Two grim, bleak films about the dark side of American life led the nominations for this year’s Academy Awards.
The award nominations showed that the Academy is fully in tune with the elite culture’s current predilection for gloom and doom.
No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood led the nominations with eight apiece, including Best Picture and Best Director. Both films were helmed by smart, talented, thoughtful filmmakers, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen and Paul Michael Anderson, respectively.
The sad romance Atonement, the anti-business legal thriller Michael Clooney, and the teen pregnancy comedy rounded out the Best Picture contenders.
Actor and actress nominations were drawn from the Best Picture nominees and other weird, gloomy, or politically charged films such as Tommy Lee Jones (for Best Actor for In the Valley of Elah), Julie Christie (for Best Actress for playing an Alzheimer’s victim in Away from Her), Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Viggo Mortensen, Casey Affleck, and Amy Ryan.
Whether any stars will actually attend the ceremony is in doubt at this point, as the Screen Actors Guild is honoring the Writers Guild strike against the movie and television industry. Such an outcome, of course, would probably severely cut the award program’s ratings.
A complete list of nominations for the 80th Academy Awards is available here at the Motion Picture Academy website.
Thank you, Nicholas, for your very wise comments here. I recently wrote a review, for National Review magazine (forthcoming), of Thomas Hibbs’s new book, Arts of Darkness: American Noir and the Quest for Redemption, in which Hibbs argues that both classic and modern films (and TV and literature) classified as noir can have very positive meanings and accord with a Christian worldview. In that I am in full agreement, and I think it agrees with your thoughts here.
What is important is not what is shown on the surface but what a work means.
Mr. Tooney, Your observations are astute and, I think, accurate as concerns the quality of much “art” that earns recognition today. Also true about the political nature of most of the awards handed out today. I believe Doris Lessing’s reception of the Nobel Prize for Literature speaks volumes to both counts. Regarding your comment: “Say anything you want to about life in America as long as it’s not complimentary,” I would like to raise a minor objection that perhaps the role of the artist is not to tell us that everything is as wonderful and optimistic in this country as the politicians want us to believe right now. That is the job of the advertisers. If artists are to act as prophets in this age of great spiritual blindness and deafness, they are going to have to shout. Flannery O’Connor, along with most decent Southern writers (including Cormac McCarthy, who wrote No Country…) have been criticized for their use of the grotesque to point out that what is generally accepted as positive and good in our society is not that at all. The same role as the prophets of old. An extremely helpful read for me has been O’Connor’s Mystery and Manners, in which she makes the following observation:
“The writer whose position is Christian, and probably also the writer whose position is not, will begin to wonder at this point if there could not be some ugly correlation between our unparalleled prosperity and the stridency of these demands for a literature that shows us the joy of life. He may at least be permitted to ask if these screams for joy would be quite so piercing if joy were really more abundant in our prosperous society.”
I would encourage moviegoers, especially Christians, to go to the many great movies that are made today that are very hard to watch because of their technique or subject-matter. I hope that by looking deeply into the darkness we are acquainted enough with the light of the Truth to see a reflection there of the way things really are and also to look toward the Solution.
Mr. Karnick, I thank you for maintaining this excellent site. I am a teacher and visit it regularly and often find here discussions to have with my students.
Thanks for your comment, Mike. I agree with your observations. I have not yet seen There Will Be Blood, but in the case of No Country for Old Men I can say that the film does indeed have much artistic merit, and it does have some serious thoughts to convey. Overall, the nominations reflect the fact that a good deal of gloom and doom has been emanating from Hollywood in recent years, but the prejudices of the current Academy membership for grimness and darkness are evident in the neglect of high-quality but non-depressing films such as EnchantedEnchanted
“Two grim, bleak films about the dark side of American life led the nominations for this year’s Academy Awards.”
“The award nominations showed that the Academy is fully in tune with the elite culture’s current predilection for gloom and doom.”
It puts me in mind of the Pulitzer Prizes, which from the get-go seemed to have only one criterion for eligibility: Say anything you want to about life in America as long as it’s not complimentary. Follow this rule and you just might enjoy the prestige and profit to be had by being associated with the Pulitzers.
The Oscars, the Pulitzers, the Nobels–even the Edgars–have become political rather than purely artistic awards; certainly some of the nominees have value, but artistic merit doesn’t seem to be of primary importance any more.
Only the technical awards given by the “Academy” have much validity (and I’m not so sure about them, either).
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