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Drew Trotter

The Movies and America

What the Academy Award nominees for Best Picture tell us about ourselves.


If Tertullian could ask, "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?", surely this year we could ask, "What has Hollywood to do with Washington?" or, perhaps more subtly, "What has the Kodak Theatre to do with the White House?" In a year when the two most talked-about movies were an independent film that won no Academy Awards and garnered only three nominations, and a documentary that was a lock to win none, having no nominations, how much is it worth our while to look at the five Academy Award nominees for best picture, four of them, of course, losers? Add that none of the five nominees were even in the top ten last year in box-office receipts, and the question presses: "How much are these pictures really indicative of where we are now, and where we are likely to go, as a nation?"

As St. Paul might have put it, "Much in every way." Movies dominate our office conversation; our presidents quote them when describing foreign policy; our preachers regularly use them for crucial sermon illustrations. Movies are as significant an art form as we have in America today, and the art of a people is perhaps the best barometer of their character and concerns. In that light, Hollywood has the most significant artists working in America today, and while this presents a rabbit trail down which we could go—discussing whether the greatest film artists are found in independent film circles or in Hollywood—the greatest blend of thoughtful, influential artistry in America is generally to be found in the more mainstream films of Hollywood. If that is so, then Hollywood's self-selected movies may well be, in the long run, the most influential movies made in any one year. The five Academy Award nominees for Best Picture this past year—The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Million Dollar Baby, Ray, and Sideways—certainly add up to a story about ourselves and the state of our souls that is worthy of our investigation.


In The Aviator, Martin Scorsese brings us a film about Howard Hughes, stretching ...

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