As summer turns to fall, I have to go back to work. I’ll pause for a moment to let everyone who’s not a teacher feel bad for me. Yep, that’s right; those two glorious months off are over and soon I’ll be back to late nights writing lesson plans and grading alongside days spent “shaping the future” and whatnot. Fall also means the arrival of Oscar Season, where all the tear-inducing, emotionally heavy, dramatic masterpieces begin to push the summer comedies and blockbuster extravaganzas out of the theatres as they attempt to earn a coveted Academy Award nomination. As a lover of all genres of movies, I’ve always looked forward to Oscar Season.
I’ve always loved movies in general. I love watching them. I love re-watching them. I love watching them from the comfort of my couch and I adore going to the movie theatre. It feels like one of pop culture’s most sacred rituals, settling into a dark theatre with a big crowd (or even watching a movie in a theatre by yourself, I think that’s fun too!) as the lights go down and you escape into another world for a few hours. Growing up, there wasn’t a genre of film that I wouldn’t watch (save horror movies because who wants to be terrified for fun?). My movie shelves have always held sections for comedies, dramas, musicals, action films, arty/indie movies, saga films, sci-fi films, rom coms, animated movies, old black and white classics, and even a few scary thrillers that impressed me enough to buy…even if watching them gave me nightmares. One of the most exciting things about dating Kalie and being forced to getting to watch horror movies with her was I finally learned to appreciate the only genre of film that was closed to me. Now I can honestly say I’ll watch it all!
Oscar Season is always particularly exciting though, right? There’s something about the power and scope of these films that resonate in a unique way. I mean, they are Oscar contenders for a reason! But I’ve noticed a growing trend in my entertainment choices. Over the last few years I’ve found myself less and less interested in the sorts of films that make Oscar swoon. As I’ve realized this, I’ve spent some time puzzling over why. When Kalie and I started dating (which will be three years ago come the end of September!) we made a concerted effort to see every Oscar nominated film we could. It was so much fun! We were pretty successful too. We saw every Best Picture nominee and all the films in the major categories too. We made respectable progress with the smaller categories as well, even hitting a special screening of all the nominated shorts at our local theatre. I’ve always tried to see as much Oscar fair as I can. Some people love the Super Bowl. I’m an Oscars kind of guy.
But last year we only saw a handful of the nominated films and I was more than alright with that. To this day I’ve never seen Moonlight, which took the Best Picture win at the Oscars last year, even though the story sounds incredibly powerful. I haven’t seen Manchester By The Sea despite being a big fan of both Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams. Of all the Best Picture nominees last year, the only ones I’ve seen are La La Land and Arrival. That, in and of itself, doesn’t surprise me. Sometimes life gets busy and I don’t see as many films as I’d like to when they are in the theatre. What does surprise me is that I haven’t seen these films yet. I’m sure they are all moving, poignant, powerful stories…but I just don’t have the desire to see them.
Do you know what I do want to watch? I want my comedies. I want my big superhero spectacles. I want escapism and sci-fi and fantasy. And I want my rom coms! I’ll say it :). I still respect all the other genres but I’m just not sitting down to watch them in the way I used to. As I tried to figure out why, both David and Kalie offered some spot-on insight.
The other day David and I were talking about the news and he said, “Anymore watching and reading the news is like wearing a Horcrux around your neck.” He’s absolutely right! He nailed it! That’s how I feel exactly! And just like carrying that Horcrux lead Harry, Ron, and Hermione to become angry, frustrated, depressed, and beaten down, so too do I get those feelings as I read the news every day. From climate change deniers to Nazis marching in the street to the ever-present fear of terror attacks to actual terror attacks to the senseless loss of innocent life to the threat of nuclear war to congressional gridlock to words over deeds to refugees to immigration to hate and prejudice to a president that…well, you get the idea. I have to stop reading the news at a certain time each day so I can try and find some peace of mind before I try to pray before bed let alone trying to actually fall asleep.
I think as my awareness of the darkness of the world around has grown more and more I’ve just found myself less interested in watching films that explore it so directly. I still haven’t see Dunkirk or Detroit, two films that would have been opening weekend choices for sure if not opening night viewings for me five years ago. As of this moment I can’t say I have any desire to see Dunkirk even though I’m sure it’s incredibly done. And I want to see Detroit, I think I need to see Detroit, but I couldn’t bring myself to see it in the waning days of my summer vacation. I wanted to fill these last few weeks with as much brightness as possible.
As I was discussing this with Kalie she raised another insightful point. She told me, “When you’re young everything seems new. Everything is novel.” I think there’s a lot of truth to this too. A teenage Michael, an early twenty-something Michael had a far more limited understanding/experience of the world than present day thirty-five year old Michael does. A lot of these dramatic, historical, emotionally heavy films helped open my eyes and my mind to parts of the world I’d never experienced before and called me to contemplate things I otherwise wouldn’t have explored.
Now, with a wider view of the world, I’m just not as drawn to these films as I once was. I find too much pain and darkness in our daily news. I spend too much time teaching about the reality of things like poverty, racism, sexism, violence, migration, and environmental degradation – as well as what we need to do to counter it – to want to contemplate it again for entertainment. I’m a crier at movies. I’ll own that too :). And lately if I’m crying at the movies I want it to be because I’m laughing at something or because I’m moved/inspired. I think often of Bill Murray’s acceptance speech at the Golden Globes in 2004. He won “Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy” for his role in Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation. When he accepted his award, he had this to say:
“I’d also like to acknowledge the other distinguished members of the ‘Musical and Comedy’ category that I’m in this evening. But I think it’s too often we forget our brothers on the other side of the aisle, the dramatic actors. And I’d just like to say, without them where would our war, our misery, and our psychological dramas come from? Let’s not forget them tonight. Thanks very much!” YES! I know he’s obviously joking around (he’s Bill freaking Murray after all) but he’s also right. There is great power in stories of war, misery, and psychological drama…but it’s not the power I’m looking for. I’d rather laugh. I’d rather be happy. Give me a comedy, a superhero spectacle, a rom com, or a goofy animated adventure any day of the week. That’s what I want right now. Maybe, that’s what I need too.
Even when I’m in the mood for deeper, more contemplative themes, I find I’d rather explore them metaphorically at the present moment. I’d rather watch Jessica Jones on Netflix to meditate on the danger and pain of abuse and addiction than something like Blue Valentine or Requiem For A Dream. I want to underscore again I have no problem with these films. I don’t question their merit or importance in our culture. Nor will I refuse to watch them…even if I don’t seek them out. There is so much we can learn from these cinematic depictions of war, terror, emotional struggle, and the difficulty of human relationships. I’ll never forget seeing Beyond Borders for the first time in 2003. I had ZERO awareness of the reality of the refugee crisis in our world until I saw that film. I watched it. I wept. I was left emotionally drained. But I also came home that night and researched the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees) until 2:00 in the morning and I’ve been reading about refugee crisis and doing the little I can to help (be it in monthly donations or raising awareness in whatever ways I can) for over ten years now. This was all because of Beyond Borders.
So I’ll always love those movies. They’re just not what I need now. Personally, I think the Best Picture category at this year’s Oscars should feature the likes of Rough Night, Sing, Snatched, The LEGO Batman Movie, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, Daddy’s Home 2 (which I’m already calling will be AWESOME), Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle (which I’m also calling will be awesome), Girls Trip, The Hitman’s Bodyguard and with the obvious winner (for Best Picture AND Best Director) going to Wonder Woman and Patty Jenkins. Right now, at this moment in my life, THIS is the type of Oscar contender I really need.