Now that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has chosen its winners, we present our own Cinema in Focus Oscars for the best films of 2018. Our criteria are not based on the best story, graphic representation or most entertaining, but what story had the deepest statement of values that are spiritually uplifting or challenging.
» Best Inspirational Film: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
There are some Christians who live the life of God’s love in such an authentic way that they impact a generation. But few such leaders do so by focusing on children. Even though Jesus gave children a primary value within His kingdom, very few give their life in service to them. However, one such person was the Rev. Fred Rogers, a Presbyterian elder ordained in 1963 as an evangelist whose mission was the newly developing field of children’s television.
In a time when child development also was becoming a new field of understanding as well, Rogers surrounded himself with some of the giants in the field at the University of Pittsburgh’s child development research center. Understanding that children’s feelings are both valid and moldable, Rogers created a neighborhood of make-believe in which love was the primary glue.
Using this environment to impact children, he systematically confronted racism, bullying, divorce, death, assassination, fear and many other positive and negative emotions and experiences of life.
» Best Picture Confronting Community Values: On the Basis of Sex
The admiration people have for Ruth Bader Ginsburg is well placed. The earlier documentary of her life, RBG, directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West, presented her as a person with a powerful intellect and uncompromising convictions.
In this dramatization of her life, On the Basis of Sex, directed by seasoned TV director Mimi Leder, we are invited behind the facts for a glimpse into Ginsburg’s soul.
During the years after women gained the right to vote in 1920, many people thought that equality would come quickly, but that was not the case. Many laws were on the books that created an ongoing inequality in virtually every area of life, including the Internal Revenue Service’s tax laws. Ginsburg experienced discrimination firsthand in her inability to land a position in the law firms of New York and so became a law professor instead. But the great passion of her life was to bring justice to women.
» Best Picture in a Supporting Family Role: Mary Poppins Returns
It has been well more than 50 years (1964) since the original Mary Poppins worked her way into our hearts and the film became a part of American film history. This story takes us back into the lives of the now-grown Banks children, who have a faint memory of someone magical who came into their home as children.
Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane (Emily Mortimer) Banks are now grown, and Michael, who still lives in the family home with his children, has been recently widowed. The struggles that the original Banks children witnessed in their parents are now coming to be a common experience in their own daily lives.
It is at this point that one of the most common mistakes that we all make occurs for Michael and Jane Banks. The sense of wonder and awe that they knew as children has been replaced with a skeptical sense of adult reality. That childhood faith in the unknown seems oddly naive and not grounded in what we have been taught to be the “real world.” It is that childhood trust in faith that Mary Poppins returns to bring back into the Banks family home. That is the true gift she is about to leave with them.
» Best Person in an Inspirational Role: Pope Francis: A Man of His Word
Arguably, the most profound religious leader of the 21st century is a Jesuit priest who took the name of Francis when elected pope in 2013: Jorge Mario Bergoglio. As the first pope from the Americas and the first from the Southern Hemisphere, Pope Francis was born in Argentina eight days before Christmas in 1936.
The power of the film rests in its addressing of the most difficult questions of Christian faith, including: Why do children suffer? What is our relationship to people of other faiths? What is our response to a same-sex attracted person of goodwill? Why are empowered women vital to our future? How do we respond to the evil of pedophilia in the priesthood? How do we address the unending wars and conflicts with their resultant refugees? What is our “culture of waste” and our “frenetic culture” doing to our souls? Why is the Christian faith so filled with “hope” in the midst of such a broken and hurting world?
» Best Picture Depicting Personal Growth: Lives Well Lived
Lives Well Lived may be a documentary, but it is also a love story. It is an inspirational look at what makes for a memorable life from the perspectives of a dozen people who range in age from 75 to 103 years old.
What makes you happy? What has been the most important contribution to your well-being? Those are questions that we all ask ourselves, but few know for certain that at the end of our life whether we will still have the same answer.
Here are a remarkable similar set of summations that make the rest of us realize that much of what we fuss about as important is in the end “nothing about nothing.”
What lessons can we learn from these dynamic elders? First, “don’t sweat the small stuff.” Life has major moments that shape us, but we spend 90 percent of our energy on the things that in the end really don’t count. Write down the things that matter to you and focus on them every day.
Secondly, “Enjoy each day with gratitude.” To quote Irving Berlin, “Count your blessings, count them one by one.” Every time you feel down about anything, remember what you do have.
Third, “Keep active — always have a reason to look forward to tomorrow.” Make each day count. Make a list of the things that need to be done to help someone else, and attack it as if it were your life’s work.
— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is the retired pastor of Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara and lead superintendent of Free Methodist Church in Southern California. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.