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FIRST-PERSON: Oscar nominees: an abysmal bunch

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–And the winner may be: “The Departed” (R), “Babel” (R), “Little Miss Sunshine” (R), “Letters from Iwo Jima” (R) or “The Queen” (PG-13). Indeed, four of the five films nominated for an Oscar as Best Picture are rated R. What’s more, the four R-rated films featured either cynicism, political correctness, crudity, a countless amount of obscenity or material that borders on pornographic.

The artistic and technical merits achieved by directors Scorsese, Eastwood and the rest cannot be denied, but the perspective of these four R-rated films can thwart most any filmgoer’s spiritual development.

Following are brief takes on the nominated films, plus a look at one that was sorely overlooked when the Oscar nominees were announced this morning (Jan. 23).

— War has been declared on mobster crime in The Departed. Though masterfully made, I find no moral compass to a script that is somehow both convoluted and superficial. Whatever ideas director Martin Scorsese has included are so masked with cartoonish revelry that the purpose is defeated. Scorsese and his cast wallow in evil, seeming to enjoy it rather than be repulsed by it. His film spotlights soulless men on the take who find little value to their own lives, and none in anyone else’s.

We can learn by viewing the lives of the lost, but there is no redemptive message in this movie. It’s just Mr. Scorsese’s concept of a world not only overcome with vice, but one lacking any true goodness. We leave the theater having been brutalized with profane language and violent deeds (at least eight people are killed execution style). The Departed is brutal, profane and darker than night.

— In Babel, several lives and seemingly separate storylines are interwoven after two Moroccan boys accidentally shoot an American tourist. Amid all the other R-rated content, this one features a provocative depiction of a 17-year-old Japanese girl trying to cope with her mother’s suicide and the seeming indifference of her father. (Rinko Kikuchi is nominated for Best Supporting Actress for the role.)

Looking for love in all the wrong places, the girl engages in exhibitionistic behavior and drug use in various scenes. What’s the difference between an X-rated movie and this one? Laws forbid the sexual exploitation of underage children in the making of sex films. But in a big studio release, the same imagery apparently can be featured under the guise of dramatic narrative.

— Little Miss Sunshine is all about a dysfunctional family that comes together in order to achieve a little girl’s dream of entering a beauty/talent contest. The film delivers potent comments on society and does so brilliantly from an artistic standpoint. But like each of these motion pictures, this one features enough crudity and obscenity to satisfy Howard Stern and enough bizarreness to intrigue the Addams family.

— Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima, in keeping with the general pacifistic mood in Hollywood, does a fine job with putting a human face on the enemy. But Pearl Harbor, which ultimately led to the showdown on Iwo Jima, signaled a gruesome reality that must not be forgotten. In reality, the Japanese were a fearsome and extremely brutal enemy. That’s not depicted here. Of course, Japan is our buddy now, so it might seem politically incorrect to recreate the savagery they brought to war. It might seem positive to downplay and forget such atrocities. After all, it was nearly 70 years ago. But remembering the events of WWII will keep us on guard and remind us that an entire nation can be blinded by evil even when their cause seems noble.

But in this film Mr. Eastwood’s agenda is an anti-war statement, which isn’t always practical. If he showed this film to the terrorists of the world, might it cause them to un-strap suicide bombs and lay down their beheading swords? No? Ah, there lies the fault with such anti-war films. The enemies of freedom and justice never see them, nor do they care to.

— I expect The Queen’s Helen Mirren to beat out Judi Dench and Meryl Streep for Best Actress because the latter two already have statuettes and there has been a buzz building around Mirren since The Queen (rated PG-13 for brief strong language) was first released. I was unable to see this film and thus cannot give an honest take on its message or subtext.

Sadly, the most affecting film of this past year –- “United 93” — was overlooked by members of the Academy.

United 93 (Rated R for language, sequences of terror and violence) tells of the heroic actions aboard the hijacked flight bound for Washington, D.C., on 9/11. Told from the perspective of the passengers, the flight crew and those monitoring the plane, the film shows how complete strangers united against a common enemy. Indeed, the film is a cautionary tale reminds anew: United we stand, divided we fall.

Though our country is at odds with its involvement in Iraq, the film makes it clear that we face an evil that masks itself as righteous. It is a film that will touch you, move you and make you think. So why wasn’t it acknowledged for what it is -– the best film of 2006?

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  • Phil Boatwright