OK, film fans: Sunday, of course, is Oscar night, and this year's nominees include multiple films with a faith angle -- from the Holocaust to Hinduism, with clergy sexual abuse and all sorts of good vs. evil thrown in.
Many of the religion angles illuminate conflicts and tensions. Most prominently, "Slumdog Millionaire,'' the likely best picture winner, struck me as unusual because it features a Muslim protagonist without any connection to terror; it also has a brief but clear depiction of tensions between Hindus and Muslims in India, and, most significantly, it explores concepts of fate and destiny. (The New York Times's web site has an interesting discussion of why Hindu nationalists are objecting to "Slumdog Millionaire" here.)
"Milk,'' another best picture nominee, has a memorable and disturbing scene at a Catholic church, and intimates that Dan White's Catholicism played a role in his discomfort with homosexuality, which led to his killing of Harvey Milk; the film also features unflattering documentary footage of Anita Bryant and the evangelical opposition to gay rights. Off-screen, Milk's screenwriter, Dustin Lance Black, nominated for an Oscar, is an ex-Mormon whose gayness highlights that faith group's trouble with its own gay members.
"Doubt,'' of course, reminds viewers of the ugly sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, and paints an unflattering portrait of some religious women. And the films related to Judaism are provocative as well; the Foundation for Jewish Culture heard enough concern that it put out a viewers guide to "Waltz With Bashir,'' the troubling Israeli film that is a leading contender for best foreign language film, while over at Slate, Ron Rosenbaum says he is tempted to call "The Reader," a best picture nominee, the "Worst Holocaust Film Ever Made.''
ReligionLink, which is an affiliate of the Religion Newswriters Association, has put out a handy guide to religion themes in this year's nominees. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops issued its own list of the top ten films of 2008 here (the only two honored by the bishops that are also nominated for best picture by the Academy are "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and "Slumdog Millionaire"). Beliefnet offered its own film awards, naming "Wall-E" (which the Academy is considering for best animated feature) the year's "best spiritual film.'' And Christianity Today, the evangelical magazine, will be blogging about the Oscars here.
If you have thoughts about the role that religion played in this year's nominated films, I'm interested; feel free to post comments here.
(Image at top, from Sony Pictures Classics, shows a scene from "Waltz with Bashir." Image below, from Fox Searchlight, shows a scene from "Slumdog Millionaire.'')