The 2021 Dionysus Awards

Sunday, August 1, 2021
First Aired: 
Sunday, April 11, 2021

What Is It

After a year in which "entertainment" took on a whole new meaning, what were the movies that challenged our assumptions and made us think about things in new ways? Josh and guest co-host Jeremy Sabol talk to philosophers and listeners as they present our eighth annual Dionysus Awards for the most thoughtful films of the past year, including:

  • Best Film Painting a World Without Men
  • Best Picture That Packs All of American History Into One Room
  • Trippiest Investigation of Identity (That Probably Should Have Ended Sooner)

Listening Notes

In this episode, Josh and Jeremy present the eighth annual Dionysus Awards for their favorite, most philosophically thought-provoking movies of the year. They begin by comparing “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” and “Soul” for the category of Trippiest Exploration of Identity with Stacie Friend, Professor of Philosophy at the University of London. Josh and Jeremy agree that “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” was a fascinating and multilayered exploration of identity, yet the film ran a half hour too long. Therefore, they give the Dionysus Award to “Soul.”  

Next, the philosophers welcome Harry Elam, President and Professor of Theater at Occidental College, to the show to discuss the nominees for Best Picture That Packs All of American History Into One Room. He compares the similarities between “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “One Night in Miami” — their adaptations from plays and their reliance on real, historical figures. After a discussion on the place of black men in society and different levels of community, Jeremy gives the award to “Ma Rainey’s Back Bottom” for its emphasis on the political significance of the music industry. 

In the last segment of the show, Josh and Jeremy hear nominations from the audience. Listeners award “First Cow” with Best Frontier Film About Wily Guile for its nuanced take on American individualism and the necessity for friendship. They also give “Coded Bias,” a documentary that provides insight into the nature of algorithmic bias and its consequences, the award of Best Film That Makes Us Worried About Our Phones. 

  • Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 1:10) → Holly J. McDede describes the hope and adversity portrayed in the films “Nomadland” and “Minari.”  



Josh Landy  
Welcome to Philosophy Talk, the program that questions everything...

Jeremy Sabol  
...except your intelligence. I'm Jeremy Sabol, sitting in for Ray Briggs.

Comments (2)

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Monday, April 12, 2021 -- 5:34 AM

2020 was a tragic year. Next

2020 was a tragic year. This year is likely still to feel the impact of the pandemic and social upheaval. I don't see a normal anytime soon... then this show. The Dionysus awards are a welcome norm from which to think about cinema.

These are worthy films, with good discussion, but I have to mention a movie that I'm sorry not to have made the show - 'OPERA,' the animated short by Erick Oh. If you want philosophy, it's here. You can't see it just once, either. There is just too much there.

The film depicts a complex society that goes through change, conflict, destruction, and rebirth. The whole movie is one long shot scrolling across the landscape of an ever-changing society. You can draw out all sorts of philosophical themes as the camera pans.

I caught this streaming on my home TV - as I caught many of the shows discussed in this show. With all the tragedy of 2020 - this was an excellent year for books, films, and thought, but I will be happy to share my screen with a live audience in the years to come. There is something unnatural streaming film, no matter how homey the big screen TV can be.

Thanks for this show!

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Saturday, July 24, 2021 -- 9:16 PM

I was going to write this

I was going to write this movie up when this show first aired and did my best to gitrdun... I couldn't do it. It was too soon. I pivoted and instead posted OPERA above. But since this show is being re-aired… let me give this one more shot.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always 2020

Directed by Eliza Hittman
Produced by

Adele Romanski
Sara Murphy

Written by Eliza Hittman


Sidney Flanigan
Talia Ryder
Théodore Pellerin
Ryan Eggold
Sharon Van Etten

Music by Julia Holter
Cinematography Hélène Louvart
Edited by Scott Cummings

The Likert scale is a psychometric scoring you have likely seen in surveys. The title of this movie refers to a four-point Likert scale termed a "forced choice." There is no neutral answer... Never Rarely Sometimes Always.

You aren't likely to be neutral to this movie. Critics gave this a 99% favorable rating, while audiences returned a 20% favorable score.

What does this mean philosophically? It means something is going on here. This movie touches on a hot button. So hot, no one wanted to nominate this for awards. It was worthy. One reviewer refused to even screen this for philosophic and/or misogynistic reasons. This movie is about a girl, who is likely molested, and undoubtedly impregnated by a deadbeat dad. Most likely her stepdad.

This is a film mainly without words. It tells a story that has polarized our country and likely ruined our democratic jurisprudence. Everyone who views this film likely already has an opinion about it, but just as likely has no full moral standing (FMS – * -see footnote below) on which to base that opinion without a complete understanding of the subject matter and people involved... and by people I mean women.

View a film of a hand getting stuck with a needle, and your brain will fire neurons in the anterior cingulate region just as if you were stuck if and only if the skin color of the hand is the same as yours. Show a man and a woman a film of sexual violence, and the responses are not so simple. This is not a simple movie. It is hands down the best philosophical film of 2020. Why no awards… you can guess.

The pivotal scene in this movie is the one with the forced Likert scale. I encourage you to take the test and decide for yourself if you always have the FMS to judge this heroine or perhaps never do, or is there a middle ground?

I am a fervent pro-life advocate and social conservative (just what that means anymore, I don't know.) After seeing this movie, I don't see things clearly. I was profoundly touched and disturbed.

David Livingstone Smith did a 3 part blog on Abortion, explicating just what it means to be human. Those would be a great read running up to screening this film. It won't be easy. I re-read these blogs after screening this film, and I don't feel the same.

Abortion and Dehumanization
04 August 2020

Abortion and Humanity
12 October 2020

Are “Human” Embryos Human?
17 December 2020

What does it mean to have FMS? That is what this movie asks philosophically. Does this movie answer that question? Yes, it does. Is the critic's answer, and 4 out of 5 viewers answer the same? No, it is not.

Something is going on here.

*-Jaworska, Agnieszka, and Julie Tannenbaum, "The Grounds of Moral Status," The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = .