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Photo: Oscars and Sad Movies
I want to first get this out of the way and establish that I am a massive fan of all the potential awards nominees this year. Recently, as I have done for years, I sat down to catch up on all the films that are buzzing around town gaining traction and priming themselves for potential best picture nominations at the Oscars and other noteworthy awards shows and events. I thought ‘The Power of the Dog’ and ‘The Lost Daughter’ were brilliant, moving, insightful, and immensely thoughtful movies.
While I was impressed at their content, performances, and overall filmmaking, I had one prevailing thought that I could not shake no matter how many times I watched Olivia Colman play with a doll: “Damn, these are depressing as hell!” It hit me harder than ever watching this year’s nominees, that it seems we have a problem as a film society, with believing a film of substance has to be about a dismal topic that reflects a sadness of our own world, with no potential for a positive resolution.
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Sadder Movies = Oscars Eligibility: How Did We Get Here?
It has very much become a given this time of year that we will be setting ourselves up for some incredibly heavy and powerful films that will cover intense and very thoughtful subjects. (List of potential nominees here for reference.) While that has long been true, it feels increasing that they are becoming progressively dourer. I certainly enjoy films that have strong content and emotion behind them, but in all honesty, if given the choice I don’t think I’m alone in believing a lot of us would much rather watch and comment on something more uplifting and life affirming. The famous saying “art imitating life” has become taken as some sort of sacred text and blueprint nowadays when it comes to the films that we expect to be featured in the awards race every year.
The line has been drawn in the sand and gotten clearer and clearer, with each successful Marvel film, and each ‘The Power of the Dog’ that comes out, that there are really two Hollywoods when it comes to feature films and we have lost the ability to marry these two ideas of filmmaking. You can either be a “massively monetarily successful” blockbuster film that reaches millions of people, or you can be a direct-to-streaming “auteur film” more interested in saying something hyper-specific with what ultimately equates to being a sad look at a leading character’s life. I do not want this to be perceived as being pro one or another, I loved ‘Endgame’ as much as I loved ‘The Lost Daughter’ and hate that there feels to be some sort of disconnect between the art forms. It will be increasingly important to see how this divide develops in the next few years, as the Pandemic has accelerated a change that had been brewing for quite a while in terms of what is seen in theaters and what will go directly to streaming services.
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Movies As an Escape
Looking back at the awards films of years passed it seems to me like there was a time and place where you could have something to say and make a film with meaning, while also ultimately crafting an uplifting and positive resolution to the story you are telling. Life is already tremendously hard, and we live in such incredibly turbulent and unprecedented times, so the idea of being able to turn on a film that makes us feel all aspects of the human experience, the good and the bad, but not make us feel completely terrible about the outlook of the world doesn’t feel like too much to ask for. Why have we allowed ourselves to equate bleak stories with impressive filmmaking? Again, I am not coming from a place of not enjoying the depth and character of these potential nominees, but with as hard as the world is, what if these incredibly talented filmmakers channeled their energies into making us feel some sort of optimism?
These films are so powerful and well made that it is hard not to watch and know they will never reach as wide an audience as they can just due to their content. These powerful stories of the human experience should be the movies we celebrate as a society overall, not just in our insular and guarded filmmaking community, which is what ultimately ends up happening each year. I would love to be able to encourage those close to me to watch ‘The Lost Daughter’, but in all reality, without the “buzz” behind its potential to win on the awards circuit most people would probably switch it off in the first twenty minutes. They would be missing a hauntingly beautiful film, but at the same time, I can’t blame someone with limited free time who is looking to escape the hardships of their day to day for turning to something brighter and more relaxing that doesn’t leave them feeling so grim.
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Where Do We Go?
