Watch a marathon of Oscar-nominated films this year and you won’t experience the glee that comes with watching “Beverly Hills Chihuahua.”
You’ll probably be unsettled. Anxious. Somber.
They are emotions surrounding Holocaust complexities in “The Reader,” Indian poverty in “Slumdog Millionaire” and presidential controversy in “Frost/Nixon.”
Why do Oscar-nominated films seem so depressing?
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Part of the reason: They’re designed to make viewers think.
“Oscar films typically are supposed to have this analytic context,” said Dan Rose, member of the Columbus Film Society.
But it’s also important to remember that many of the films we’re seeing now went into production shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Rose said.
That means they’re addressing topics that mirror a more complex national mood.
“All films serve a purpose for the individual and the culture,” Rose said. “What we’re asking the movie to do for us is to scratch an itch.”
Maybe this year’s films are dark, but their serious tone hardly marks an artistic revolution.
“Just last year you had ‘There Will Be Blood’ and ‘No Country for Old Men’, which of course won Best Picture,” said Roger Reeves, president of the Columbus Film Society.
The films drew on elements like greed, corruption, crime and violence.
And as much as the ceremony has been tied to darker films, Oscar voters are hardly opposed to honoring brighter ones.
The sentimental “Driving Miss Daisy” won Best Picture for 1989, while more recently the fantasy and adventure world of “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” was honored for 2003.
The darker tone of this year’s nominees might be exacerbated by the weak national economy — an economy some critics say undermines the appeal of ogling fancy gowns.
The serious currents don’t stop there.
The night exudes a renewed focus on Heath Ledger, the Best Supporting Actor nominee who died at age 28 a little more than a year ago.
Yes, mention of Ledger’s death will likely prompt a tear or two at tonight’s ceremony.
But most importantly, the awards still mark a night of glitz and glamour.
Real-life honorees aren’t obligated to take on the serious personalities of the characters they portray.
And in a time of national uncertainty, maybe the greatest service the Oscars can provide is good, old-fashioned escapism.
“Movies have always provided the general public an escape from the realities of life and the Oscars are the end-of the-year party where we see if our favorite films win,” Reeves said.
He added, “They don’t call it Tinseltown for nothing.”