Fr. Jake Martin, SJ, looks at the Academy Award nominees and this year’s best films and performances through a spiritual lens — and makes a prediction or two along the way.
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When a film is nominated for an Oscar — let alone if it wins — it gets a big financial boost. Some movies are made on the premise that their success will come from being recognized at Oscar time. (They’re called “Oscar bait.”) Money aside, an Oscar nomination raises a film’s profile and brings it a new audience, as many people will see a movie simply because it has been nominated. This is certainly the case with The Artist — it seems unlikely otherwise that millions of Americans would be running to see a silent, black-and-white film starring a francophone.
With this in mind, I present three films that didn’t receive the Oscar boost they richly deserved. These movies are both excellent in quality and spiritually enriching; each is very worthy of your consideration.
While it would be ludicrous to call Bridesmaids low profile, this excellent film deserves a second look. The summer’s box office surprise owes its success in no small part to its ability to have good, plain fun without any of the slick mean-spiritedness that pervades today’s most successful comedies. Bridesmaids shows that girls can be just as gross as boys, without being off-putting or alienating.
Comedies never get a lot of love from the Academy, and female driven films tend to be dismissed on the Best Picture front, so it’s no surprise that Bridesmaids wasn’t acknowledged. Still, with Oscar’s penchant for rewarding financially successful films with nominations and with the new rules allowing up to ten films to be nominated, there was certainly more than enough room. It would have been nice if the best comedy and the film with the biggest heart had received a little Oscar love.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s remarkably restrained and thoughtful performance in 50/50 was certainly worthy of at least a nomination for Best Actor, especially in comparison to the less competent but higher profile performance that Brad Pitt gave in Moneyball. Gordon-Levitt is masterful in the darkly comedic but touching story of a twentysomething man’s battle with cancer.
This kind of role is easy to overplay, but Levitt never does, giving a wonderfully modulated performance that reaches its apex in its final scenes as Levitt’s character awaits surgery with his mother, played by Anjelica Huston — who herself gives an Award-worthy performance.
I have already written of my fondness for We Need to Talk About Kevin, but I think it bears repeating especially in light of the fact that it came up empty-handed when nominations were announced. While I still maintain that the film is one of finest of the year and its absence from the Best Picture category is a shame, it was not surprising. The omission of Tilda Swinton in the Best Actress category, however, was quite shocking.
Swinton gives a triumphant performance as a mother struggling to connect with her fundamentally disconnected son. She is onscreen every moment of the film and never lets up, pulling the audience along with her as she desperately attempts to save a child who both repulses and rejects her. Kevin‘s profile has stayed remarkably low, and a nomination for Swinton was just the kind of visibility boost this significant and poignant film needed. While I appreciate Oscar’s willingness to recognize more life-affirming fare, as opposed to the more nihilistic content that pervades most “quality” films these days, I think its aversion to Kevin was a mistake. The hope and redemption in the film are not as explicit as in some, but are very much present.