by | Feb 24, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

I’m not going to watch the Oscars tonight. Normally I do. But I’ve spent enough time and money on the most depressing, dark and disturbed lineup of movies I ever can remember. I don’t need to see them get rewarded.

Am I the only one who remembers when they actually gave Oscars to movies that had happy endings? There’s not one happy ending in this lot – unless you consider an unplanned teenage pregnancy resulting in someone else’s adoption a happy ending. That’s the big payoff in “Juno.”

Otherwise, you have “There Will Be Blood,” in which a tyrannical oil baron destroys everyone and everything around him; “No Country for Old Men,” in which a serial killer destroys everything and everyone around him; “Michael Clayton,” in which greed gets nearly everyone killed, and “Atonement,” in which a false accusation ruins the lives of all involved.

Um. Remind me again.

Why do we go to the movies?

There’s no debate here

Now, I’m not a Pollyanna. I enjoy films. I collect them. And I understand that not every story ends with music swirling and heroes walking off into a sunset.

But lately there’s this sense that unless a movie is dark, violent and hopeless, it can’t be “real.” It can’t be “art.” It can’t truly “matter.” I put these words in quotes because it feels as if critics and awards committees define things that way.

So instead of praise for, say, “The Bucket List,” a film that everyone I know has loved and which has a positive message about getting old and sick, most critics attacked it as too “sentimental.” Meanwhile, we get an Oscar nomination for “The Savages,” a movie about getting old and sick that is so depressing, you want to jump off a building.

Instead of a single nomination for “The Great Debaters,” a historic and uplifting film, we get best actor, picture and director nominations for “No Country for Old Men,” which sets a record for murders by a man carrying an air tank (which he uses to blow a hole in one victim’s head, just so he can have his car).

Here’s a news flash: Killing without remorse doesn’t make a story art. Cold and cynical dialogue doesn’t make a story valuable. It’s no accident the films nominated this year, for the most part, didn’t do much box office. People don’t go to the movies to see weirdness, dysfunction or twisted irony.

Most go to be entertained.

A happier group of voters

This doesn’t mean that “Spider-Man 3” or “Shrek the Third” automatically should get Oscar nominations. But those films, at the top of the box office list last year, do share a good-guys-win ending. There’s a reason people gravitate to that.

And it wasn’t always considered beneath the Academy to celebrate it. In 1973, “The Sting” won best picture, and “American Graffiti” and “A Touch of Class” also were nominated. In 1979, “Kramer vs. Kramer” won, and “Breaking Away” and “Norma Rae” were nominated. As late as 1994, “Forrest Gump” took the best picture honors. Today, it’s hard to imagine that film would even get nominated. Too many cynics would call it sweet and hopeful.

And I guess that’s what I miss. Hope. If movies were meant to reflect only the real-life worst in us, why would we need them? We could use mirrors.

Don’t misunderstand. I get the skill and patience these actors and directors have put in. I see the hard work, from the writing to the lighting. But the humanity Frank Capra or even Steven Spielberg celebrated is getting buried now, under this desire to explore the dark, the macabre and the dysfunctional.

There’s a moment in “No Country for Old Men” where Javier Bardem’s character is about to cold-bloodedly kill yet another victim when the victim says, “You don’t have to do this.” And the character chuckles and says, “They always say the same thing.”

And he does it anyhow.

I guess to the people who keep celebrating the worst of human nature, I would also say, “You don’t have to do this.” But they’re gonna do it anyhow. All I can do is spend the three hours tonight watching something else.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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