Movies play a large role in modern life. We enjoy watching them; we idolize the actors and actresses who appear in them; we analyze the directors.
This week it's our Dionysus Awards show. The Dionysus Awards are presented to the most philosophically interesting movies of the year. And sometimes, when we feel like it, we also honor philosophically notable movies from the past.
Unlike your average awards show, we accept nominations from the floor. So we’ll be talking to some of our listeners who wrote in with their suggestions, and to some special guests as well.
To win a Dionysus Award, a movie has to be interesting from a philosophical point of view. It could present a morally complex vision of human life, like The Reader, a winner from a few years ago. It may force us to think about our own prejudices and stereotypes, like District Nine, another previous winner. It may take us to the boundaries of reality, like Inception. Or challenge the line between appearance and reality, like Black Swan. Both winners last year.
The movies we give a Dionysus Award to have to be philosophically ambitious and compelling, but they also need to be well-executed films. One thing they don’t need to be is successful at the Box Office – but of course it doesn’t hurt if they did attract a large audience.
I saw a number of movies I liked this year, some of which have gone on to be nominated for Academy Awards. Films like The Artist, which I loved, Moneyball, War Horse and The Help. Some of these touched on philosophical themes, but that wasn’t what they were about. Fine for the Oscars, but not for Dionysus Awards.
The reception to The Help raised some interesting issues. Many in the black community thought it was yet another example of one of Hollywood’s bad habits. That is, supposing the experience of a minority must be presented through the eyes of a white person to be valid -- or at least to have a chance to be a mainstream box office success. Maybe there’s an interesting philosophical issue in there somewhere, but I don’t think it makes The Help Dionysus-worthy.
The Iron Lady was another case where the film’s reception was more philosophically interesting than the film itself. Everyone agreed that Meryl Streep did a great job playing Margaret Thatcher, and Americans seemed to like it. But the British didn’t. Those who liked Margaret Thatcher thought the film was completely inappropriate for depicting her as a dementia patient, while she’s still alive. Those who don’t like Margaret Thatcher thought the movie was despicable for not focusing on all the harm she did.
Another good movie was The Descendants -- George Clooney showing once again that he can act while looking pretty. It was an interesting exploration of family dynamics and dysfunction. But it wasn’t really very engaged with philosophical issues.
2011 seemed to be a good year for movies about violent children. Hanna, for example, was about a young lady raised by her father to be an extremely effective killer. Raised the issue of free will. But not, I thought, in a philosophically interesting way. We did give an aware to another movie from the violent children genre, however.
Those are some of the movies we won’t be giving awards to. Listen to the show to find out the winners.