Just when people (Catholic people in particular) say there are no good movies, we get a year like 2015. This was a great year for cinema and some of the best films were not even nominated, like “Concussion” with Will Smith. The Academy focused, once again, on projects starring only white people. But we can be grateful that two of the eight pictures nominated for best film are about a female protagonist.
Here’s my take on many of the nominated films that I saw; each one is deserving of an Oscar in one category or another. At least four have explicitly Catholic characters.
"The Big Short" -- Fascinating movie about fish stew and gambling that explains the 2008 financial crash, those who knew and said something (Christian Bale), those who knew and cashed in (add on Steve Carrell), those who knew and did nothing and no one who went to jail. Well, there was that one guy.
"Brooklyn" -- A beautiful story about a beautiful Irish girl (Saoirse Ronan) who immigrates to America with the help of a Catholic priest (Jim Broadbent), gets married, returns to Ireland and considers marrying an Irishman until her secret is made known, then comes back home to America and all is well.
"Mad Max: Fury Road" -- Dystopian upgrade of the original Mad Max that races from point A to point B and back to point A again with glowing and gritty apocalyptic cinematography, lots of violence, explosions, a reflection on humanity, caring for the earth and trafficking in women and a link to the inevitable sequel. With Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron.
"Bridge of Spies" -- Absorbing true story about a lawyer (Tom Hanks), who happens to be Catholic, who defends a Russian spy during the Cold War then, with the CIA, negotiates the return of the American pilot Francis Gary Powers whose spy plane crashed in the USSR. He arranges for the release of Powers, and an American student as a bonus, in exchange for a Russian spy.
"The Martian" -- An astronaut (Matt Damon) is left behind on Mars when he is believed dead following a terrible storm but he lives, grows potatoes, gets back in touch with earth, remains forever optimistic, and his crew comes back to get him. Everyone says we're spending too much money trying to find and save Matt Damon.
"The Revenant" -- A frontiersman (Leonardo DiCaprio), Hugh Glass, is mauled by a bear in the 1820s while scouting for a hunting party that leaves him in the care of two men, one of whom (Tom Hardy again) kills his son while Glass is incapacitated so he crawls, walks and rides over 200 miles in ice and snow to find the man and avenge his son. Gorgeous cinematography for the coldest movie about revenge I’ve ever seen.
"Spotlight" -- Investigative journalism team (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Live Schreiber, John Slattery) from The Boston Globe investigates alleged cover ups by the Archdiocese of Boston for moving priests accused of sexual abuse around from parish to parish, putting many children at risk for abuse over decades. Compelling and heartbreaking.
"Room" -- A teenager (Brie Larson) is kidnapped, raped, gives birth to a son who she cares for in a locked room, and for over five years survives, protects her son, plots an incredible escape and learns how to live again. To me, this is the best film of the year and I would love to see it win in every category for which it is nominated because it tells a story of terror and sacrificial love with beauty, wonder and grace.
"Trumbo" -- Brian Cranston is Dalton Trumbo, a blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter who goes to prison for not naming names, and after he gets out has to write using a pseudonym in order to support his family. Years later, he forgives.
"Steve Jobs" -- Michael Fassbender is the complicated unlikable man behind the mighty Mac and Apple machine, and with Aaron Sorkin’s talky script director Danny Boyle never lets him stand still. I’d like to see Fassbender get the Oscar for best actor but I think DiCaprio has this one in the bag.
"Joy" -- Jennifer Lawrence is always a good watch and here she plays a working class divorced mother who invents a special mop and makes a fortune on the shopping network. It’s good but it could have been a made-for-television movie.
"Creed" -- Very glad to see Sylvester Stallone back as Rocky Balboa a boxing coach and mentor to the son of his now deceased former rival and friend Apollo Creed. I think it is his year for an Oscar.
"The Hateful Eight" -- Quentin Tarantino’s descent into purgatory via a bunch of people stuck in a remote cabin features Jennifer Jason Leigh as a woman who is in custody to a bounty hunter (Kurt Russell) who punches her in the face and beats her. Artsy violence (spoiler alert) and everybody gets killed, as usual. Except that one guy.
"The Danish Girl" -- Beautiful-looking, anguish-laden film about two artists (Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne), based on a true story, who are married but the husband’s growing awareness and eventual transgender surgery changes their lives forever. Her love is unconditional for him even though she does not understand. Vikander deserves an award for best supporting actress for her efforts in this difficult role.
"Anomalisa" -- A creative story of a man caught in the ordinariness of life experiences something extraordinary. The animation is exceptional. I fell asleep. Twice.
"Inside Out" -- Disney/Pixar’s complex look at the inner emotional workings of a young girl and her parents. It’s a long, colorful journey on the train of thought through the islands of personality and wins the Oscar for best animated film -- but "Shaun of the Sheep" was good.
"Cinderella" -- Looks gorgeous and director Kenneth Branagh went against the advice of focus groups when he had Cinderella forgive the evil stepmother thus making a film about a young woman with conviction and character. I liked it.
"The Look of Silence" -- Talk about compelling. A man searches out the men of Indonesia’s death squads of the 1960s who killed his brother. To this day no one has been brought to justice for the mass murder of hundreds of thousands.
"Amy" -- This documentary about the singer Any Winehouse is profoundly sad and moving. I cannot forgive the Academy for not nominating "He Named Me Malala" which is the best documentary of the year. But both "The Look of Silence" or "Amy" deserve the Oscar.
"Son of Saul" -- Using almost no dialogue, a Jewish man in a Nazi concentration camp does everything he can to bury a young boy who is gassed. It’s more complicated than this but a sad story of life, death, heart, courage and caring. Best foreign language film.
[Sr. Rose Pacatte, a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, is the director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles.]