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Are any of the Oscar winners or nominees worth watching?

Friends watching a movie together at home

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Mary Claire Kendall - published on 04/12/24

Most of last year’s award winners are now available to stream. Here are some notes on films you can watch that have spiritual, and even Catholic sensibilities.

Some four years ago, Ricky Gervais, British sitcom star, quipped at the Golden Globes, that they could just give all the awards to Netflix and be done with it. 

Now, a plethora of online platforms are streaming Academy Award (and Golden Globe) winners. Given that, as Oscar hosts often intimate, money greases the wheels, it does beg the question if this year’s winners were truly deserving.

Let’s look at some currently streaming films, including those that took Oscars home, and nominated films with no gold to show for it. Without question, there are worthy films in both groups.

TWO SHORT GEMS

The Oscar-winning short documentary, The Last Repair Shop, produced by Fox Searchlight and now streaming on You Tube, is a gem of a film. About the LA Unified School District’s practice of repairing old musical instruments for talented students in need, it glistens as we see lives changed under the supervision of its Serbian Christian manager. He fled persecution, only to be hosted by a family whose father tuned pianos. It was the catalyst to helping young students’ dreams come true in America’s recording capital. That’s just one story in this tapestry of love.

Another delight is the Oscar-winning live action short, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, written by Roald Dahl and adapted for the screen by Wes Anderson, who also directed. It has a good message reflective of Jesus’s Golden Rule. It is currently streaming on Netflix.

THE HOLDOVERS
(Peacock)

The Holdovers is the heartwarming, eye-opening story of New England Prep School students “left behind at Christmas that nobody wants.” They are overseen by crusty history prof Paul Hunham, masterfully played by Paul Giamatti, and a head cook (Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actress Da’Vine Joy Randolph) who is grieving her son’s death in Vietnam.

Tucked away in this holiday tale are amazing twists — notably when Hunham discovers that the last remaining student, like himself, is harboring a secret wound. Their fractious relationship becomes a bond of understanding. Directed by Alexander Payne, who re-reteams with his Sideways star Giamatti, the film is must-see.

OPPENHEIMER
(Peacock)

The epic that swept the 2024 Oscars, Oppenheimer took home awards for Best Picture, Best Director (Christopher Nolan), Best Actor (Cillian Murphy), and Best Supporting Actor (Robert Downey Jr.). It also won a Golden Globe award for its score by Ludwig Göransson.

Oppenheimer truly is an amazing film about the race to develop the atom bomb and how the father of nuclear physics, J. Robert Oppenheimer, played the key role he would come to regret. He was an unlikely person to helm the “Manhattan Project” given his self-indulgence, opulent childhood, and poor judgement when the communist sirens came calling and eventually doomed his career.

It’s unfortunate that Oppenheimer contains so much very explicit, gratuitous sex. (That is the same problem plaguing Poor Things, featuring Best Actress winner Emma Stone and streaming on Hulu.) However, I do think that very flaw serves to spotlight how communism warped human sexuality and ignored the essential role that women play in upholding human dignity in sexual relationships.

Two other standout films were totally shut out at the Oscars and deserve special mention…

KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON
(Apple TV)

Killers of the Flower Moon is another epic story that tells how the Osage Indians are banished to seemingly worthless land in Oklahoma, only to strike it rich with “black gold” they secured the headrights to. They were then systematically murdered by foes eager to make off with the loot.

At the core is the tender and dignified love story between Mollie Kyle, stunningly played by Lily Gladstone (Best Actress Golden Globe winner) and Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo di Caprio). Burkhart is the witless nephew of a crooked crime boss deftly played by Robert De Niro. The loving relationship is ultimately corrupted by an insatiable, unconscionable drive for money at any price. 

Mollie, six years Ernest’s senior, had been compelled to attend a Catholic School and eventually converted. When she met Ernest, he was also Catholic, though not practicing. In the film, she brings him back to his faith, in particular in a beautiful, touching scene where a Latin Mass is celebrated. Then when Mollie feels endangered, she turns to her priest who, it’s implied, helps her. Ultimately Mollie outwits everyone, and it is a good bet that her Catholic faith and connections played a role. Burkhart, meanwhile, has years to repent of his sins.   

MAESTRO
(Netflix)

Maestro is about Leonard Bernstein, artfully portrayed by Bradley Cooper, and his rise to fame. He meets and marries a Costa Rican-born American actress, Felicia Montealegre, who played by Carrie Mulligan in a moving performance. Unfortunately, Bernstein’s increasingly open relationships with much younger men strains their marriage to the breaking point, while also fueling his prolific output. In spite of Bernstein’s weaknesses, the film has tender moments as the legendary American conductor and composer recognizes life’s higher purpose, which his love for his wife images for him.

When a reporter fawns over Bernstein’s brilliant career, he replies that “when you add it up there is not much that I have created.” His misgivings then turn philosophical and he eventually gets to the core of the problem when he says: “Either one believes in a Divine element in it or one doesn’t. As long as I believe it … I have to believe that in some remote corner of my soul there is a way out.”

Perhaps that was too much God talk for Hollywood — which ironically was founded in the late 19th century as a Christian enclave. But, as with Scorsese’s winless film, Maestro impressed this writer with its depth.

In any case, this year’s crop of nominees and award winners can certainly serve to remind us that the sins of our fallen nature will all be forgiven if we only bathe them in the healing graces flowing from the heart of Jesus.

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