Oscar Noms: Pretty Good?

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Nominations for the 89th Academy Awards were rolled out early this morning. And for the next several days, the entertainment world will be wholly reactionary. Who got in? Who didn’t? Who got snubbed? Meryl Streep again?!

We at Plugged In will be thinking and talking about the Oscars over the next month, too. But for now, here are some quick snapshot reactions.

Family Friendly? Not Quite. But: Oscar loves its edgy, adult fare. Typically, the derby for Best Picture is dominated by R-rated movies. But this year, for the first time since 2012, PG and PG-13 films outnumber them.

Hidden Figures is rated PG. Arrival, Fences, La La Land and Lion are all PG-13, joining the R-rated Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight.

And it’s not just the MPAA ratings that make this crop of nominees encouraging.

For the last couple of years, the most honored films have been rather grim. Last year, Spotlight (about the Catholic clergy sex-abuse scandal) and The Revenant (about a guy who was mauled by a bear) duked it out for Best Picture honors (Spotlight won, but both took home plenty of statues). The year before, the dark dramedy Birdman was the buzz of Tinseltown. The year before that? Well, no one’s going to mistake 12 Years a Slave for a fun crowd-pleaser.

But this year, the light-but-layered musical confection La La Land leads all contenders. Indeed, its 14 nominations tie Titanic and All About Eve for the most noms ever. Down the ballot, Lion gives us a gripping, emotional and ultimately heartwarming story about a man’s search to find his birth mother after being accidentally separated from her 20 years before. Hidden Figures is a rousing inspirational flick, shining a spotlight on three unsung heroes of the U.S.’s early space program and illustrating how excellence and integrity can combat institutional racism.

And if you read our reviews of even the R-rated films up for honors, you’ll find that they, too, have their merits. For instance, Hacksaw Ridge—Mel Gibson’s admittedly bloody return to directorial relevance—is a hard movie to watch, but its hero is a man of faith who, despite refusing to carry a gun in World War II, wins the Medal of Honor.

No More #OscarsSoWhite: For two years running, the Academy has come under fire for honoring solely white nominees in its acting categories. Not so this year.

Ruth Negga’s understated powerhouse performance in Loving propelled her to a well-deserved Best Actress nomination. Denzel Washington, always a perennial contender, scored his seventh Oscar nom for Fences. (He’s won twice, for Glory and Training Day). Heavy favorite Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) joins Dev Patel (Lion), a British actor of Indian descent, in the Best Supporting Actor category. A trio of African-American women are up for Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis for Fences, Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures and Naomie Harris for Moonlight. Oh, and here’s a little bit of trivia for you: Davis, who gave I think the performance of the year in Fences, became the first black actress to score three Oscar noms. Perhaps this is the year she’ll win one.

No Pixar? If the acting nominees were fairly diverse, the same could be said in the animated feature category. Disney subsidiary Pixar has long dominated this category whenever it’s had a major film in contention, and make no mistake: Finding Dory was a major film, earning more than $1 billion worldwide. But it was shut out of Oscar’s animation derby. Instead, two films from Disney proper—Zootopia and Moana—joined Focus Features’ Kubo and the Two Strings, the dreamy Japanese fable The Red Turtle (a film completely without dialogue) and the French-made My Life as a Zucchini.

I’ve argued for years that animated films are as good as they’ve ever been. And while I still say that Pixar sets the standard by which all others are judged, perhaps this is a sign that the rest of the entertainment world has caught up to the studio.

Academy Voters and Film Fans Still Don’t Live in the Same Universe. Sure, some big-budget blockbusters snagged technical kudos from the Academy this year. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the year’s biggest movie, was nominated for two awards, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Doctor Strange and even Suicide Squad scored a technical category nom or two. But when it comes to Oscar’s biggest categories, you’ll not see a blockbuster in the running at all.

