From a spiritual perspective, I was very pleased with the results of the Academy Awards this year. Since no one movie took home more than four Oscars, it proved to be a truly balanced experience, showing audiences that there are many perspectives and facets to Hollywood.
Balance and diversity is something that has been forgotten in America today. We are either all on one side or all on another. I am grateful that the Academy showed us that balance in our movies and our appreciation of them.
Here is a sampling of what Oscar gave us this year:
Best Picture & Best Director:
The Departed & Martin Scorcese
By awarding two of the top awards to The Departed, the voters were conveying a message of uncertainty. In this phenomenal crime thriller, we aren't sure of who is on who's side. One of the most angry, foul-mouthed characters (played by Mark Wahlburg, who was nominated but did not win for Best Supporting Actor) is one of the film's heroes; on the other hand, one of the most gentle souls of the movie (played by Matt Damon) is actually the worst of the villians. A feeling of uncertainty pervades this film, but it adds to the swirl of emotions around the Christ-figure hero Billy Costigan (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) must endure to save the day; in fact, the lesson we learn from The Departed is that we are called to higher standards and that, to achieve them and to save the day, sometimes we have to sacrifice our own selves.
Helen Mirren in The Queen
As an actress, I imagine it must be challenging to play a real-life person like Queen Elizabeth II, especially one as prominent and visible as she is. Helen Mirren did a stunning character study in this very private monarch, letting us inside her emotions and her personal experiences. What this role says is that you cannot judge a book by its cover, or a person by their public personna. We are quick to judge what we do not see. The British people quickly passed unfair judgment on Elizabeth II, but if they only knew her inner struggles, they might have re-thought how they treated her. The Queen, and Mirren's portrayal of that title character, is a spiritual lesson to all of us on how we react to each other and to have a more discerning heart when forming our opinions.
Best Documentary & Best Song:
An Inconvinient Truth & "I Need to Wake Up"
Al Gore was more prominent in the Oscar telecast this year than stars like George Clooney or Steven Spielberg. Combined with his two wins for his documentary An Inconvinient Truth, Gore was able to show the world that saving the planet is a very big issue. This film tells us that, spiritually, the care of God's creation is a very critical moral issue. Catholic social teaching has emphasized this fact since Vatican II, and it's a pleasure to see Hollywood finally catching up. It is also nice to see that a melodic call to action was the winner of the Best Song category with Melissa Ethridge's "I Need to Wake Up" taking home the Oscar. (And on a side note, the green movement scored a 3rd win with Happy Feet, an animated movie with an environmental message, as the Best Animated Film for 2006).
Little Miss Sunshine
While the nominees in all the screenplay categories were fine films, none was more hopeful than Little Miss Sunshine. At the end of this heart-warming movie, we are reminded of the incredible value of family and how we are put on this earth to be there for each other. Each of the characters in this fun movie were looking out for someone else's best interests, often before their own. We can learn a valuable spiritual lesson from a family like this, and while I was sad it didn't win Best Picture, I am grateful its story was awarded the best screenplay of the year. A film like this gives us a hope that we can learn to be a better people for each other.
There were other good wins this year, but these are the ones that I particularly liked. They are an overview of the great spiritual messages imbedded in the silver screen in 2006. I pray there will be even more in 2007.