be a major contender. Watch now, it’ll sweep the night!

    Also, equating Eisenberg’s performance to Rain Man- great comparison! Like I said in the post, I really had to watch it twice before deciding that he was actually doing something, it was so understated.

  • susan

    I’m not a movie-goer: the only one from the list I’ve seen is Toy Story 3, a hundred times or so. My four-year-old loves the Toy Story movies, and I love them because I think Pixar got the balance right appealing to kids and grown ups, especially in 3.

    And despite the number of times we’ve now seen Toy Story 3, I still have to look away at the scene where Mom hugs Andy as they leave his empty room, and then when he says goodbye to Woody. Those scenes make me cry every time!

  • http://www.literary-views.com Chris H.

    Like many other commenters, I’ve only seen Inception and Toy Story 3. However, I really want to see the King’s Speech and True Grit, and hope for those to win. Thanks for this article. it really gave me an insight into the best films of the year.

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    @Chase – Re: Toy Story 3: You are wrong.

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    @Chase — Re: Toy Story 3: you are most definitely wrong–I thought it was hands down the best TS movie of the trilogy for the very reasons Christie lays out–it was much more than an entertaining movie about toys. In my mind it was not as good as Up (Seth may chime in here and wrongly inform you that Up wasn’t that good but he would still be wrong) but close.

    @Chris H. I wholeheartedly recommend True Grit–you can read my review here: http://www.christandpopculture.com/featured/i-hear-you%E2%80%99re-a-man-of-true-grit-there-is-a-hero-in-all-of-us/

    Rich would tell you that the movie would be a lot better if it ended after the “first” ending and he is more or less right though the second ending didn’t bother me as much, either way it was a thoroughly entertaining dark comedy and a well told story about true character.

    I highly recommend The Social Network–it is a fascinating story that really captures some of our modern communication problems as well as the selfishness of the human heart.

  • http://spoonfulofhahne.com Seth T. Hahne

    I’m comforted by Chase’s reluctance to gush of Toy Story 3. I haven’t seen it yet (since it’s hard for me to generate interest since I barely remember the first two). But as people routinely praise Pixar’s product beyond what it deserves, Chase’s opinion gives me a warm feeling in my heart. I felt the same about Ratatouille and endured the scorn of many who thought it a Great Film.

    So far as I can tell, apart from some Pretty Good films, Pixar’s only made one Great film: The Incredibles.

    And to be clear about Up, its first ten minutes were Great (just like Wall-E‘s first half hour did). Everything after that was merely mediocre.

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    Seth, judging from your comment, I think you’ll like TS3 significantly more than Wall-E and Up. It stays great throughout. A very even movie.

  • http://spoonfulofhahne.com Seth T. Hahne

    It’s coming up in my Netflix queue so I’ll give it its fair shake. On the other hand, we just finished watching Kick-Ass and thought it was pretty fun, so my standards may be at low ebb.

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    @Seth, If you don’t like it more than Kick Ass, we may be at loggerheads in terms of movie discussing movies ;)

    @Kristi–I found this “review” of Black Swan interesting (I put that in quotes because the author didn’t actually see the movie). I would be curious to hear your thoughts–if she is interpreting the film fairly, then it would seem that Nina’s “descent” into madness is actually the means by which she becomes a complete person–which is a horrifying thought.

    I haven’t seen the movie but I would be interested in reading what you have to say about it.

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    @Drew – Black Swan doesn’t make that case at all. In fact, it leaves the whole thing up to us. By the time the movie ends, the audience is typically pretty horrified by her journey. I don’t think anyone in the theater leaves wanting to “become a complete person” in that way.

    In fact, I think it’s more accurate to say that she loses herself completely, in a literal sense, in that role – for better or worse.

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    I read the article now, and i’m even more struck by how wrong she is about the film. There’s a lot of reasons for some people not to see the film, but the idea that it makes exploring sexuality and indulging in darkness seem attractive is not one of them. It’s a brutal, unpleasant experience on the whole, and that’s meant to be an analog of Portman’s character’s experience. [SPOILER] She dies pleased with herself, but she is clearly delusional at that point. The life and completion she was chasing turn out to be a very literal lie. In that sense, it’s one of the most Christian films I’ve seen all year.

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    I suppose that is why one should not write about films they haven’t seen. I did think it wasn’t very fair to interpret the line “I felt it, I was perfect” to be addressing Nina as a whole person to not quite fit.

    I was just curious if the movie was really doing what this article claimed it was–I guess the answer is no.

  • http://spoonfulofhahne.com Seth T. Hahne

    “She dies pleased with herself.”

    Uh, thanks for the spoiler? I guess.

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    Sorry, I figured it was fair game because it was in the article. I’ll put up a warning.

  • http://spoonfulofhahne.com Seth T. Hahne

    Oh, I skipped the article because I didn’t want to spoil anything.

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    DUDE BUMMER

  • Chase

    @all I delight in your disfavor.

    @seth I am a cardiac microwave.

  • Penny

    Kristi, I agree with everything you’ve said, except TS3. Maybe I’m emotionally cold or something :( I did think it was a good movie but it didn’t make me cry.
    Actually, there was an animated movie made this year that was phenomenal on every level but completely looked over. In my opinion it was better than TS3. Anybody wanna guess?

  • Kristi Israel

    Wow- so sorry to just now be responding, but I think I forgot to check the little box thingy that tells you when people comment after you.
    Drew, I will read the article, but I agree with everything Rich said. The only thing I don’t like about her madness is that I feel it almost, but not quite, gives her an out. Like maybe, well, she only had that extreme response to giving herself over to this darkness because she was going insane anyway. But, I really don’t even think that’s the case, because it is very clear that her mental instability gets worse and worse the deeper into the black she goes. And yeah, I don’t see how anyone would leave thinking, “good for her, she fulfilled her greatest potential!”

    Seth, you didn’t read my article?! Anyway, I thought at first it was debatable whether she died at the end, since so much else had been a part of her delusions. But, just thinking about it now in fact, I think the difference is the pov of that scene. Other people were witnesses to her death, apparently, so it must have been real.

    Penny, thanks, you cold-hearted woman.

  • Kristi Israel

    And as far as losing yourself in a role, my boy John Hawkes, who I love and wrote a little about in the article, has this to say, “You never really forget who you are. If you did you would need to see professional help.” That would have been a better option for Nina.

  • Damion

    I checked out the King’s Speech over the weekend and man was I impressed. That is a must buy on Bluray. I have suffered with a slight stutter problem my entire life. The only thing that has ever helped my problem has been by strengthening my relationship with Christ. Some how only by relying on him will purge out our short comings (thorns of the flesh.)


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