Arrival, a clever science fiction tale starring Amy Adams, is as close as it comes among Best Picture honorees, earning $95.7 million during its run thus far. La La Land is next with $89.8 mil. While these films will surely see their grosses grow in the wake of the nominations, this year’s Oscars won’t go down as an example of cinematic populism.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous 7 months ago
By CbinJ
La La Land will win Best Picture because Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood and its people. Even as I snark about it, I actually thought La La Land was decent. It had some bad language and cohabitation, but other than that it was squeaky clean. Honestly, the dialogue, plot, and dancing/ singing were pretty weak, but I don't think any of that was intended to be strong. It was just a light-hearted musical, an aesthetic piece.

Arrival was the only other Best Picture nominee I saw. SPOILERY* I really liked Arrival. It was a bit melancholy and plays with a philosophically, scientifically, and theologically problematic view of time and space. However, it was also extremely prolife. The sensual content that almost prevented me from seeing the movie is actually the emotional core of the story; it's the part on which the whole movie turns.*END SPOILERS*

With regards to the animated nonimees: First, I am glad that Pixar wasn't nominated. It used to be that when a Pixar movie was set to be released, I was super excited for months. Now when I hear the name Pixar, I just get grossed out and my stomach starts to ache. Story is no longer king over there, liberal messages and merchandising are the royal couple. Zootopia is what I like to call "tolerance propaganda" which is a no-go. I also didn't see Moana, but I do want to; hopefully it's good. Kubo and the Two Strings is cute. Obviously, there is tons of Eastern Mysticism. It may be a bit scary/ violent for younger kids. Also, the ending was extremely lame. But overall the animation was really cool and the story/ characters were interesting. 

I actually think it was a weak year for blockbusters. I absolutely loved Dr. Strange so much I saw it twice, but then I came out of the second viewing nearly unimpressed. Pretty sure Civil War came out last year too--I wasn't thrilled with that movie at all. I really don't like Harry Potter movies, I've seen three and found them boring, badly acted, and full of plot holes. In spite of that, I went to see Fantasic Beasts anyway. Fantastic Beasts suffers from the same problems as the rest of the francshise. The only interesting plot thread out of the twenty or so running plot threads (and seemingly endless run time) was Jacob's: his part in the quest and his relationship with Queenie. 

I think 2017 is going to be a better year for movies, but I do agree that the Oscar nominees are much more positive/ pro-social than they have been in some time. 

By CbinJ
MichaelHovey 8 months ago
By the way my favorite movies from last year were definitely God's Not Dead 2, Sully, Finding Dory, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Miracles From Heaven, and Alice Through the Looking Glass, with 13 Hours falling close behind those.
MichaelHovey 8 months ago
I don't know why Bobed watches Disney/Pixar movies then since those aren't Christian either.
Ethan Tang 8 months ago
Loved La La Land! It's an amazing masterpiece.
bobed 8 months ago
I haven't seen any of these movies except one, Hacksaw Ridge. Not a fluffy musical or a politically correct pat-yourself-on-the-back-and-feel-great type flick, but a harrowing portrayal of real war heroes. Movies like that are the real winners, whether or not Hollywood gives them a useless statue. I notice there were no other movies with overtly Christian or moral themes that were deemed worthy of nomination by Big Hollywood. It's a shame. I hope ambitious young Christian filmmakers start making fantastic, quality Christ-centered content, and perhaps the Academy will be forced to recognize us. 
Alex Clark 8 months ago
Can you think of any other movies with overtly Christian themes that were of the quality that would deserve best picture?

And you wouldn;t consider Hidden Figures to have "overt moral themes"?  
bobed 8 months ago
By moral themes I meant Christian themes. I haven't seen Hidden Figures, but as far as I know, although it has laudable themes of anti-racism and inclusiveness, it is otherwise an entirely secular movie. Does anyone pray to Jesus or ask Him for guidance during the film? It may be a feel-good, relatively clean film, but unless it gives all glory to the One who allowed those brave women to break through and become American heroes, then it is worth little more than the paper its script was printed on. 
bobed 8 months ago
Just reread the PI review for the film. It seems there is a (very minor) inclusion of God, but there are also "15 uses of d--n," "six uses of h--l," and God and Jesus's names are misused "emphatically." If you would call this movie moral, I would ask you to reconsider. It's never moral when someone misuses the name of God, even for the sake of acting. We're told that in the Ten Commandments themselves. 
Alex Clark 8 months ago
What about stories like The Chronicles of Narnia and LOTR?  Those don't explicitly mention God (especially LOTR) but they were both written by Christian authors, writing from a biblical informed view of truth.   Are those stories void of value because they do not explicitly mention Christianity?

