Or more accurately, it’s the recession, stupid. Just as the major presidential candidates have rewritten their scripts from “change agent” to “steady at the helm,” the Oscar nominations, announced this morning, are asking us to take a second look at dark films we once dismissed but seem right on-message. Each of the best picture nominees scold, doubt or plain old go bad.
“Juno,” the story of a teen mom who gives her baby up for adoption to a newly divorced yuppie, is probably the most feel-good flick among the best picture contenders. Its chances for a nomination were judged as frail as its crocus-in-the-snow happy ending (too indie, too much of a teen flick). “Atonement,” a morality play set amid WWI, was similarly dismissed (dreary British characters), as was “Michael Clayton,” about a cynical law-firm “fixer” (bad opening box office).
But a little plumbing of humanity’s foibles goes further in a down market. In the end, the critics’ beefs with these films will likely keep them from winning, at least if the economy and the war keep dragging our spirits down. What depressive nation could resist giving the Oscar to films called “There Will Be Blood” or “No Country for Old Men”?