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God at the Oscars

Neil Patrick Harris Oscars 2015

John Shearer/Invision

David Ives - published on 02/23/15

Who won and who should have

I have to admit I don’t really have a horse in this year’s Oscar’s race, because my values aren’t the Academy’s. Oh sure, I found something to enjoy in almost all of the Best Picture nominees and can’t begrudge most of them their place on the list, but few of them are actually among my personal favorites from 2014.

At the top of that list would be “Calvary,” writer/director John Michael McDonagh’s brilliant exploration of faith and forgiveness in the emotionally scarred Church in Ireland. I was impressed with the film when I first reviewed it for Aleteia, but having revisited it since, it’s only grown in my esteem. And I’m not alone. Such well known Catholic personalities as Sr. Helena Burns and Father Robert Barron have heaped praises on the movie, and Archbishop Charles J. Chaput himself called “Calvary” the best portrayal of a good priest in impossible situations he’s seen in several decades. It’s hands down one of the best directed and acted motion pictures of the year, and without a doubt the most Christian film to come out of a mainstream studio.So, naturally, it didn’t receive a single nomination. When it comes to The Oscars, God rarely gets to sit up front with Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep.

Look, we all know there are problems with the Academy Awards. We all remember the year “Shakespeare in Love” beat “Saving Private Ryan” for Best Picture (it hurts to even type that), proving once and for all that studio backed publicity campaigns count more than a motion picture’s quality does when it comes to claiming a statue. We all scratch our heads in confusion when obviously worthy films and performances don’t even garner a nomination in their respective categories. And, especially if we’re Christians, we all collectively wince every time someone takes to the stage and rambles off some nearly incoherent, cringe-inducing political diatribe.

And yet, despite all of that, we watch The Oscars anyway, along with the 40+ millions of other people who tune in to the ceremonies each and every year. It’s not a bad idea really. The movie & television industry is responsible for over three percent of the United States’ Gross Domestic Product, and it’s the country’s chief cultural ambassador to the rest of the world. It’s probably a good idea to keep tabs on what these people believe represents quality and what messages they hope to promote. Plus, let’s be honest, it gives us something to tweet about. So, with that in mind, let’s see what the Academy Awards have to offer us this year.

To start with, a mercifully brief opening number free of any insults aimed at half the country. Good for them. This is why Neal Patrick Harris is America’s favorite gay friend, he knows how to advance the homosexual agenda without making anyone feel threatened. 

J.K. Simmons takes the first major award for Best Supporting Actor. “Whiplash” is one of those movies I really enjoyed but have a hard time recommending without caveats. Simmons character has a noble goal, but ignores the dignity of others in attempting to achieve it. Last time I checked, you’re not supposed to use evil to try and accomplish good, that’s Catechism 101. And as for the main character in the film, his stated motivation is simply to achieve greatness in the eyes of the world at any cost. Guess he forgot his Beatitudes. So, it’s a good movie about less than admirable people. Watch carefully.

Wow, “Ida” won Best Foreign Picture! I reviewed it for Aleteia here, so I won’t go on too much more about it now, but they just gave an award to a movie about a nun who’s actually happy with her vocation. Sure, they probably did it for the movie’s classical composition and cinematography rather than for any spiritual themes the movie may contain, but I’ll take a small victory wherever I can.

Shirley MacLaine? Didn’t she just publish a book wherein she suggested that those who died in the holocaust were ‘balancing their karma’ for crimes committed in past lives? Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the dark side of New Age.

As expected, Patricia Arquette takes home the award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Boyhood (reviewed it for Aleteia here), and what do you know, she’s finally giving us our first inevitable political diatribe along with our first bleeped expletive. Women may or may not be getting equal pay yet, but apparently they do have the same opportunity as men to be unnecessarily blasphemous. I think I preferred J.K. Simmons’ call to honor our mothers and fathers.

Almost three hours in and someone finally thanks God. Good for you, Common and John Legend. A more enthusiastic reaction at the mention of our creator might have been nice, though. I mean, come on, someone in the audience even applauded (by accident, I hope) when they mentioned mass incarceration, you’d think God would at least get a courtesy clap or two.

Of all the historically inaccurate movies up for awards tonight, the most inaccurate of all, “The Imitation Game,” picks up an award for Best Adapted Screenplay for no other reason I can discern other than it’s this year’s homosexual martyr movie. Ah, Academy, you are nothing if not consistent.

I called Eddie Redmayne’s nomination for Best Actor back when I reviewed “The Theory of Everything” for Aleteia, but was starting to think he wouldn’t win as “Birdman” was gaining momentum.

Julianne Moore’s golden statue for “Still Alice” is absolutely no surprise, though. Most of “Still Alice” is standard Lifetime movie stuff, and Alec Baldwin as the devoted husband is woefully miscast, but Moore’s performance as a victim of sudden onset Alzheimer’s is wonderful. For a moment I thought the Academy voters might go with Reese Witherspoon’s unlikeable, unrepentant drug addled adulterer from “Wild” out of some misguided allegiance to that film’s feminist manifesto, but they actually went with the performance that celebrates life and the worth of all people no matter what state of health they may be in. It’s almost enough to give you hope for Hollywood.

But, of course, more than anything, Hollywood likes to honor itself. The award for Best Picture goes to “Birdman,” a film that celebrates, among other things, the notion that nothing is more important in this world than what actors and actresses do. They won’t clap for God tonight, but boy, they are quick to clap for themselves.

And that’s that. Tonight’s ceremony was a strangely subdued affair. For the most part, Hollywood stuck to its secular agenda in the choice of films it honored, but they seemed to step carefully when it came to shoving that agenda in everyone’s faces during the broadcast. I guess they’ve finally figured out that while they may not feel the need to honor God, a lot of their box office money comes from people who do. Again, small victories.

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