It’s the that time of year again when “Oscar buzz” starts to fill the air and films and individual performances are being chalked up as award candidates.

From now until February we will be bombarded by beautiful pieces of art (and all the surrounding chatter) as they all aim to achieve the highest honors in film at the Oscars. With that in mind, we present 5 potential Oscar-winning films at this year’s event that will be of interest to Catholics.

Manchester By The Sea

A leading contender for the Oscars, Kenneth Lonergran’s third feature film is set to be a beautifully textured drama focusing on the effects that death has upon a family. Leading character Lee (Cassey Affleck) returns to his hometown in the aftermath of his brother’s tragic death (played by Kyle Chandler). Entrusted with guardianship of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges), Lee must confront deep personal and family wounds. In this film where grief is the central theme, be prepared for an emotional journey on which love, anger, tenderness & brittle humour are mere stops along the way. Critics are saying that strong performances from its leads give this film a leg up heading into the Oscars.

La La Land

A highly anticipated musical number coming from the creative genius of Hollywood’s hottest commodity, Damien Chazelle. From the director responsible for the critically acclaimed 2014 hit “Whiplash” comes La La Land, an unapologetic, romantic homage to classic movie musicals of a bygone era.  The film highlights the difficulties of two aspiring artists; one, a struggling actress Mia Dolan portrayed by the wonderful Emma Stone, the other, an aspiring jazz musician Sebastian Wilder played by the superb Ryan Gosling. Mia and Sebastian find romance in each other’s solace that gives them the hope to not give up on their dreams. As with other musicals, expect to see some outlandish dance routines & stunning melodic pieces that will thrill the viewer with happiness. On the other hand, brace yourself for drama: once the characters’ professional dreams begin to take off, their relationship becomes strained, and a testing tale as old as love itself plays out, and we’re confronted with the age-old question – which is more important, love or success? (an all-too-human dilemma!). Judging by the exceptional creativity of Damien Chazelle, I expect La La Land to explore this premise with grace and virtue and to give us a few “La La” moments that will round off an outlandish and exciting film. We should be left with a story that shows just how much we need love in our lives in order to fulfil our dreams and experience true happiness.

Hacksaw Ridge

Mel Gibson returns to the big screen as director of this all-out war film about… Peace? Based on a true story, the film’s protagonist goes by the name of Desmond Doss, a war hero whose incredible story is brought vividly to life through the performance of Andrew Garfield. Doss was a deeply religious man & an avowed pacifist. His beliefs led him to saving 75 lives in Okinawa as a US army medic, all without lifting a single weapon, himself. A harrowing film which at times shows the terrible brutality of World War II, Andrew Garfield’s performance is impeccable in the portrayal of a complex, resolute man whose beliefs were so much more than lip-service. The story of an outcast finding redemption amongst his peers, one can certainly understand why Mel Gibson was drawn to tell the story of Desmond Doss. I would even venture to call Hacksaw Ridge the third part of Gibson’s unofficial spiritual directorial trilogy (The first being “Passion of Christ” and the second, his 2006 production, “Apocalypto”). A near perfect war film that brings to life the incredible story of Desmond Doss, I think this one absolutely deserves an Oscar nomination. You can find a more extensive review of Hacksaw Ridge here.

Loving

The central moving theme of this film is “Love conquers Hate.” Another film based upon a true story, this Jeff Nichols adaptation tells the moving tale of an era not so long gone in America when, in some states, it was illegal for a mand and woman of two different races to marry. Mildred & Richard Loving, a married couple living in 1958 Virginia, are arrested for their illicitly interracial union. From the trailer, Nichols gives us a glimpse of a humble, subtle film in which, regardless of undeniable injustice, the protagonists resist in soft-spoken but powerful performances from Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga. A quieter film that never set out to gain Oscar attention (though undoubtedly it will), Loving does not come out swinging for cinematic glory, but more gently speaks to themes of right and wrong, reminding viewers that love always triumphs.

Silence

Martin Scorsese is one of my all-time favourite film makers. His decades-spanning body of work has often been met with gushing praise but has not been without controversy. His latest picture, Silence, is I believe not only Scorsese’s most difficult project to bring to life, but a work that will cause a great amount of discussion and divided opinions on Scorsese, the man, himself. The film tells the tale of two 17th Century Jesuit priests on a journey to Japan where Christianity has been outlawed. They’re on a mission to locate their mentor who has denounced his faith. Starring Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield & Adam Driver, the performances no doubt will be perfectly delivered and beautifully acted as a labor of love (a key aspect to the success of this ambitious project was, apparently, the level of commitment and solidarity among cast and crew, working for years on a shoestring budget).  The thrust behind the heavy critical attention to Silence is how deeply Scorsese has allowed himself, his actors and his audience into the struggles and beauty of faith. This I expect will most certainly not be a film where your feelings towards Christianity are made clear and easy, but one that will force you to mull it over for a few days (perhaps weeks), and if Scorsese accomplishes this, then I believe he has achieved his artistic vision. For me, this is the most anticipated film of the year, one that fills me with curiosity as well as fear. Only time will tell what tune I’ll be singing come the end of Silence, and – come February – whether the Academy concurs with all the pre-Awards speculation that this will be the masterpiece of Scorsese’s already impressive career.