The Oscars: the world's biggest movie awards ceremony; a night of glamour, big name stars and carefully-staged weeping. The Academy Awards have always been the prizes that every star and film-maker want to win... at least until now. Because, for the first time ever, Christian Today presents our alternative 'Holy' Oscar.
We haven't awarded prizes to specific 'best' actors, actresses or directors; instead we've tried to recognise films from the past year which we'd commend for their spiritual themes. Some of them might surprise you; some may have included faith-affirming content without even intending to. One thing's for sure though – all of these films come highly recommended to preachers and casual evangelists everywhere as faith discussion starters with a culturally relevant edge.
Best depiction of the church
It might not have contained the explosive firepower of Avengers: Age of Ultron, or the edge-of-your-seat suspense of The Revenant, but Brooklyn proved that you can still win over a big audience with a tender, subtle drama in which there aren't any guns or car chases. More than that, it managed to offer a portrayal of the Church – and the Catholic Church at that – which avoided the clumsy cliches and dared to suggest Christians could be a force for good, especially when working with the poor. I defy you not to shed a tear at the scene in which a group of homeless old Irish men, marooned in a city they'd help to build, receive a rare tiding of comfort and joy at a church run Christmas meal.
Most challenging depiction of faith
Staying on the East Coast of America however, Spotlight provided the equally true flipside of the story. The scale of Boston's Catholic child abuse scandal remains devastating, and the film asked searching questions around why this was ever allowed to happen, and the extent to which the issue has truly been dealt with worldwide. The Vatican's former chief child abuse prosecutor said that every bishop and cardinal in the Catholic church should watch the film; I'd argue that every Christian leader could benefit from doing the same.
Some of the stories of Jesus have become embedded in the fabric of storytelling itself; his parables frequently rear their heads in the most unexpected places. That was certainly the case with The Martian – the sci-fi epic which saw Matt Damon stuck on Mars while his fellow astronauts head home from their space mission. Once Damon's character is discovered to be alive, the story flips into a straight retelling of the parable of the Lost Sheep, complete with exactly the sort of objections Jesus would have heard while telling it the first time around.
Best explicitly Christian film
Christian cinema is widely derided by mainstream critics, but David Oyelowo and Kate Mara's two-hander Captive broke the mould significantly. The true story of how former meth addict Ashley Smith managed to convince the man who took her hostage to discover The Purpose Driven Life was praised for its tight storytelling and fine central performances, even by secular publications such as Variety and the LA Times. Not everyone was so kind (the Guardian, somewhat predictably, panned it), but a solid Box Office performance offered hope for the future of Christian cinema beyond Nicolas Cage's Left Behind remake.
Best illustration of a biblical theme
There's a running theme in modern gangster movies, that choosing the route of darkness inevitably leads to destruction. That's a very biblical idea too; fallen man can't save himself without the help and intervention of God. The best example in 2015 was the Liam Neeson reboot Run All Night, a surprisingly well-made thriller about the consequences of sin and the natural desire to prevent them from being passed down from generation to generation. The endless futility of constant revenge is explored brilliantly; it might not offer the hope of a saviour, but it does a great job of illustrating the problem he came to solve.
Best redemption narrative
Just hear me out, but this one goes to Mad Max: Fury Road. Yes, there's an awful lot of Shawshank before you get to the Redemption (© Mark Kermode), but when it comes, the light-piercing-the-darkness moment at the end is one of cinema's most perfect metaphors for the Kingdom coming.
Best Christian character
In a year when Spotlight provided such a devastating portrayal of fallen priests, give thanks for Jim Broadbent's character in Brooklyn, Father Flood. He's everything you'd hope a priest would be: kind, compassionate, dedicated to the poor, and always ready to go beyond what's expected. It's all delivered without a hint of malice or cynicism; a refreshing change in a world full of flawed on-screen clergy.
And of course, if you want to know what we think will happen in the 'real' Oscars, you can read our preview and predictions here.