Thursday, January 27, 2005

Oscar nominations

Conspicuous in their absence from the Oscar nominations announced a few days ago were two films that, in a certain sense, encapsulated the socio-political, cultural, and religious trajectories of the last year. The brainchildren of two Michael's from opposite ends of the political and religious spectrum symbolized well the polarization which divides and defines the modern American milieu.

On the one hand, Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 sought to represent the millions of Americans disturbed by the Bush administration's handling of the so-called 'war on terrorism.' Particularly striking was the patriotic tone embraced by the filmmaker to emphasize his own love for country even as he critiqued its policies. And while entertaining to me, the movie was clearly a piece of propaganda; however, I do not think that the movie suggested it was anything but a slanted, biased ideological confession. If anything, the movie should serve to remind us of how common human bias is in the media and how we ought to be most suspicious of those individuals and outlets which incessantly claim to be 'fair and balanced' or 'the most trusted name in news.' The critical acumen of the American consumer of media must be sharpened if we hope to be informed. Should this film have been nominated? Probably not. Although it inspired its own kind of passion, it was not a piece of art like Finding Neverland and, in my mind, was not deserving of the kind of critical approval the Oscar carries with it.

On the other hand was Gibson's The Passion of Christ. Although the film had its thoughtful moments--including the powerful depiction of Peter's rejection of Christ and the touching interactions between Jesus and his mother, an aspect of the human Christ too often neglected by Protestants--the gruesome, endless violence served solely a masochistic, guilt-inducing purpose. To compare the gospel accounts and classic artistic representations of the cross to this gory spectacle is to compare works intended to evoke contemplation and thought to one solely hoping to make another buck in the entertainment industry. Particularly disturbing to me was the mass marketing of the film conducted by the church. Gibson didn't need to spend a dime on promoting the film as pastors and churches served as advertising firms; their passion to promote Passion left no room for critique and thought. This film also did not deserve the highest of critical approval.

I agree with Andrew Sullivan when he writes in his blog, "Kudos to the academy for ignoring the execrable 'Fahrenheit 9/11' and the pornographic 'Passion.' Right-wing and left-wing ideologies will be disappointed. But what do they know about art?" I do expect both sides to claim that their favorite film was rejected because of ideological reasons. In my mind, all you have to do is watch some of the current nominees to realize that these movies, though culturally significant, are simply not in the same class.