Hollywood got serious this year as its Oscar-nominated films questioned sexual conventions, race relations and the politics of fear and violence — a far cry from years past when Hobbits roamed middle-Earth and Americans danced in Paris.
The five movies nominated for best picture crisscross a spectrum of social concerns from Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain,” a tale of the isolation of two gay cowboys in the 1960s to Steven Spielberg’s “Munich,’ about Israel’s reprisals for the murder of their athletes at the Munich Olympics.
There is also George Clooney’s story of McCarthy era censorship, “Good Night, and Good Luck;” racial drama “Crash” and “Capote,” detailing author Truman Capote’s prayers for a man to die so he can have an ending for “In Cold Blood.”
Toss in a few other nominations for films exploring the fall of Enron, Palestinian suicide bombings and post-Apartheid violence in South Africa, and audiences have a most unusual year for film and for Oscar nominations.
“It’s no accident the world is ready to look at movies that do more than just entertain,” said Jeffrey Caine, nominated for best adapted screenplay for “The Constant Gardener.”
“It has to do with the way the world has changed since 9/11, it has to do with the invasion of Iraq, it has to do with America’s uncertainty about itself. ... Political consciousness has been raised over the the last two or three years by events in the world,” Caine added
Spielberg, whose “Munich” has sparked controversy by asking what happens to a society when it answers violence with violence, said he won’t mind going back to making popcorn movies after “the second-most-wrenching filmmaking experience of my life.” “Schindler’s List,” of course, was the first.
Take courage, says Spielberg“This is a courageous year for filmmakers. ... They are saying ‘If I never make another film, this one says what I think and feel,”’ Spielberg told Reuters.
Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Tony Kushner, who co-wrote the screenplay for “Munich,” said he was taken aback by “the extent of the protests” against the film — some Jewish groups attacked it as being anti-Israel. He said “the fact that it was made by Steven Spielberg made it important for them to attack the film.”
Kushner is responsible for the most quoted line from the movie — Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meier telling a secret cabinet meeting that “every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its values.”
For Kushner the line is not just about Israel’s decision to go after the killers of their athletes but about American actions in the war in Iraq, actions in which the United States is accused of torture and targeted killings. Spielberg, who is Jewish, insists that he was not making a movie about Iraq but about Israel and the choices it faced.
For director Paul Haggis, who is nominated for an Oscar for “Crash,” which is also nominated for best film, the Oscar selections this year indicate a shift in audience taste.
“I think they (audiences) are ready to embrace troubling questions and that’s what these films all do, they pose questions in really entertaining ways ... It’s like the 1970s all over again. We don’t want to forget all our troubles, we want to talk about these things.”
Oscar historian Robert Osbourne said the new seriousness of Oscar voters may be due to the distribution of nominated movies on DVD — the voters now get to see small, controversial art-house films that they might have skipped before. “The process has been democratized,” he said.