As Hollywood gathers tonight for the 85th Academy Awards, one Oscar seems a sure lock: How could anyone other than Anne Hathaway win for Actress in a Supporting Role? It's not that she carried Les Misérables—she was in it for too short of a time to do that—nor that her performance as Fantine was perfect. If Hathaway does win the Supporting Actress Oscar, it will all come down to one scene: her hauntingly heart-wrenching rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream." All of the debate over whether Tom Hooper made the right decision in insisting that the actors not lip-sync their songs but perform them as they film each scene is silly: Had he done otherwise, we would not have five of the most nearly perfect minutes in the history of film.
When the news leaked last week that the cast of Les Misérables would reunite to perform at the Oscars, it confirmed the status of the film, and the musical on which it is based, as a cultural phenomenon. Those organizing the Oscar ceremony understand the attraction Les Misérables holds for American audiences, and they are willing to exploit it to increase ratings for tonight's show.
That same attraction, though, may be the reason why Les Misérables doesn't have a chance at winning the Oscar for Best Picture. Because, as I wrote in my review of Les Misérables, what has made the film and the musical so popular is its unabashedly Christian message, a message of God's mercy and love triumphing in this world through the actions of men and women who sacrifice themselves in the service of God and their fellow men.
Hollywood finds itself in an odd position, having to recognize the success of Les Misérables, but not wanting to acknowledge it for what it is: the chief Christian cultural phenomenon of the past 30 years. That, it seems to me, explains, many of the poor reviews that the movie has received, which go beyond simple disagreements over Tom Hooper's directorial decisions or Danny Cohen's cinematography. In cultural terms, the elites of Hollywood are closer to the bitterly anti-Catholic rationalism of Victor Hugo, whose 1862 novel provides the source material for the musical and film, than they are to their fellow Americans who have embraced Les Misérables as reimagined by Alain Boublil, who wrote the original French lyrics, and Herbert Kretzmer, who provided an expanded version of the lyrics in English.
And so, I predict that tonight the Oscars will be a wild ratings success, in no small part because of the performances of the cast of Les Misérables, and yet Les Misérables will be denied the Oscar for Best Picture.
If Anne Hathaway does not win the Oscar for Supporting Actress, however, it will be a sign not only of Hollywood's anti-Christian bias but of its complete lack of aesthetic judgment.