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FIRST-PERSON: Some good & a lot of bad in Oscar nominees

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences revealed the contenders for the coveted Oscar Awards Tuesday morning. But it wasn’t just business as usual for the academy. After six decades, the main category of Best Picture was again expanded from five nominees to 10.

“Having 10 Best Picture nominees is going to allow Academy voters to recognize and include some of the fantastic movies that often show up in the other Oscar categories, but have been squeezed out of the race for the top prize,” Academy President Sid Ganis said.

At first I wasn’t sure academy voters could come up with 10 contestants for that prestigious category. Indeed, it raised an eyebrow to see “District 9” on the list. But I must admit, this year art and commerce are wisely represented by Oscar.

The nominees are: “Avatar,” “The Blind Side,” “District 9,” “An Education,” “The Hurt Locker,” “Inglourious B——-,” “Precious,” “A Serious Man,” “Up,” and “Up in the Air.”

Many of the films listed have incorporated a moral or life lesson, while some seemed to fill out the list as representatives of genres often overlooked by the academy (sci-fi and action adventure). Two of the productions came as close to biblical parables as Tinseltown knows how to relate: “The Blind Side” and “Up.” And one film caught the imagination of the entire world. Hint: it’s made over $2 billion worldwide.

There’s also something that can’t be denied about most of these contenders: The makers couldn’t tell their stories without adding something vulgar or profane. Six of the Best Picture nominees are rated R. Three are PG-13. Even the animated film (Up) that made the category is rated PG. It appears that we audience members have become a harsher people, or at least a people willing to be entertained by harsher content.

I suppose it can be argued that men in battle are apt to use profanity, as is done in “The Hurt Locker.” Still, I would debate that the power found in past films such as “Battleground,” “The Longest Day” or “The Story of G.I. Joe” wasn’t diminished by a lack of swear words. Movies are said to be an art form. It follows then, that the art of storytelling is most effective not just when it shows who we are, but when it suggests what we can become. I make my living using words, so it’s a frustration for me that highly paid screenwriters abuse the art of conversation in their products. Dialogue should be a salute to language, not an abuse of it.

This year, violence was also well represented among the nominees. Avatar’s writer/director James Cameron bloated his CGI sci-fi adventure with faintly camouflaged dictums concerning New Age philosophy, abuse of the environment, and war. Interestingly, I’ve never seen an anti-war movie that wasn’t filled to capacity with battle sequences; usually the more strident the message, the more alluring the screen carnage. “Avatar” is no different.

And speaking of violence, District 9 is clever, but I found the grotesque imagery over the top. Fans of the genre, however, loved it, some eating from their oversized popcorn barrels while staring at a virus-inflicted earthling vomiting over his birthday cake as he morphs into a hideous alien being. It has that same bizarre tone found in Mars Attacks, with just a little less humor and a whole lot more aggressive and graphic gore.

Like a DVD game, Inglorious B——- uses World War II as a psychological wish fulfillment against Hitler’s “superior race.” Quentin Tarantino has fashioned a surreal dream/nightmare tinged with dark humor, allowing viewers to sit comfortably in cinemas all over the world (well, maybe not in Germany) while viewing an alternative ending to the fuehrer and his Nazi party. Trouble is, there doesn’t seem to be much point and certainly not much of a morality tale past the eye-for-an-eye rampage.

Up in the Air poignantly examines how easy it is to shut yourself off from the world around you, while sending the message that such narcissism takes its toll. Sadly, nearly every character portrayed feels right at home with the f-word, the lead character abuses Jesus’ name several times, and the three lead characters have no moral conflict with having a sexual encounter with someone they have just met.

Perhaps we have evolved into beings capable of processing any amount of abuse that those who make up Hollywood’s constellation put before our eyes. But is that what our Creator intended for us?

BEST FILM PREDICTION: Avatar. Reasoning? Bottom line in Hollywood — M-O-N-E-Y. You don’t make billions of bucks and get ignored by members of the academy.

MY CHOICE FOR BEST FILM: Up. It will win in the Best Animation category, but I just wish its producers would walk away with the Best Picture statuette. That first half hour contains some of the finest filmmaking I’ve ever seen. It makes you feel emotions and it doesn’t just numb you like most action adventures. These are characters — the old man, his wife and the little boy — who have endured life tragedies and still found hope and happiness amid life’s journey. Disney and Pixar put story first. Then they match creative narrative with interesting characters and just-right voice characterizations. And just before completion, they ask themselves, how can we make it even better? Then they do.

The 82nd Academy Awards will be broadcast on ABC Sunday, March 7. Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin are set to co-host.
Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective and is the author of “Movies: The Good, The Bad, and the Really, Really Bad.” Read his film reviews at previewonline.org.

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  • Phil Boatwright