Since we began writing this column in 1995, we have reviewed over 250 films ranging from "inspirational" to "destructive." We are continually struck by the power that films have to influence and reflect the human condition. We are also struck by the power the media has in shaping the values of people throughout the world. A film that includes positive or negative spiritual values can reach over a billion people in less than 90 days. On this eve of the 72nd annual Academy Awards, which will be viewed by one sixth of the earth's population, we present our
Cinema In Focus Awards for the best films of 1999.
Interestingly, four of our seven choices are based on true stories.
Best Inspirational Picture: MUSIC OF THE HEART
The power of music to nourish the soul is shown in the true story of Roberta Guaspari whose teaching transforms her students into a symphony of lives. The story is all the more powerful in its clear contrast between Roberta and another music teacher at the school who expects little from his students. With a gritty determination that matches the oppressive hopelessness of the streets, Roberta confronts the negative actions and attitudes of her students, showing the power one person has to change others’ lives when done in love.
Best Picture Confronting Community Values: THE INSIDER
"The Insider" is an excellent study in integrity. The film is based on the true story of the whistle-blower who revealed not only the lies the tobacco industry has told about the addictive nature of nicotine but also its deliberate manipulation of the chemistry of cigarettes to increase addiction. During the final scenes, we are given the continuing facts about the hundreds of billions of dollars the big seven tobacco companies have paid to stop whistle-blowers from speaking the truth. It should come as no surprise that the tobacco industry filed suit against the movie studio for releasing this film.
Best Picture Depicting Spiritual Redemption: HURRICANE
Based on his own life story, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter tells a remarkable and triumphant tale of a life redeemed by the love and compassion of a young man. Carter, a contender for the middleweight boxing title in the 1960s, is wrongfully convicted of a murder. After many appeals, he is locked away for 30 years.
Twenty years later, Lesra Martin who, like Carter, has grown up in poverty, reads about Carter's life and begins a crusade to bring the truth to light and redeem Carter's life. As "Hurricane" Carter says to Lesra at his release, "hate put me in here, but love sprang me loose."
Best Picture In A Supporting Community Role: OCTOBER SKY
Recreating the true life story of NASA engineer Homer Hickam's journey from the dusty coal mining town of his youth to the heights of space, this inspiring tale shows the power and influence that a supportive community can provide. Following the October 1957 launch of Sputnik, Americans are thrust into a race for space exploration. Homer dreams of the adventure of space and his interest is encouraged by his science teacher, Miss Riley. After many experiments, the "rocket boys" of Coalwood, W. VA., become the state science fair winners and, through the support of the entire town, their future careers are launched.
Best Picture In A Supporting Family Role: THE OTHER SISTER
The story centers on Carla, the mentally challenged young woman who returns to her family home after having spent her high school years in a special boarding school. Though Carla is the focal point of the film, the story weaves together a realistic pattern of family interactions in which every member brings their own unique impairment to the table. Through her love for Daniel, who is also impaired, the Tate family begins to face their denial and disappointments in order to accept each other.
Best Picture For Children: TOY STORY 2
Created with a simplicity children can understand and a morality parents can applaud, the witty humor and cultural allusions make this a film for adults to enjoy as well. While toys may end up on a shelf when we outgrow them, the love that they shared along the way inspires the child in all of us.
Best Actor In An Inspirational Role: Tom Hanks in THE GREEN MILE
Our final four star movie is a strange story from an unlikely author, Stephen King. However, Tom Hanks’ unforgettable portrayal of a prison guard on death row is one of compelling integrity and compassion, bringing an unexpected human dignity into a dark and hopeless place. His character presents a reverence for God and other people rarely found in films today.