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.