Great Art and Great Messages Make Great Films


“I have a dream!”

Of course you know I just borrowed those four famous words from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., during this, the anniversary month of his birth. But it’s true, I do have a dream. As a film critic, I have aspirations of a day in which filmmakers in Hollywood would only release movies that would make our country better. Motion pictures that would inspire a deeper desire for us to grow in greatness and the service of others.

A few of this year’s Oscar-nominated films do just that. Selmas one of them. American Snipers another. But why not all? For that dream to become a reality, Tinseltown will have to quit giving itself accolades for films that promote hopelessness and glamorize behaviors that are counterproductive for living a successful and fruitful life.

Yesterday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences put out its 2015 list of “bests” (for the films released in 2014), and it’s painfully clear that encouraging us to be better people is not a determining factor in their selection. I can hear members of the Academy declaring that it should be all about the art. While important, I’d argue that art without positivity can never be truly excellent.

For instance, not surprisingly but certainly disappointingly, Golden Globe winner Boyhood makes the list of Best Picture nominees. By film’s end, Boyhood would have us believe that every American child will need to experiment with drugs, alcohol and porn, lose his virginity during the teen years, and have no real reason to live outside of the world of video games. Mason, the main character, sums up the film’s entire premise with, “What’s the point?”

Contrast that message to the ones in Unbroken, a film that didn’t get nominated for Best Picture. Angelina Jolie’s flick reminds us that service to country is noble while concluding that perseverance and the forgiveness of one’s enemies are healing forces. I have a dream that someday Hollywood would take themes such as this into account. On one hand, you have a dreary, demoralizing film that wallows in hopelessness. On the other, you have a truly uplifting film that inspires viewers to contemplate how to be more heroic. Really, can there be any doubt as to which film is superior?

Oscar-blog2Birdman is another Oscar contender that has me shaking my head. Story center Riggan believes his life is of no value unless others applaud him. Is he a tragic example of what we shouldn’t aspire to? Or will throngs of moviegoers just take him at face value? I hope it’s not the latter, because that’s about the last thing we—especially teenagers—need to hear these days when Facebook likes (or the lack thereof) and YouTube views define our self-esteem. Compare Birdman to Selma, which clearly inspires us to take a stand for what’s right even when naysayers disapprove. The latter is the kind of film that should be the rule come awards season, not the exception. One more example. While The Theory of Everything is a certainly a mixture of inspiration and frustration, the overall point might be summed up when Stephen Hawking boils life down to this: We’re just advanced primates circling a minor star in a backwater part of the universe.

My hat’s off to Time magazine for recently designating the Ebola fighters as its annual Person(s) of the Year. People like Katie Meyler and Dr. Kent Brantly motivate me to look for ways to make a difference. And films should do the same! What’s more, they can do the same. And sometimes, they already do the same. But my point is that they should always do the same. Hollywood can be on the front lines fighting for a better world. Its filmmakers just need a dream of their own.

Who wrote this?

Bob Waliszewski is the director of the Plugged In department. His syndicated “Plugged In Movie Review” feature is heard by approximately 9 million people each week on more than 1,500 radio stations and other outlets and has been nominated for a National Religious Broadcaster’s award. Waliszewski is the author of the book Plugged-In Parenting: How to Raise Media-Savvy Kids With Love, Not War. You can follow him on Twitter @PluggedInBob.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

AAML_believer More than 1 year ago
lol, I meant "Wreck it Ralph lost to Brave".   Typo.
Bethany Dennis More than 1 year ago
"Hollywood can be on the front lines fighting for a better world." I could not agree more with this statement. For people, we love entertainment and when we can have entertainment in front of us that doesn't only drain our brain, but inspires us to do something big or even something small in a way that will make a difference, that's the way that we can reach out to people and help them change the world. And the only thing that can change the world is God's Love being shared. We need THAT in movies.
Rebecca Greer More than 1 year ago
"By film’s end, Boyhood would have us believe that every American child will need to experiment with drugs, alcohol and porn, lose his virginity during the teen years, and have no real reason to live outside of the world of video games." I have to say, I think you kind of missed the point of the movie. I thought one of the strongest messages of Boyhood, even if it is not what the director intended, is that a stable, loving family is critical to a child's well-being. Mason and his sister grew up in a very broken, dysfunctional family, and many times the film shows us the negative impact of this. Also, just because a film portrays something, in this case children experimenting with porn, drugs and alcohol, doesn't mean it endorses it. Boyhood is a portrait of a young boy growing up, not a manual on how to raise kids, and I hardly thought the film was saying that all children should do this or all children will do this. And there were only maybe two scenes of Mason playing video games, so I don't know where you got the idea that video games are all that mattered to him. 
AAML_believer More than 1 year ago
That's better.  Not my original screen name, but beggars can't be choosers.  
Alex Clark More than 1 year ago
Oh, and one more thing....why doesn't my screen name show up anymore ><.  You guys had to go and change the blog system again, and now its defaulting to my entered name instead of my screen name.  Like youtube and Google ><.  
Alex Clark More than 1 year ago
I think often a conflict that arises is "what should art and media and stories be for?".  Are stories and art meant to reflect the world around us, showing us the realities of our situation, or are stories and art meant to present us with a picture of an ideal world that we should strive for?    Its like batman vs superman, lol.   the dark, moody and morally ambiguous vigilante dark knight  vs The invincible flying brick boy scout.

