Two years ago the Oscar ceremony had its lowest TV ratings and was its least watched telecast ever. Many blame the low ratings on a year dominated by dark and depressing films focused on greed, corruption and violence. Los Angeles Times writer Patrick Goldstein wrote that No Country for Old Men, that year’s Best Picture winner, is a “bone-chilling tale of violence, stupidity and revenge, with a relentless, amoral killer at its center, coolly dispatching anyone in his way with a cattle gun.” That year’s host, Jon Stewart, joked about the trend during the opening of the show when he asked, “Does this town need a hug?”
This year, however, the Oscars have dramatically changed their format to include 10 instead of 5 films for the Best Picture category and nominated some genuinely uplifting movies for various awards with hopes of increasing its ratings. For example, three of the nominees for Best Picture are Blind Side, Up and Avatar. Blind Side is the true story about a wealthy family who take in a homeless teenager to help him get an education and become a successful, professional football player. Up is an animated film about an elderly man who goes on a grand adventure while looking back at the meaningful moments of his life. And, Avatar has really struck a chord with themes about connection, the environment and what’s possible for humanity.
Precious and Up in the Air, two other movies nominated for Best Picture, are not exactly uplifting, but they do wrestle with how to overcome serious life-obstacles such as being laid off in Up in the Air, and child abuse in Precious. The only movie nominated for Best Picture with gratuitous violence is Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, which was shut out at the Golden Globes, receiving no awards even though it had multiple nominations.
Other uplifting and thought-provoking films that received nominations for this year’s Oscars include Invictus (Morgan Freeman for Actor in a Leading Role playing Nelson Mandela and Matt Damon for Actor in a Supporting Role), Crazy Heart (Jeff Bridges for Actor in a Leading Role and Maggie Gyllenhaal for Actress in a Supporting Role) and Julie & Julia (Meryl Streep for Actress in a Leading Role).
It’s hard to tell if the success of these films will motivate Hollywood to make more inspirational movies or if this year is just an anomaly. But, I do think that most people are getting tired of seeing movies like No Country for Old Men that basically say, “Look at how awful life is.” receive Academy Awards. Instead, I think people want movies that deal with dark subject matter and challenges in life, but do so in a way that offers hope and meaning.