Changes to the Oscars: Have We Lost That “Feelbad” Feeling?

For those of us who follow the Oscars, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences dropped two bombshells recently.

First, they’re going to democratize the membership of the Academy to include the likes of Morgan Freeman, Hugh Jackman and Viola Davis. To which I say: Good.

Second, they’re going to expand the number of best picture nominees from five to ten. To which I say: Bad. Very, very bad.

The idea behind the second reform is to drum up better ratings for the broadcast. But it’s also designed to give pride of place to the sorts of commercial movies – comedies, animated films, blockbusters – that have played second fiddle to more serious, downbeat, artsy films that have tended to dominate the awards in recent years.

I, for one, am saddened by the change. I love these small, iconoclastic Indy films. I fear that if we dilute their influence at the Oscars, we will only further dilute their influence at the cinemas, which is already waning. And that’s a real loss.

Two movies I saw in the past week confirm this feeling. The first, The Wrestler, tells the story of a down-and-out “has been” pro-wrestler who tries to turn his life around by reconnecting with his estranged daughter, falling in love and leaving his profession. The second, Rachel Getting Married, is about a drug addict who takes a weekend off of rehab to attend her sister’s wedding and all the guilt, anger, resentment and pathological family dynamics that ensue.

These are both small, fairly dark character-driven movies about deeply flawed people who are trying to change their lives in ways both small and large, and run up against how hard that is to do in practice. Not surprisingly – and I give nothing away here – neither has a particularly happy ending.

And I find that sort of grim realism…refreshing. Movies can’t be there just to allow an escape. (Though if you’re looking to be cheered up, be sure to watch the interview with Mickey Rourke in the DVD commentary about how he turned his life around as an actor.) As Jon Canter writes in yesterday’s Guardian, the “feelbad” factor is under-rated:

Feelbad confronts you with the darkness, futility and awfulness of existence, but does it with such imagination, bravado, soul and wit that you find yourself exhilarated.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

*****

Speaking of addiction, there’s a thoughtful essay on alcoholism and addiction by Clancy Martin in this week’s London Review of Books.

Image: 1:6 Oscar Statuette by Shaun Wong via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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26 Responses to Changes to the Oscars: Have We Lost That “Feelbad” Feeling?

  1. I confess, I disliked both of those particular examples for a variety of reasons.

    But I’m with you 100% on the dilution of the honor. Poor, poor Oscar. Now I have twice as many reasons not to watch you.

  2. Have you seen the Girl In The Cafe?

  3. The screenplay was written by the same man who wrote Love Actually and co stars Bill Nigh (also of Love Actually) whose portrayal of a deeply feeling yet tentative man who discovers his political and personal self through love (i.e., The Girl In The Cafe) is as true and authentic performance (feels like he was born to the role much the way Mickey Rourke does in The Wrestler. I have a feeling you might really like it. If I am wrong, I apologize, if I am right, you’re welcome…(and thanks for your blog, I like it a lot).

  4. delialloyd says:

    Thanks for dropping by. I will certainly have a look!

  5. TJF says:

    Mickey Rourke was robbed of the Oscar for best actor…not that Sean Penn isn’t great in his own right, but Mickey’s preformance was the stuff of legends…timeless…and he didn’t win. I am just a tv-watching schlub out here, not a critic, etc. but this loss of Mickey’s made me think that the Oscars are about politics, not art…I won’t be watching them again…I was so bummed that he didn’t win.

  6. Let me know if you do not like it (it has a simple plot line and I suppose a preposterous one so it is possible not to get into it – simple works for me but its not for everyone). I have printed the Clancy Martin article on treating alcoholism to read tomorrow. You might find David Foster Wallace’s list of thjngs you learn in rehab of interest.

  7. rachel says:

    Well, as a non-participant in the Oscar-watching sport, I may not be entitled to an opinion – but nonetheless I’m with you all the way – the commercial stuff already dominates the general cultural scene and if the art films just be being better managed to carve out some acclaim at the Oscars, more power to-em!

  8. Sue says:

    I can understand why Oscar Corp. wants to increase its ratings. We all know that we won’t get any Oscars at all if they stop making money. However, I wish that they had chosen to go the Golden Globes route and create another category. I appreciate that the GG has been able to honor the talent that goes into comedies and musicals as well as dramatic talent.

    Although I appreciate the finely honed character-driven dramas that get the most Oscar attention, I tire of the fact that no woman can get recognized as best actress without making herself hideous, getting raped, or being a murderer….or some other pathological characteristic.

    I was ecstatic the year Chicago won!

  9. daryl boylan says:

    Hear, hear! Not that I expect your to-the-point observations will be heeded by the Hollywood powers-that-be, but expanding the nominations to include more commercial bores is but one more reason not to watch the Oscars.

  10. Veronica says:

    I agree about the oscars and feel-bad themes. I find them literally encouraging: as in, to give courage, in the face of real-life difficulties. Even with an unhappy endings you feel as a viewer that you,ve shared in the protagonist’s struggles and are more experienced in life. It is exhilerating; maybe because we are not aging wrestlers nor drug addicts and we now know how to avoid some of those disasters from sharing the protagonists’ failures.
    Anyway, I really enjoy your blog—I just wish there was more of it: more writing. At 46 yrs old I really identify with your “finding yourself in adulthood”.
    Also, I can’t recommend Girl in the Cafe stongly enough. Wonderful movie that manages to be light and tragic at the same time.

    • delialloyd says:

      thanks, veronica. so glad you’re enjoying the blog and wish i had the time to do even more writing. i am definitely going to put Girl in the Cafe on my list!

  11. I have posted on my blog a stunning video interview of DFW. You might find it of interest – http://roughfractals.blogspot.com/2009/07/dfw-interview.html

  12. […] The Wrestler – In an earlier post this year on why I like movies with a certain “feelbad feeling,” I singled out The Wrestler as exemplary. It tells the story of a down-and-out “has […]

  13. […] It doesn’t have a happy ending. I’ll fess up to having a preference for dark movies and sad endings. This film has neither. But – other than for the 23 year old – nor do things end on a […]

  14. […] be disappointed by how this book ends. I won’t spoil it for you. But as a die-hard fan of feelbad movies, I loved reading a book where the ending was less than 100% hunky-dorey. That’s life, as they […]

  15. Hello, I really like the look of your site. What design are you using?

    • delialloyd says:

      hi margo. thx for dropping by. this is a simple wordpress design: “contempt” (ha!) which I’m actually thinking of getting rid of in favor of s/t more personal. but glad you like it!

  16. […] You mistake tragedy for comedy. I love Indie films. The bleaker, the better. So when I recommended Winter’s Bone to some friends recently, I was puzzled when one of […]

  17. […] since it’s Oscar season — and that always gets me thinking about the kinds of movies I like and why — I thought I’d share with you five political movies worth […]

  18. […] since it’s Oscar season — and that always gets me thinking about the kinds of movies I like and why — I thought I’d share with […]

  19. […] since it’s Oscar season — and that always gets me thinking about the kinds of movies I like and why — I thought I’d share with […]

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