Two Family-Friendly Oscar Nominees

This year’s Oscar nominated films has some strong contenders. While I wasn’t able to see all of the “Best Picture” nominees, I hope to catch up on my viewing in the next couple of weeks. One thing I love about the Oscars is that it recognizes that films offer us meaning on so many layers…not just great acting, but also great writing, wonderful visuals and music…all the reasons why I love a great movie.

Limited to five minutes and choosing between all the Oscar nominees, I’ve chosen two movies to talk about on Salt + Light Radio this week:

GRAVITY

Gravity was nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actress (Sandra Bullock’s amazing performance), Cinematography, Directing, Editing, Film Score, Sound, Visual Effects, etc. Gravity is the story of two astronauts on a routine space station mission who, after a disastrous accident in which they are left floating in space, desperately try to survive long enough to get back to earth.

Artistically, this is a stunning film to watch on all of those levels I mentioned earlier. More than that, though—this is a film that really “puts us in our place” in terms of understanding the words of Psalm 8–the majesty of God, and the smallness of the human person. Yet through its narrative, this film also offers us the hope that God is mindful of us, that we are not insignificant, that there is a reason for our being here, that even in our littleness before the vastness of space, we are “crowned with glory and honor.”

I was a little worried that I might get bored with a film—astronauts stuck in space for two hours? But I wasn’t bored at all, for many reasons: I love drinking the beautiful visuals of space, the brilliant performance of Sandra Bullock, the beautiful way the film is lensed and paced. But above all, I was intrigued because I was immediately drawn right into the astronauts’ experience and with them, felt both my smallness and the greatness of the human spirit seeking to overcome all obstacles.

The title is a wonderful metaphor that offers us a profound theme to explore. In one of her interviews, Sandra Bullock talks about the lack of gravity being the metaphor for the lack of control we can feel in life. Gravity is not just missing throughout much of the film; it’s their greatest hope—that gravity will draw the escape shuttle back to earth, to air to breathe and water to drink, and solid earth to stand and build on. When I watched the film, gravity became symbolic of God—God who is the “ground” of our being—or perhaps of the plan God has for us.

Gravity offers us a way to feel with the huge range of human emotions: awe and joy and the comfort of human interaction; the isolation of space, the terror of dying, and the despair of giving up; the fierce determination to survive, the hope that keeps us going. It’s not just cathartic. This film can make us appreciate the importance of all the moments of our lives.

It’s appropriately rated PG or PG-13 not because of the usual reasons, but because this is a movie with many scenes of peril that could be too much for young children.

SAVING MR. BANKS

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujxpk2IdDmM

Saving Mr. Banks is the fascinating story of the collaboration—or the lack of collaboration—between Walt Disney and P. L. Travers, author of the book Mary Poppins. Based on a true story of Disney trying to convince P. L. Travers to let him make a movie of her book, this is a Disney film with a Disney feel, except that it’s a lot sadder. For me, the sadness of the backstory, which involves a number of scenes showing the consequences of alcoholism—is so sad that it threatens to overwhelm the joy of the film—even the ending—which of course, we all know, because most of us have seen the movie, Mary Poppins. It’s brilliantly acted—by Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson, who play Disney and P. L. Travers, as well as the supporting cast. If you grew up loving Disney, this is a must-see.

One of my favorite themes in the film is the power of stories—the power that our own stories have for us, affecting our future, but also the stories that we read or see in the movies, or imagine. This film is, in many ways, about the power and importance of stories, and perhaps it encourages us to pay attention to the kinds of stories that we watch and listen to and re-imagine, because they affect us. They affect our perspective on life…stories can leave us feeling hopeless or lift us up. And what is the story that shapes our lives? The true “story” of Jesus coming to save us is, of course, the most important story for us as Catholics. How does the story of Jesus shape our stories, our lives? Isn’t that what conforming our lives to Christ is all about?

I found this film deeply touching and well worth viewing for older children and adults. For its subject matter it’s appropriately rated PG in most of Canada and PG-13 in the USA.

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