The United Methodist Reporter is offering the latest headlines in the RSS format.
Oscar’s spirit: Probing the good, bad and ugly in 2011 race Bill Fentum and Gary Keene, Feb 23, 2011
WEINSTEIN COMPANY PHOTO
England’s King George VI overcomes a severe speech disorder in the historical drama, 'The King’s Speech'
This year’s 10 nominees for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Best Picture award are certainly a diverse lot, with characters ranging from real-life Web tycoons and English monarchs to Old West heroes (of both the live-action and Pixar-animated varieties).
To make sense of it all from a faith perspective, associate editor Bill Fentum and special contributor Gary Keene browse through the list, offering a glance at the inspiring content—or lack thereof—in each film.
Black Swan New York ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) has just landed the coveted lead in a production of Swan Lake. And yet despite the appearance of success, she’s suffering a mental breakdown that only we in the audience are privy to; her brutally demanding director (Vincent Cassel) and manipulative mom (Barbara Hershey) seem entirely unaware.
In 2008, director Darren Aronofsky gave us The Wrestler, the story of a man who was ultimately defeated by his demons but lost on his own terms. Nina isn’t even that lucky, and her descent into madness is filled with nightmarish (and at times erotic) hallucinations that earn the film a very serious R rating. Don’t expect the slightest ray of hope, though Ms. Portman’s fearless performance and Mr. Aronofsky’s intense, surrealistic style make Black Swan a compelling scare flick.—BF
The Fighter It’s billed as a true-life boxing story. The real fighting, though, happens outside the ring and carries a lot more punch than the predictable (if inspiring) results on the canvas. Fighter-turned-crackhead Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) seems eager to coach his up-and-coming half-brother Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), but both men are in the grip of their mom and self-styled manager (Melissa Leo).
When Micky falls for Charlene (Amy Adams), a bartender with common sense and genuine concern for him, he ditches his dysfunctional clan to compete on his own. But sure enough, the story reveals that he needs those wacky familial bonds after all; in the end, a reunion is brokered through graceful honesty and forgiveness from the least likely source. Shot on location in Lowell, Mass., The Fighter is a salty feel-good film with an unbeatable cast—especially Mr. Bale, perhaps the year’s top contender for best supporting actor.—GK
Inception Audiences last summer walked away either enthralled or confused by this visionary sci-fi adventure. Or maybe they felt a little of both reactions. In writer-director Christopher Nolan’s complex narrative, invasion expert Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) enters the dreams of a corporate executive (Cillian Murphy) to persuade him to accept (or “incept”) a new business strategy that would make life easier for his chief rival (Ken Watanabe).
It’s a scary world where the concept of privacy seems to have vanished. Most of the characters are morally tainted including Cobb, whose troubled past and haunted conscience may sabotage the whole caper. Or this expatriate spy can learn to live with his own unchangeable reality and reunite with the family he lost. For all the high-tech, multi-leveled contrivance—a heady mix of James Bond and The Matrix—Inception is still a very human drama with a hopeful message at its core. It just looks complicated.—BF
The Kids Are All Right Most faith-based reviewers had nothing to say about this indie hit during its theatrical run last summer, and for an obvious reason: Whether they praised or panned it, the seriocomic story of a lesbian couple meeting the sperm-donor father of their teenaged children was bound to spark controversy.
The truth is, The Kids Are All Right centers on some issues that are common to all of us, gay or straight. Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) must say goodbye to their oldest child as she heads off to college, and they’re only a few years away from the likelihood of an empty nest. The twist comes when Jules begins an unexpected affair with the dad (Mark Ruffalo), an easy-going bachelor with a typical aversion to commitment. It can’t help but end badly for someone, and it does. But the overall tone is gentle and affirming, if laced with pointless doses of profane language and nudity.—BF
The King’s Speech This historical drama takes viewers behind the British throne to witness personal and political conflicts that shaped the events leading into World War II. Desperate to overcome a profound stammer, Prince Albert (Colin Firth) is tutored by irreverent speech therapist Lionel Logue, wonderfully played by Geoffrey Rush.