Sounds like you believe that only movies that could be called explicitly "christian" have true value.  I don;t agree with that.  All REAL Truth is God's Truth; secular movies can still reflect general revelation (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_revelation) even if they aren't explicitly religious, and I think that has value.
bobed 8 months ago
"Are those stories void of value because they do not explicitly mention Christianity?"

Perhaps not entirely devoid of thematic value, but otherwise I would say yes. Any real kind of true value - the kind that really matters - comes from God and the glorification of God. In the case of Lord of the Rings, I can speak for myself when I say it's far too violent, grotesque and full of counterfeit spiritual themes (sorcery, spirits, etc) for my taste, although my wife likes the movies. 

You also asked about Narnia. When it comes to Narnia, I'm a little on the fence. It is a clear Christian allegory with Aslan representing Jesus, and it is clean content-wise, but I still feel a little twinge in my spirit when I think about it or see it on TV. Something about the spirituality seems a little off to me - perhaps too fantastical, with less of an emphasis on the Lord. But other than that, Narnia seems a much better choice than Lord of the Rings.

You said something else: that it sounds like I only like "explicitly Christian movies". And you're right. You know, God is the Everything. He is our reason for eating and sleeping, for going to work, for worshiping and engaging in fellowship, for evangalizing, for marrying and bearing children, and, yes, for watching movies. I do believe God should be at the center of everything, and I do mean everything, that we do or think. It's all to honor Him, including how we choose to entertain ourselves. 

Now, I'm only a lowly man, and I do allow myself some guilty pleasures (The Princess Bride and the original Superman being among them), but 90% of the time, yes, I do think a film should be Christ-centered if it's worthy of watching. Anything else is probably a waste of time that could be better spent doing something that glorifies God.
Anonymous 8 months ago

Posted by the Other Anonymous


I like Brian Godawa's book, "Hollywood Worldviews." Godawa is a Christian, an award-winning screenwriter, and a novelist. He uses his knowledge of the Bible, story structure, and Hollywood to praise what is good and scorn what is evil. I highly recommend his book; I think you might like it.

God bless

Anonymous 8 months ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

Gotta ask: how is a movie as fantastic and extraordinary as "Superman: The Movie" a guilty pleasure?! Yes there is a wee bit of sensuality in it, but it's still a masterpiece and one of my all time favorite movies! (Zack Snyder should really take notes)
Patty Felder 7 months ago
Jesus told stories that had no explicit Christian content (in your definition of the term).  Think of the tale of the prodigal son, the workers in the vineyard, the buyer of  the great pearl, and others, which contain no reference to God at all. Moreover, in teaching his disciples how to live, Jesus didn't always mention prayer or the Father. Literature, music, art, and other expressions of our culture don't need to have explicit expressions of Christianity to be acceptable to God. Though we should be discerning of the ideas present in our entertainment, we are not bound to eliminate anything from our diet that doesn't mention God outright.
MichaelHovey 7 months ago
Amen, Patty! Amen!
bobed 8 months ago
Oh, I forgot that I neglected to answer your first question. No, I can't think of any. 

And you'll notice if you'd read my first post that I did say, "I hope ambitious young Christian filmmakers start making fantastic, quality Christ-centered content, and perhaps the Academy will be forced to recognize us." I did not say, "I hope the Academy starts to recognize all the Oscar-worthy Christian content out there." 
Anonymous 8 months ago
Posted by Peggy Carter

I really hope La La Land or Hidden Figures wins! I saw them both recently and loved them!
John Peterson 8 months ago
I hope LA LA LAND wins everything.