Each year, the best of the best films are announced and discussed until the pinnacle event of the year for Hollywood: The Academy Awards.
I don’t know about you, but each year my mum and I do everything in our power to watch as many nominees as possible. We set aside nights to hang out together to watch movies, we keep track of Oscar buzz throughout the year in an attempt to see the films we think will get nominated, and we try to read the books associated with the nominated movies. Our guesses and hopes for the winners in each category are often wrong, but we are never disappointed with the journey that often takes us away in an imaginary whirlwind of drama and contentment.
As a social justice-minded person, I try to especially keep track of films that challenge me and my way of life. I know some people think of Hollywood as frivolous and wasteful, and while that may be true in some cases, it can also bring attention to important issues in our world.
As Christians, it is so important that we keep ourselves educated and seek to understand how and why others are suffering. Only when we do that will we be able to recognize patterns and systems that are harmful. We have a responsibility to be the light in the darkness, and the Academy Awards offers yet another opportunity to discuss these issues and seek change as a community of passionate believers.
Here are a few films you should keep an eye on this year. Ranging from powerful documentaries to historical dramas, this list should keep you busy and give you some inspiration.
Virunga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the last home of the mountain gorilla. This documentary follows the plight of the park rangers as they seek to protect the mountain gorilla population as well as the park from poachers and SOCO International, a British oil company, who wants to excavate in search of oil within park borders.
The film deals with the realities of corruption, greed and the curse of natural resources as dedicated and passionate people struggle within a political system that offers little to no protection. Virunga is powerful and will make you angry and want to do something. It is also my No. 1 pick from the Oscar lineup this year.
Where to see it: Netflix
What you can do: Check out Micah Challenge’s film screening and action guide.
This year is the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March as well as the Voting Rights Act. It’s hard to believe that so much has changed in 50 years, and yet much of the underlying tension remains in many parts of the country.
Selma tells the story of the 1965 voting rights campaign in Selma, Alabama. In the town, African-American citizens were prevented from registering to vote, prompting a visit from Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr. It chronicles the march and fervor of the communities clashing up until the Voting Rights Act was signed by President Johnson. It is a compelling retelling of history and reminds how important we are as people and that we should never be defined by the color of our skin.
Where to see it: In theaters, DVD/Blu-Ray release date estimated May 2015
What you can do: Make a conscious effort to get to know people of other races. Also, if your religious community is more racially isolated than your local area, encourage it to form faith partnerships with racially different faith groups.
This film is mostly making headlines due to the fact that they filmed the same actors over a 12-year period, but it should be talked about because it deals with the reality of growing up. Mason Evans, age 6 when the movie starts, must deal with navigating life being caught in the middle of his parents’ divorce. He learns to cope within a blended family, attempts to understand and contend with an abusive and alcoholic stepfather, and later dates and experiments with drugs and alcohol; experiences that are not uncommon within the lives of youth today.
In an age when drama is the name of the game in Hollywood, it’s important to be reminded of what people every day are dealing with. Boyhood does just that without over-embellishing the story. We see the struggle through a child’s eyes, which can often be forgotten in the midst of strife.
Where to see it: Available for rental/purchase
What you can do: Check out The Pixel Project’s 16 ways you can help your local domestic violence shelter.
Sebastião Salgado is a Brazilian photographer who is considered to be one of the most important photographers of the early 21st Century. He has traveled to over 100 countries and is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.
For 40 years, Salgado has been photographing humankind, witnessing major events of our recent history: conflict, starvation and exodus. This film is a stunning representation of his work and gives great insight to the man behind iconic images and why he cares so much for humanity.
Where to see it: Limited release currently, more widespread set for March 2015
What you can do: Look up some of Salgado’s photography, and educate yourself about the different issues facing people around the world. Choose a cause he highlights and advocate!
Few things are more difficult to understand than Alzheimers. Still Alice follows Dr. Alice Howland as she and her family come to terms with her Alzheimers diagnosis and the knowledge that others in the family are at-risk. Relationships are strained as Alice struggles against the disease and the toll it takes on her mental faculties. It’s actually pretty heart-breaking to watch.
As a growing hereditary disease, though, the threat of Alzheimers looms over the heads of many people around the world. It’s estimated that by 2050, the number of people over the age of 65 with Alzheimers will triple, making the disease’s casualties a great concern for the future.
Where to see it: In theaters
Did we miss any nominated films you think should be on the list? Let us know in the comments!
is an activist and writer living in Portland, Oregon.