Oscar Night 2023

Editor’s Note: Zachary Ingle joined the faculty of Hardin-Simmons University in fall 2022 as an adjunct professor of strategic communication and teaches a Survey of American Film course. He previews the Oscars, with an eye toward the spiritual element, in the following piece. The 2023 Oscars will air at 7 p.m. Central Time Sunday, March 12, on ABC.


France has the Cannes Film Festival, where cinema is celebrated for almost a fortnight, but while the U.S. has many great festivals (like Sundance), we lack that one that truly captures the national imagination. So the biggest annual film event we do have is Oscar Night. I know how trendy it is to pooh-pooh the Oscars as middlebrow, shameless, commercial, etc., but it is still an evening devoted to film as an art form and I AM HERE FOR IT. 

Let’s begin with what seems to be the current frontrunner for Best Picture, Everything Everywhere All at Once. It is not only my favorite of the Best Picture nominees, but presently my favorite film so far of this decade, a film that was hailed as a true original, taking the trendy concept of the multiverse that recent Marvel films have reveled in (e.g., Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness) to address serious issues like generational trauma. In a similar vein is also the Pixar film Turning Red, a strong contender in the Best Animated Feature category.

Besides having as their subjects Asian families in North America, both films touch on issues of breaking the cycles of generational hurt. Without minimizing the damage and pain from mistakes made by previous generations, these films celebrate that forgiveness and healing are possible. Both Everything Everywhere All at Once and Turning Red act as a loving tributes to the power of family.

As for a film with more overt spiritual content, Best Picture contender Women Talking surely stands out in its representation of a Mennonite community in Bolivia. The film is based on Miriam Toews’s acclaimed novel that itself was inspired by real-life incidents, when over one hundred girls and women in this Bolivian colony were raped while sleeping during a four-year span. Realizing their situation as untenable, these women must then make the decision what to do: fight (remember, they are pacifists!), forgive, or flee.

Armed with their theology (based on Scripture and hymns, which structure much of the dialogue), the women debate the appropriate actions for themselves, their daughters, and young sons. Some have complained that the film is a bit talky and too much like a play, but I didn’t feel that way at all (unlike the film under discussion below). Writer-director Sarah Polley crafted a film that sparks theological discussion in a way that is uplifting, timely, and engrossing. (On a personal note, this film may have resonated more with me as someone who has been a member of a Mennonite church in the past and who grew up in Gaines County in West Texas, which has a considerable population of Old Colony Mennonites.)

The Whale is not up for Best Picture, but is still up for three Oscars: Best Actor for Brendan Fraser, Best Supporting Actress for Hong Chau (she would get my vote), and Best Makeup and Hairstyling. Although not nominated, Darren Aronofsky directed it, a filmmaker who has been committed to religious themes (mostly Christian and Jewish) in most of his films, but especially in Pi (1998), The Fountain (2006), Noah (2014), and mother! (2017). In fact, he currently appears to be the American filmmaker most heavily invested in inserting religious themes in his work.

This is even true for The Whale, despite it being an adaptation of the Drama Desk Award-winning play and not an original work by Aronofsky. While I was slightly disappointed by the film in comparison to his previous works due its inherent staginess, the performances are all laudable, and The Whale tackles numerous issues that religious communities can discuss, including the afterlife, how welcoming/affirming churches should be of LGBTQ+ community members, and a favorite of Aronofsky’s, the Eden narrative in Genesis. 

Two other notable films up for Oscars this year are remakes of certifiable classics in world cinema, particularly films considered some of the most deeply theological. One of the leading contenders for Best International Feature is EO, a Polish film directed by 84-year-old Jerzy Skolimowski. I haven’t seen it yet (it didn’t come to Abilene screens), but it is a remake of Robert Bresson’s classic Au Hasard Balthazar (1966), one of the more overt Christian parables in the history of cinema with its titular donkey. Another remake of an international classic, Living, is up for two Oscars, for Best Actor (Bill Nighy) and Best Adapted Screenplay.

It’s a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru (1952), a film that has appeared in the top fifteen in every iteration of Arts and Faith’s “Top 100 Most Spiritually Significant Films of All Time.” Kurosawa is best known for his samurai epics that influenced the likes of The Magnificent Seven and Star Wars, but Ikiru is a much smaller, humanist film, about a bureaucrat nearing retirement who receives the type of medical diagnosis that motivates him to finally embraces the beauties and complexities of life, that is, really living. 

The pomp and circumstance of the Oscars may or may not be your thing, but they generally do select and celebrate films that give us something to contemplate, not the disposable entertainment targeted to teenage boys that dominates the box office (as much fun as those films can be too!). Fingers crossed that no fights will occur on stage this year, just a lovely night to inspire you to check out some films that can stir your mind and nourish your spirit.

Top photo credit: PersonalCreations.com on Visualhunt— 


  • Great article, Zachary. I’ll be watching, as I have been since I was a child (and that’s a few years ago). LW ________________________________


  • Thank you for the preview. It seems there are multiple good movies for the awards.


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