the moral pulse of the oscars

The Oscars are a little under two weeks from now - with the threat of the writer's strike leading to an unexpected interruption of one of the most surreal nights of the pop culture year now gone. Rich and famous folk slapping each other on the back, handing out gold statuettes for works of art that many of us haven't seen. It has always surprised me how the winning speeches rarely seem to mention the films that have led to their success – family members, agents, even pets get name-checked – but few awardees talk about the feelings the film may have stirred in the audience. It's as if the heady emotions that are caused at the cinema are too … human … to talk about at something so tawdry as an awards ceremony. Just imagine Jack Nicholson or Nicole Kidman or Will Ferrell discoursing on questions such as the power dynamics in The Godfather, or the sense of loss in American Beauty, or the hope exemplified in Magnolia on the Kodak Theatre stage, and you'll get the picture.

But every now and then, of course, we get the kind of standout moment exemplified by Michael Moore's none-too-subtle attempt at culturally impeaching the president by invoking both the Dixie Chicks and Pope John Paul II at the red-carpetless ceremony that took place just a few days after the war in Iraq began in 2003. In spite of its clunkiness, here at least was a sincere stab at using one of the biggest platforms on earth to make a difference for the common good.

The interesting thing this year is that the films speak for themselves as ethical statements. Each of the five Best Picture nominees represents a high quality attempt at exploring a question of morality, and each takes its purpose seriously enough to propose a response that could stand alongside the kind of ethical positions people who seek to embody progressive spirituality might take.

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