Based on the way they write movie reviews and talk about media, it seems PluggedIn is by in large firmly unwavering in the 2nd camp.  Stories and media should be focused on teaching cultural values and giving us role models to look up to and emulate.  But personally I think there is room for both kinds of art, and it sometimes annoys me how some people imply that media and stories that "teach" are superior to those that do not.  there is room for both Superman and Batman in the world of stories, I think.

But I think its also interesting to note that generally speaking...Batman seems to be much more popular than Superman ^^.  In general I think people are often very wary of movies that are too "preachy" with trying to get a message across, and try to present things to idealistically.  People are very distrustful of "perfection" and "idealism" I think.  Isn;t this one reason why "christian" movies seem to have trouble being widely accepted?  Is it because they are too "preachy", too straightforward with trying to tell the audience "this is how you should live?".  To steal a handout quote from movie producer Ralph Winter "...[Christians] want to dot every "i" and cross every "t" and make sure its uber-clear what's happened by the end of the story.  We've lost the ability to create mystery and wonder.  Movies are not good at giving answers.  Movies are great at asking questions.  Movies that do that are lasting..."

I have not seen Unbroken yet, but from what I have heard it sounds like a lot of reactions to it are that it is well-intentioned but somewhat cliche and "hallmarky".  Even if a movie has an "inspirational" positive message to it, it can still be a turn off to some audiences based on the way it is presented.  Based on what I have seen of trailers and heard about the film, I highly doubt that it surpasses the artistic strength or presentation of Jonathan Teplitzky's  "The Railway Man", which has a very similar story, and is also based on real events (I would recommend checking it out if you have not).

As for the whole thing with the Oscars, I agree that sometimes their choices in movies and nominations are a little weird (wreck it ralph losing to tangled?  NOT nominating the Lego Movie!?) but I still think it is and will remain relevant for a long time.  And I honestly wonder what else there could be?  Beauty and art are often in the eyes of the beholder; and if we don;t always agree with the Oscars' definition of what deserves to win awards, or feel that there is some hidden bias behind their actions, then what other standard should we use instead?  We'll never get everyone to agree on how we should judge movies.  I don;t think general audiences would really be any better.  the movies nominated for "best picture" (so to speak) at the People's choice awards were "Maleficent, 22 Jump Street, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, and X-Men: Days of Future Past" (and Maleficent won -_-).  Not to say that I disliked any of those movies, but are they more deserving of best movie awards over what the Oscars nominated?  Its like food criticism or something; a professional food critic would give 5 stars to fancy expensive ethnic restaurants that the "average Joe" would never eat at, but the "average joe" might give a five star rating to  "Texas Roadhouse" or "Golden Corral", so what does that say about his credibility?  
Jake Roberson More than 1 year ago
The Oscars are an interesting thing indeed. But I'm interested to see how much longer the culture will believe they're still relevant.
elioverbey More than 1 year ago
Why do you say that? You think something else will replace ?
Jake Roberson More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure there's a viable successor for it yet. But I think each year shows fairly clearly how different from/out of touch with the culture the Academy really is. How much longer is the public really going to care what a group of prominently WASP (or WAS, at least) men think about movies?
elioverbey More than 1 year ago
Personally, I normally one see one of the films up in all the awards. Where are the Avengers of the world during these?
Jake Roberson More than 1 year ago
Precisely. In fact, I believe Paul Asay briefly lamented the lack of superheroes in his personal "Best of 2014" list:
Andrew Gilbertson More than 1 year ago
Exactly. The 'best' films are judged by a pretentious, somewhat snobbish, elitist view of 'high art' by the academy... while they often bear no relation to what is popular, enjoyed, or even a simple-but-truly-well-made movie. That's why they're losing relevance- they're designed to honor a set of self-imposed criteria that bear an increasing disconnect from what the average movie-goer actually values, and they tend to snub any genre that isn't 'serious' enough, except for technical achievements. (Return of the King's success was of the majorly shocking exceptions to the rule...)