Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Best Picture ... a sign of the times?

In the gap between the end of the NFL season and March Madness, our family has an annual tradition of seeing the movies that receive an Oscar nomination for best picture.  Ideally we’d see them all before the awards telecast in late February but in recent years the number of nominated movies has nearly doubled and it’s become a mad dash to fit them into our February weekends.

Nine movies have been nominated in 2012: The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, The Help, Moneyball, War Horse, and The Tree of Life.  We’ve seen all but one and, because it’s no longer playing in the Fox Valley, Hugo will likely wait until after the Oscars are awarded Sunday night.
"The Artist", a celebration of Hollywood
in the 20s, is a leader among best picture
contenders


 Our tradition pushes us to see some very good movies that we might otherwise pass up.  2011’s Winter’s Bone and 2010’s     District 9 come to mind.  In 2008 we saw No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood back-to-back, leaving the theater wondering if our tradition would seriously jeopardize our sense of well being.  Other outstanding but dark and sometimes hard-to-watch films included The Departed, The Hurt Locker, and Capote.

Which leads to an observation about this year’s crop of nominated films.  (If you have yet to see them, this post is not a spoiler.)  Each of the movies nominated for the best picture Oscar has a message that is positive; a spiritual journey that leads to a better place and, sometimes, even to triumph against the odds.  It’s true some of the films have moments of darkness and despair but others are completely filled with joy and pure magic.  And all leave the viewer with something good to take away.

What does it mean that all of the movies chosen for Academy Award consideration as best picture bring smiles to our faces, remind us that the underdog can win, that pursuing a passion is more important than making money, and that our connection with others—especially our own families—is what makes life worth living?

Have we hearkened back to the days of the Great Depression when movies were an inexpensive vacation from reality?  Are we so jaded that we are drawn to an uplifting film as a means of escape?  Or is it an expression of optimism and of hope?  Might our attraction to these films be a signal that we have grown tired of angst and pessimism?

I’d like to think we’re drawn to these movies because we’re feeling better about the world, that we’ve had enough of war … greed … anger … bloodshed … divisiveness.  And that we—like the characters in the movies—will find the solutions, overcome the obstacles, and emerge triumphant.

Naïve?  Perhaps.  But I sure am a fan of these movies.

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