Editor’s Note: In anticipation of the Academy Awards and other award shows in this season, Christian Reformed youth director and movie buff LeMarr Jackson shares five contenders from 2023 he thinks should rake in trophies.
1. Oppenheimer (R) - MyScore 86; Tomatometer 93%
This is a masterpiece. Christopher Nolan is by far my favorite director. Oppenheimer dives into the psyche of a genius with a moral quandary that will affect the entire world. Should Oppenheimer help to create a weapon of mass destruction that will kill thousands or even millions of people over time, or should he sit this fight out and potentially let Nazi Germany create the weapon first?
In Oppenheimer, characters, governments, and countries fall prey to selfishness and blind ambition, leading ultimately to isolation and harm. Contrast this with the message of the apostle Paul, who tells us not to conform to the patterns of this world, but to be transformed (Rom. 12:2), and then to transform our communities into God’s intended community—one ripe with renewal, growth, and shalom.
2: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (PG) - MyScore 85; Tomatometer 95%
This is the second film in an animated series (the third is in production). Both movies are fresh, futuristic, and pithy. Across the Spider-Verse took years to craft, and not a second was wasted. Every frame is reminiscent of a vibrant comic book; every storyline feels perfectly woven by a master weaver. This film explores the canonical events that all Spider-People throughout the multiverse must experience—find love, get bitten by a super-spider, and lose a father figure—and delves into what makes Miles, the protagonist, different from the others.
God has chosen us to be different, set apart, even anomalies, in the world. The world doesn’t have the final say in our lives because the author of everything is holding the pen. And what God says goes. Miles is called to something greater, and so are we.
3: When Evil Lurks (R) - MyScore 84; Tomatometer 98%
This movie is not for everyone. It’s a Spanish-language horror film that uses tropes to flesh out strong themes of family, trust, and the role of faith in society. But if you can get past the gore, you’ll find a rich, original story in which two brothers go on a journey to cleanse their town of an evil presence and protect their loved ones.
We too need a Savior. When Evil Lurks explores a town of people who have no faith and no answers when evil runs amok, but we who believe have a very different perspective. Sin does not rule over us as we serve the One who has conquered death, hell, and the grave!
4: American Fiction (R) - MyScore 83; Tomatometer 91%
American Fiction was far and away my favorite exploration of race this year. Racial identity is explored in a broad yet nuanced way that isn’t tokenizing. The main character is an author of color who doesn’t want his work to be limited by his racial identity.
American Fiction reminds me of identity and who God says I am. When Jesus is baptized before starting his ministry, we see his Father affirm his identity: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). Jesus’ ministry comes out of his Father’s love. We should operate the same way instead of working to be identified by what we produce.
5: Barbie (PG-13) - MyScore 82; Tomatometer 88%
Barbie reflects on the rich themes of modern womanhood, beauty standards, and self-love. Director Greta Gerwig balances hard conversations with levity and class. Also, the production design is Oscar-worthy.
This movie reminds me that perfection is found in Jesus, not in anything we can manufacture. Our value comes from our being made in the image of God. Like Andy writing his name on Woody’s cowboy boot in Toy Story, God claims us as his children: “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isa. 49:16). Though the world may try to overwhelm us with societal standards, we don’t have to work to gain God’s love and approval. God already loves us.
About the Author
LeMarr Seandre Jackson’s mission is to raise the bar for student and Christian leadership. He is the director of youth ministry at Madison Square Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.