my take on the 2019 Best Picture nominees

I watch the Academy Awards every year and have blogged about them several times over the years, but this year I decided, for the first time, to see all the Best Picture nominees before Oscar night. Since there are only eight this year and I had already seen Black Panther (probably the only nominee that many people have seen), I was able to do this in one weekend. I did watch the rather inordinate number of five movies in my local cinema last weekend, which means that I saw the trailer for Isn’t It Romantic no fewer than three times. (It still looks pretty funny.) I rented one of the nominees from my local Family Video (yes, we still have rental stores around here) and finished up last night by watching one on Netflix.

Instead of writing a separate review of each film, I thought it would be more interesting–and less wordy–to make some lists of themes and motifs that appear in two or more of the films. Think of this as a textual Venn diagram that shows where the nominees overlap and thereby shows, perhaps, what was on Hollywood’s (and America’s and the world’s?) mind this year.

Let’s start with the obvious: Films that have the word “Black” in the title. Okay, maybe too obvious. Let’s move on.

Films about lonely musicians who abuse alcohol and/or drugsGreen Book, Bohemian Rhapsody, A Star Is Born

Films about political intrigue and insiderism that have zero likable characters: The Favourite, Vice

Films that deliberately hark back to older styles of filmmaking: Vice, BlackkKlansman, Roma

Films that incorporate multiple genres: BlackkKlansman, Vice (editorial note: Vice takes the cake in this category, using Shakespearean blank verse, restaurant menus, a helpful narrator who’s also sort of a character, historical footage, and even a fake credit roll in the middle of the movie in order to explain concepts. Also, a side note: BlackkKlansman and Vice have another feature in common–really cool, sometimes funky, sometimes epic scores by composers I’m not familiar with but whom I hope to hear more from in the future.)

Films in genres that traditionally don’t get nominated for Best PictureBlack Panther, A Star Is Born (And remember, a monster movie won last year. And the year before that, a musical won. Oh wait, no, it didn’t. Never mind.) I almost put Bohemian Rhapsody here because I was thinking of it as a feel-good movie/sort-of musical, but the Oscars do tend to love musician biopics (c.f. Ray, Walk the Line). Green Book somewhat fits into all of the categories I just mentioned as well, except that the focus is not so much on the musician as on his driver/bodyguard/friend.

Films that address contemporary issues: Oh wait, that would be all of them.

Films that felt like they were trying to out-weird last year’s weird period costume drama, Phantom Thread: I guess The Favourite is the only one that belongs here.

But perhaps the average filmgoer who doesn’t want to spend the equivalent of a full-time job in the movie theater will be most interested in these three categories.

Films that made me feel good: Black Panther, Green Book, Bohemian Rhapsody

Films that made me feel sad but okay: BlackkKlansman, A Star Is Born, Roma

Films that made me want to become a cynical world-hating hermit: The Favourite, Vice

That’s all for now. If you’ve seen any of these, let me know what you think. And if you happen to know why Roma is called Roma, let me know that too, because I’m pretty sure I missed something.


Knowing your audience

I just wrote a contribution to the Faith Learning Integration Gallery on the website of the Center for Teaching Excellence at the university where I work.  I decided to share it with you, but since I don’t want to violate the principle my essay is about–understanding and showing consideration for one’s audience–I should let you know that the originally intended audience of this piece consisted of Christian faculty members at a Christian university.  If you’re not one of those people, please don’t feel alienated if you’re not included in the “we” that I refer to throughout the essay.  I think you’ll get at least something from it regardless of whether you’re part of that audience.

In both the Center for Writing and Languages and many of the writing courses offered here at Liberty, we place quite a bit of emphasis on the genres of writing.  Not only is academic writing just one correct way to write among many, but there are also many ways to do academic writing—a research paper, a lab report, a discussion board, a conference presentation.  Each genre has its own conventions, and each is appropriate to a particular context and audience.  Trying to apply the conventions of one genre in the wrong context—for example, following the rules of the literary analysis genre while writing a legal brief—can lead to confusion for both writer and audience.

As Christians charged with communicating a message, we need to remember a similar principle.  The gospel is a constant, unchanging message that can take on an infinite variety of forms.  As is the case when choosing a genre of academic writing, knowing one’s audience is crucial when communicating the gospel.  It’s even more crucial, actually, because although there may be some general principles for sharing the gospel with a particular demographic, such as children, God speaks, and uses us to speak, in a unique way to each person.

Speaking God’s words to real, non-abstract people takes emotional intelligence.  It takes empathy.  It takes the ability to analyze a situation and choose the right course of action.  As it turns out, it takes a lot of the same qualities that make a good writer.