At the heart of the film is their unfolding relationship, as the student-therapist dynamic struggles against the rigidity of 1930s English status and class rules. Logue insists on ignoring those barriers in order to help the future king find the root of his speech disorder—which has nothing to do with his capacity to speak, and everything to do with his image of himself. Heart-warming, funny, inspiring and truthful, The King’s Speech is a movie worth savoring.—GK
127 Hours The story of Aron Ralston—a loner who slipped into a canyon while hiking in the badlands of Utah and had to cut off his own arm to escape—may cause some viewers to faint into their popcorn. But more likely they’ll be pinned to their seats by this simple and credible drama told with abundant creativity, a character study in which the character matures before our eyes (as well as his own, thanks to his handy video camera).
Director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) tackles what seems like an impossible task: showing a guy stuck in one position for 90 minutes. But with an outstanding performance from first-time nominee James Franco, Mr. Boyle takes us on a journey of discovery: A once-selfish character learns the value of relationships he has taken too lightly, and realizes one part of himself must die before he can be reborn. When the bloody climax comes, it feels more like a postlude to Aron’s resurrection.—GK
The Social Network A razor-sharp screenplay by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) tells us more than we may have wanted to know about the early days of Facebook. A team of Harvard undergrads launches the cyberspace wonder in 2004; but they’re soon divided over who deserves credit, control and most of the profits. The story’s tragic center is the dissolution of a partnership between Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), an economics student who bankrolled the site during its start-up phase.
Loyalty and trust are sacrificed at every turn, and we’re left to ponder the weird possibility that a guy who has made his name bringing half a billion people together online doesn’t quite know the meaning of the word “friend.” Is The Social Network entirely fair in its treatment of a disputed case? Perhaps not. But as a deeply cynical, cautionary tale for our time, it’s hard to beat.—BF
Toy Story 3 Pixar’s latest animated wonder proved it’s a contender by graduating into the “real” category of 10 Best Picture nominees. If the time and money spent to see a film are validated by how much it moves you in a variety of directions (i.e, laughter, tears, insight, longing, self-examination), then Toy Story 3 is worth every dime and tear and nomination.
An entirely adult saga using animated toys that entertain kids as well, this last installment in the series asks a timeless question: How can we deal with those times when we’re forced to let go of whatever—or whoever—matters to us most? Along the way, we witness the wound at the heart of a villain, the blindness that comes from fear of separation, the unexpected courage of a worn-out victim, the selfless dedication required of a true leader and, yes, a flamenco-dancing astronaut. Not to be missed.—GK
True Grit A remake of the 1969 John Wayne classic, True Grit is a true Western, telling a story of unsparing justice with redemption always on the horizon. Fourteen-year-old farm girl Mattie Ross, aiming to catch the man who killed her father and bring him to trial, hires irascible, inebriated and legendary U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn for the hunt, with a boastful Texas Ranger tagging along. Of course, things don’t go quite as planned; many of our expectations are turned upside down, the story becoming a moral parable in the best sense.
The Coen brothers rein in their elaborate directorial style just enough to let the stars shine, particularly Jeff Bridges as Cogburn and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie. Matt Damon, in a change of pace role as the not-always-sharp-minded Ranger, offers a perfect balance. (For a thoughtful evaluation of the film, search online for New York Times blogger Stanley Fish’s Dec. 27 piece, “Narrative and the Grace of God.”)—GK
Winter’s Bone Ree Dolly (best actress contender Jennifer Lawrence) lives in a world that few of us could even imagine. Raised in Missouri’s Ozark Mountains, she’s surrounded by relatives who use and sell methamphetamine and will gladly kill anyone who puts their business at risk. When her father skips bail and disappears, 17-year-old Ree searches for him—knowing any false move could be fatal.
It’s intense, and the resolution isn’t for the squeamish. There’s hope, though, in Ree’s devotion to her younger brother and sister (“I’d be lost without the weight of you two on my back,” she tells them). And John Hawke’s supporting turn as her uncle, tainted but capable of the greatest loyalty and courage at the right time, was also recognized by Oscar voters. No feel-good movie, for sure, but a portrait of quiet perseverance that’s worth seeking out and celebrating.—BF
The Rev. Keene is director of connectional ministries and executive assistant to the bishop in the California-Pacific Conference.