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April 1, 2000
Column #970


     Hollywood thumbed its nose at traditional Christian values and the outrage of thousands of educators, political and religious leaders over the decadence, immorality and violence of so many movies by giving ''American Beauty'' Academy Awards sweep for best picture, director, actor, screenplay, and cinematography. 

     ''American Ugly,'' profiles a middle-aged, burned-out advertising writer who lusts after a teenage friend of his daughter, quits his job and descends into an unbelievable pot-smoking, iron-pumping hamburger flipper who's murdered by his adulterous wife. A pedophile as a leading man? 

     Hilary Swank, in accepting Best Actress Award for her deceitful, cross-dressing role in ''Boys Don't Cry,'' prayed for the day when America ''would celebrate its diversity.'' ''The Matrix,'' an excessively violent film, gathered four technical awards for visual and sound effects. 

     ''Not caring about our youth seemed to be the theme of the awards, which passed over positive and redemptive movies for movies that pushed a vicious, mean-spirited, homoerotic agenda and even the `neo-nazi throw the baby into the incinerator agenda' of John Irving's ''Cider House Rules'' says Dr. Ted Baehr, founder of the Christian Film and Television Commission. He was referring to an abortionist who incinerates babies yanked from the womb, a part portrayed by Michael Caine who won for best supporting actor.

     Even The New York Times summed up the Awards with a headline, ''According to Oscar, Nation's Psyche a Mess.'' The Times wrote, ''17 Oscar nomination went to moves that demonstrate the national obsession with nuts...Once upon a time, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored movies about tightly knit clans....This year no less than 12 nominations have gone to movies about fractured families....Heroism is dead.''

     Interestingly, the American public voted with its feet for wholesome films with genuine heroes, such as ''Tarzan.''. The ten films with the largest box office receipts were all ''aimed at families and had moral content; in fact 40 percent had strong Christian content,'' reports Baehr in ''Movieguide,'' a monthly magazine.

     Among the public's winners were ''The Phantom Menace'' which netted $430 million in sales without any nudity, alcohol and little blood in which good guys win, giving a strong moral content and redemptive elements. ''Toy Story 2'' earned $208 million and was Baehr's pick as the best 1999 Film For Families for including such elements as ''love, compassion, forgiveness, and reconciliation,'' while being a fast-paced funny adventure story, featuring a character who gives up his life for others.

     By contrast, ''American Beauty'' had earned only $73 million at the time of its nomination, and ''Cider House Rules,'' $23 million. 

     Movieguide's pick for the best film for mature audience was ''The Straight Story'' whose 79-year-old Richard Farnsworth was one of the few also nominated for an Academy Award for best actor. This true story tells of Alvin Straight who learns that his estranged brother has had a stroke. He decides to visit his brother who lives 360 miles away. He has no driver's license, and doesn't like public transportation. So he mounts his lawn mower tractor and slowly drives to see him. Alvin helps all those he meets along the way to understand biblical truth in a warm way.

     Another film that was nominated for ''best picture'' by the Academy Awards that was also ranked highly by Movieguide is ''The Green Mile,'' starring Tom Hanks as the chief prison guard of death row called ''the green mile.'' One day an enormous black man named John arrives on death row, who demonstrates a miraculous ability to heal others. ''There are many strong Christian references to faith in God, church going, faithfulness in marriage and recognition of God's healing power,'' writes Movieguide.

     Movies matter - for good or ill. On Jan. 13, 1999 a teenage boy fatally stabbed his mother that the boy admitted was inspired by the horror movies ''Scream'' and ''Scream II.'' The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed a shooting victim's family to sue movie director Oliver Stone over charges his movie, ''Natural Born Killer'' that inspired a real life crime spree.

     But the good news is that the number of movies with a pro-Christian theme has soared from only one ten years ago to 98 last year, thanks in part to Ted Baehr. 

     You may see Baehr's reviews on TBN or hear him on Christian radio stations. If you would like to know as a parent practical ways you can help your child cope with the media, consider buying his book, ''The Media-Wise Family'' for $13.95 or subscribe to Movieguide for $40 by writing Movieguide, Box 190010, Atlanta, GA 31119.

Copyright 2000 Michael J. McManus.

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