Oscar-nominated films shed light on the human condition
By Sister Rose Pacatte, FSP
According to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science web site, the goal of the organization is to honor "outstanding achievements, thus encouraging higher levels of quality in all facets of motion picture production." (www.oscars.org)
Of the 53 nominated films this year, I have seen 29 and almost all have achieved an admirable level of quality. Indeed, many can be considered art because they tell stories that matter. Some of them disturb us as they call us to reflection and action. They tap into conscience, humanity and the spiritual. Encounters with these films are what Sister Wendy Beckett calls "life enhancing moments" ("Joy Lasts: The Spiritual in Art," The J.P. Getty Museum, 2006).
It is with this idea in mind that I cast my votes for the best of the year and hopes for Oscar wins on Feb. 25.
Best Picture Between "Babel," "The Departed," "Letters from Iwo Jima," "Little Miss Sunshine" and "The Queen," I hope "Babel" will win. It is this year's "Crash" on a global scale. It highlights the essential need for communication between people. I was particularly struck by the power of one hunting rifle as a means of communication and the sequence of events it set off.
Director Hands down, I vote for Martin Scorsese ("The Departed") whose brilliant crime caper and social commentary observed the rotted underbelly of a criminal organization that passed for family to its members. When the mob meets the family of law enforcement, characters we care about die, and the cycle of violence and systematic corruption continues in a complex dynamic that calls for good people to pay attention and do something.
Actor Although I didn't see "Half Nelson" (and have not met anyone who has) I vote for Leonardo DiCaprio's performance in "Blood Diamond." His performance as a young, white African mercenary was intense, authentic, and moving. However, my guess is that Forest Whitaker will win rightfully for "The Last King of Scotland." One actor missing from this category, however, is Oscar Isaac, who played Joseph in "The Nativity Story."
Actress My bet is that Helen Mirren will win for her role as Queen Elizabeth II in "The Queen" (though Judy Dench is just as deserving among the British acting royalty for "Notes on a Scandal"), but I hope that Penelope Cruz wins for "Volver." Cruz is simply amazing as a young mother who must deal with the spirits of the past in what is a touching, human, commedia as Dante might describe it; sorrow with a good ending.
Supporting Actor I want Djimon Hounsou to win for his heart-wrenching role as the kidnapped father searching for his child-soldier son in "Blood Diamond," but I am going to bet that Eddie Murphy may claim this prize for his refreshing and revelation of a role in "Dreamgirls."
Supporting Actress A popular surprise of a vote might single out Abilgail Breslin who charmed her way to our hearts in "Little Miss Sunshine," but the real winner in this category is Rinko Kikuchi as the young, deaf, isolated Japanese student in "Babel." Her performance was difficult and nuanced by an understanding of human suffering in ways usually only seen in small art-house movies. I would not be disappointed if Jennifer Hudson ("Dreamgirls") or Cate Blanchett ("Notes on a Scandal") were to win, either.
Foreign Language Film I saw only two in this category: "Water" and "Pan's Labyrinth." Both were excellent but my vote goes to "Water" for its ability to enlarge our awareness of human reality beyond our borders and bring us into the heartbreaking, corrupt, noble, and courageous experience of widows in late-colonial and pre-Gandhi India.
Original Screenplay I vote for "Pan's Labyrinth," by far the more difficult, complex and original of all the nominees, blending fantasy, faith, family, and humanity in a time and place when the innocent were betrayed for the sake of power.
Documentary Feature Although my review of "An Inconvenient Truth" elicited the most negative feedback I have ever received for my reviews, I think it is the most deserving in this category. It is a glorified lecture, but it has global importance.
Live Action Short Film Thanks to being a member of this jury at the Newport Beach International Film Festival last year when we gave "Binta and the Great Idea" our prize in this category, I was able to see this film and happy to see it nominated. Binta, a young African girl in a remote village, has an idea for peace and gets her father to set it in motion. If this film becomes available in DVD, every catechist will want to get a copy. I do hope it wins.
Visual Effects I am a fan of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise, but it's hard to beat the image of Superman catching a commercial airplane in a ballpark to prevent it from crashing. So "Superman Returns" gets my vote in this category.
Art Direction This is a hard call but I am going with "Pan's Labyrinth." The art direction integrated all the dimensions of this film and created a landscape that perfectly reflected the film's emotional tenor, letting the hope that was within it to emerge to a new day.
Editing "The Departed" gets my vote. The slick editing made the final ending as strong and completely surprising as the first.
Sound Editing Just thinking of the essential role that sound plays in the emotional effectiveness of a film, my vote goes to "Flags of Our Fathers."
Costume Design Because I visited the Motown Records Museum a few years ago and saw some of the original outfits on display, I am voting for "Dreamgirls." The costumes were authentic and helped create the ethos of the story.
Original Score "Pan's Labyrinth" is the most memorable to me, so it gets my vote.
Original Song My vote goes to "An Inconvenient Truth's" "I Need to Wake Up" by Melissa Etheridge, but all the songs are great in this category.
Animated Feature I loved "Cars" for its imagination, humor, characters, and sense of community.
ADDENDUM: MOVIE AWARDS This Sunday, Feb. 25, the Academy for Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will hold the 79th annual Academy Awards recognizing films, filmmakers, and actors from 2006.
The first Academy Awards were held in 1929 at Hollywood's historic Roosevelt Hotel; 250 people attended. The next year, the awards were broadcast by radio, and in 1953 the awards were seen on television for the first time. In 1966 the awards were broadcast in color and currently people in 100 countries can watch as the 8 ½ pound, 13-1/3 inch high golden statuette ispresented to stars and filmmakers. The Scientific and Technical Awards were given at a separate event Feb. 10 at the Regent Beverly Wilshire.
Among other faith-related film awards: ---Catholics in Media Awards for film are given annually in November (www.catholicsinmedia.org) by Catholics In Media Associates of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
---The Gabriel Awards are (http://home.catholicweb.com/GabrielAwards/) are given by the Academy for Communication Arts Professionals, a national Catholic communications organization.
---SIGNIS, the international, Vatican-approved organization for communication (www.signis.net) participates in many international film juries around the world and awards many deserving films each year.
I am Sr Rose Pacatte,FSP director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Culver City, CA. I have an MEd in Media Studies from the University of London. My primary work is media literacy education for parents and teachers within the context of culture, education and faith formation. Take a look at the certification program we have: www.PaulineCMS.org.
I love movies and am the Film/TV columnist for St. Anthony Messenger Magazine: www.americancatholic.org.
You can also find film and media education articles at www.Paulinecms.org.
With Peter Malone, MSH, I am the co-author of the series Lights, Camera...Faith! A movie lover's guide to scripture.Check out www.nationalfilmretreat.org, too. My most recent books are Lights, Camera, Faith: The Ten Commandments, The Nativity story: A Film Study Guide, Into Great Silence Study Guide (with Ron Schmidt, SJ )and Media Mindfulness: Educating Teens about Faith & Media (with Gretchen Hailer, RSHM.)Our new book, Our Media World: Teaching Kids about Faith and Media is due out in late 2009 from Pauline Books & Media, www.Pauline.org