With political controversies and scandals likely to be talked about — and addressed from the stage — during the Academy Awards on Sunday, March 4, viewers could be forgiven for firing up the Netflix or playing board games instead.
But the irony is, in a movie year where off-topic speechmaking and awkward acknowledgements of Hollywood’s current peccadilloes might turn people off, some of the movies nominated are really good — and even one is friendly to Catholicism.
Click here for Variety‘s rundown of all the nominees — which we won’t discuss in their entirety, to your likely relief — but I asked Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a Holy Cross priest, producer here at Family Theater Productions, and a graduate of USC Film School, what his picks were for the winners of the top categories.
Aside from Best Picture, Father Kuna said: “For the other major awards, I liked what the guilds picked, and am going with that.”
His picks are in bold.
Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”
Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water”
Christopher Plummer, “All the Money in the World”
(Note: Plummer came in at the last minute to replace Kevin Spacey in the role of J. Paul Getty, after Spacey’s own troubles with sexual scandal caused him to exit the film.)
Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Meryl Streep, “The Post”
Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me By Your Name”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”
Note: Unlike Father Kuna, I haven’t seen all the nominated films, but I did see this one twice. It’ll be a dang shame if Oldman doesn’t take this. He was astonishing as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Here’s what I had to say back in November.)
Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”
“Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“Phantom Thread,” Paul Thomas Anderson
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro
“Call Me By Your Name”
“The Shape of Water”
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
And, for Best Picture, Father Kuna said:
In the newly instituted preferential ballot (rank 1 to 9), I see LADY BIRD being ranked in everyone’s top three. With every other film, I could see the ranked votes being scattered from like to dislike and everything else in between.
This way of voting could propel a film that not everybody loved, but just about everybody liked, to best picture.
“Lady Bird” is a semi-autobiographical account of the Catholic-school years of a non-Catholic student and her fraught relationship with her mother.
Bishop Robert Barron said:
Now you might say, “okay, a typical coming of age story.” Yet running underneath this complex story of love and conflict is religion, more precisely, Catholicism. Though not a Catholic herself, Lady Bird attends a Catholic high school, with quite a number of priests and nuns on the faculty. At regular intervals in the film, we see Lady Bird and her classmates attending Mass and other religious services—and none of this is presented mockingly or ironically, as we’ve come to expect from most Hollywood productions. When Lady Bird auditions for the school’s fall musical, she discovers that an older priest is one of the drama coaches. This figure is presented very sympathetically as a man who, earlier in life, had been married and had lost a son, and who now wrestles with depression. When he goes away for treatment, he is replaced by a younger priest, who had served up to that point as football coach and who, to the amusement of his students, brings a good deal of fifty-yard-line enthusiasm to his new task.
But by far the most powerful and positive personages in the film are the religious sisters who staff the high school. To a person, they are bright, dedicated, funny, and wise, and provide strong role models for Lady Bird and her classmates. When one of the girls fixes a sign to the sisters’ car announcing, “married to Jesus for forty years,” the nuns privately enjoy the joke as much as the students. The pivotal scene in the film involves a conversation between the headmaster of the school and Lady Bird in the wake of Lady Bird’s truly insulting and objectionable behavior during an assembly. Whereas a more small-minded administrator would simply have dismissed the girl, this canny nun punishes Lady Bird but then invites her to explore her creativity as a writer. Throughout the film, the Catholic Church is an encouraging and illuminating presence.
Click here to read the rest, including his notes on the film’s climax.
I’d be equally happy with victory for “Darkest Hour,” a fact-based story that managed to achieve high drama and present a relatively accurate view of history while also being cracking good entertainment — and, short one mild profanity, perfectly fine for preteens and up.
You may not want to watch the awards — I’ll be doing so in the company of a group of film-loving Catholics — and I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t (if I wasn’t at this party, I wouldn’t), but the fact that “Lady Bird” has made it all this way is encouraging.
A win for this faith-friendly, verging on faith-positive, little film would be sweet, indeed.
Image: Courtesy The Academy Awards; Father Vince Kuna; Focus Features; Scott Rudin Productions/Entertainment 360/IAC Films