I still need to catch up on a few of the potential nominees, but to this point, my favorite of the season has been ‘CODA’. A film that was widely loved at last year’s Sundance festival shines as a heavy story with tremendous performances. The film triumphs in its exploration of the pain and suffering of the human condition, while also celebrating what it means to feel pain and grow from your experiences. ‘CODA’ stands out to me this year as what should be considered a classic best picture nominee. A film featuring a powerful script, great acting, and a roller coaster of emotions with an actual optimistic resolution to me is the type of film that should be celebrated this time of year.
Dour is such a one-note emotion, and I would appreciate our most talented filmmakers to reflect life and make us feel that though there is sadness and struggle in the world, however like in reality and our experience as humans we must persevere and triumph in the face of such darkness. It feels too often now we are obsessed with this idea of making our films sad to be sad. Understanding the world is to understand that everyone in life is going through some form of hardship daily, but that we need to fight through and overcome it. Films like ‘CODA’ are a refreshing reminder that you can have a strong balance of powerful filmmaking and have a positive outlook with wide audience appeal. The film doesn’t revel in the hardships its characters endure, and instead shines as it shows you can move on from the negative and overcome.
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Another potential positive for the future of filmmaking to come is the ability to cross over for different filmmakers. The insanely talented filmmaker Chloe Zhao was behind last year’s magnificent, Best Picture-winning, ‘Nomadland’ and also ‘Eternals’, a new Marvel release. ‘Nomadland’, like ‘CODA’, is at face value a downbeat story about someone trying to overcome their circumstances in the face of great odds. While loss and sadness play heavily throughout the film, the film is ultimately an uplifting story of someone finding their meaning in a new world. It may not be realistic, but I am personally holding out hope for a time where directors like Zhao don’t have to bounce between two worlds of filmmaking, and instead endeavor to blend these two worlds together.
By Mark Raymond
Click here to read The Hollywood Insider’s CEO Pritan Ambroase’s love letter to Cinema, TV and Media. An excerpt from the love letter: The Hollywood Insider’s CEO/editor-in-chief Pritan Ambroase affirms, “We have the space and time for all your stories, no matter who/what/where you are. Media/Cinema/TV have a responsibility to better the world and The Hollywood Insider will continue to do so. Talent, diversity and authenticity matter in Cinema/TV, media and storytelling. In fact, I reckon that we should announce “talent-diversity-authenticity-storytelling-Cinema-Oscars-Academy-Awards” as synonyms of each other. We show respect to talent and stories regardless of their skin color, race, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, etc., thus allowing authenticity into this system just by something as simple as accepting and showing respect to the human species’ factual diversity. We become greater just by respecting and appreciating talent in all its shapes, sizes, and forms. Award winners, which includes nominees, must be chosen on the greatness of their talent ALONE.
I am sure I am speaking for a multitude of Cinema lovers all over the world when I speak of the following sentiments that this medium of art has blessed me with. Cinema taught me about our world, at times in English and at times through the beautiful one-inch bar of subtitles. I learned from the stories in the global movies that we are all alike across all borders. Remember that one of the best symbols of many great civilizations and their prosperity has been the art they have left behind. This art can be in the form of paintings, sculptures, architecture, writings, inventions, etc. For our modern society, Cinema happens to be one of them. Cinema is more than just a form of entertainment, it is an integral part of society. I love the world uniting, be it for Cinema, TV. media, art, fashion, sport, etc. Please keep this going full speed.”
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Mark Raymond is a writer and screenwriter who believes himself to be the only person desiring to work in film who originated in New York and currently resides in Los Angeles. Mark was inspired to write from a young age and has always desired to connect and uplift others through his work, as those that motivated him did for him. Mark feels very strongly that the world could use a lot more positivity and optimism, and is therefore very aligned to the mission of The Hollywood Insider to not spread hate or gossip, but instead to build each other up and shine a positive light on anyone bold enough to put their heart and soul into a piece of art. In his writing, Mark aims to use his signature wit to highlight the severity of the more serious and pressing issues of our time, to shine a beacon of light through the darkness. A devoted ally to all, he seeks to inspire and use his platform to give a voice to the voiceless and let his readers know that while everything may not be great right now, one day it can and will be.