God, Art & The Oscars (Guest Post)
Imagine the vast nothingness of a formless and void universe spread out before the Triune Godhead like a blank canvas on which to create the greatest work of art in all of eternity. It would be a work of art that was visual, tactile, auditory, and alive. This work of art is known as the universe. And if we read the Bible closely, we find the universe is but the stage upon which the greatest story was to be told. It is the story of love and grace, betrayal and redemption, and the triumph of a King over all enemies. It has a cast of billions from every nation, tribe, and tongue. It is the story of a groom searching for and redeeming a bride. This is the story of Jesus Christ.
I adore narrative. My favorite books of the Bible are narrative. My favorite paintings and photographs are ones that cause me to imagine the story that just occurred, is occurring, or that will soon take place. Movies are this generation’s preferred medium for narrative art. As a result, I also love movies.
The Oscars are coming this Sunday and will celebrate the best in film for the past year (at least according to the Academy). Why we as a society are obsessed with art—and narrative art in particular—should be obvious to the Christian. From cave drawings in pre-literate societies meant to tell the story of a hunt, to early forms of epic poetry, to classical literature, to Shakespeare, to Spielberg – human beings have a need to tell and be told stories. This need stems from being made in the image of a creative God who communicates to us via narrative, albeit non-fiction, through the story of the garden, the lives of the patriarchs, the saga of Israel, and the work of the Messiah Jesus.
All great art moves us because it reflects the great story of redemption we were created for. We can appreciate great art because it teaches us something about ourselves and God. We should thank God for great artists. Ironically, even those artists most in opposition to Christianity cannot help but reflect the meta-narrative of Scripture. Sometimes this reflection is positive, sometimes rebellious, but always a reflection of humanity and our relationship with God, or lack thereof.
I have had the opportunity to see all of the films nominated for best picture at this year’s Academy Awards. I am going to give you my brief thoughts on the nine films and my predictions for the winners. But more than seeing my predictions, I hope you will allow stories, in whatever form they come, to transport you to the cross, where the greatest story ever told reached its climax.
A throwback to the days of silent, black-and-white films. I love some of the old films that The Artist hearkens back to. Strangely this might be the most approachable film nominated, perhaps besides The Help. It might win the big prize, but I think it’s more gimmick than great. Look for wins in the Best Picture and Director categories, and probably Original Score.
George Clooney will probably win Best Actor for this beautiful film about loss, forgiveness, and the definition of family. This is my favorite movie nominated and should win, but won’t. Look for win in Best Actor.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
This is the movie everyone was surprised to get the nomination. Most people, myself included, find the movie melodramatic, whose parts are better than the whole. Don’t look for this movie to win much of anything.
I liked this movie, but always wonder why Hollywood has to create a story about white people to tell a story about black history (i.e. Glory). The real stars here are Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, and they both might win awards. This and The Descendants are the only films with a shot to beat The Artist. Will it win? Probably not, but anything can happen. Look for wins for Best Actress and Supporting Actress.
Martin Scorcese’s brilliant 3D film about a young boy hiding in a Paris train station fixing clocks and searching for his place in the world. It’s also about the birth of motion pictures, with Ben Kingsley giving a masterful performance that smartly parallels the story of the young boy. Look for wins in art direction and cinematography.
Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen is an American film legend and he is at his recent best here with a wonderful film that is fantasy and comedy about a couple seeking to discover the kind of life they would like to lead. They are helped by a cast of literary figures from the past. Look for Allen to possibly score a win in the Original Score category.
This is also one of my personal favorite movies of the past year. Brad Pitt is great here as a baseball GM with a unique, math-based approach to building the Oakland Athletics. I love sports films and this is a great one with very little sports action on screen.
The Tree of Life
This is a brilliantly maddening film from Terrence Malick about the creation of the universe and the life of a Texas family. It’s a beautiful and lyrical picture that most people won’t be able to sit through. I found it hypnotic, but then I’m a fan of Malick’s work. Could win for anything from director to cinematography.
I loved Steven Spielberg’s film about WWI told through the eyes of a horse. Even though I loved it, I can understand why some people didn’t. I found it beautiful and touching and we see vignettes about those affected by war with the thread of Joey the horse carrying us from scene to scene. This probably won’t win anything but I feel it’s worth watching.
Have fun at the Oscars, but remember to look for the theology/worldview that the films teach. Don’t be a mere spectator, but seek to be an informed viewer who uses every opportunity to think on the things of God and to give Him glory. After all, when it comes to writing stories, God is second to none.
Kenny Montano is the pastor of Roy Bible Church in Roy, Utah and former film critic for The Daily-Times of Farmington, New Mexico.