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Changes to the Oscars: Have We Lost That "Feelbad" Feeling?

For those of us who follow the Oscars, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences dropped two bombshells recently. First, they’re going to...

For those of us who follow the Oscars, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences dropped two bombshells recently.

First, they’re going to democratize the membership of the Academy to include the likes of Morgan Freeman, Hugh Jackman and Viola Davis. To which I say: Good.

Second, they’re going to expand the number of best picture nominees from five to ten. To which I say: Bad. Very, very bad.

The idea behind the second reform is to drum up better ratings for the broadcast. But it’s also designed to give pride of place to the sorts of commercial movies – comedies, animated films, blockbusters – that have played second fiddle to more serious, downbeat, artsy films that have tended to dominate the awards in recent years.

I, for one, am saddened by the change. I love these small, iconoclastic Indy films. I fear that if we dilute their influence at the Oscars, we will only further dilute their influence at the cinemas, which is already waning. And that’s a real loss.

Two movies I saw in the past week confirm this feeling. The first, The Wrestler, tells the story of a down-and-out “has been” pro-wrestler who tries to turn his life around by reconnecting with his estranged daughter, falling in love and leaving his profession. The second, Rachel Getting Married, is about a drug addict who takes a weekend off of rehab to attend her sister’s wedding and all the guilt, anger, resentment and pathological family dynamics that ensue.

These are both small, fairly dark character-driven movies about deeply flawed people who are trying to change their lives in ways both small and large, and run up against how hard that is to do in practice. Not surprisingly – and I give nothing away here – neither has a particularly happy ending.

And I find that sort of grim realism…refreshing. Movies can’t be there just to allow an escape. (Though if you’re looking to be cheered up, be sure to watch the interview with Mickey Rourke in the DVD commentary about how he turned his life around as an actor.) As Jon Canter writes in yesterday’s Guardian, the “feelbad” factor is under-rated:

Feelbad confronts you with the darkness, futility and awfulness of existence, but does it with such imagination, bravado, soul and wit that you find yourself exhilarated.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

*****

Speaking of addiction, there’s a thoughtful essay on alcoholism and addiction by Clancy Martin in this week’s London Review of Books.

Image: 1:6 Oscar Statuette by Shaun Wong via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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  1. Colleen Wainwright July 13, 2009 at 4:47 pm #

    I confess, I disliked both of those particular examples for a variety of reasons.

    But I’m with you 100% on the dilution of the honor. Poor, poor Oscar. Now I have twice as many reasons not to watch you.

  2. steven germain July 13, 2009 at 7:14 pm #

    Have you seen the Girl In The Cafe?

  3. steven germain July 13, 2009 at 8:28 pm #

    The screenplay was written by the same man who wrote Love Actually and co stars Bill Nigh (also of Love Actually) whose portrayal of a deeply feeling yet tentative man who discovers his political and personal self through love (i.e., The Girl In The Cafe) is as true and authentic performance (feels like he was born to the role much the way Mickey Rourke does in The Wrestler. I have a feeling you might really like it. If I am wrong, I apologize, if I am right, you’re welcome…(and thanks for your blog, I like it a lot).

  4. delialloyd July 13, 2009 at 8:45 pm #

    Thanks for dropping by. I will certainly have a look!

  5. TJF July 13, 2009 at 11:07 pm #

    Mickey Rourke was robbed of the Oscar for best actor…not that Sean Penn isn’t great in his own right, but Mickey’s preformance was the stuff of legends…timeless…and he didn’t win. I am just a tv-watching schlub out here, not a critic, etc. but this loss of Mickey’s made me think that the Oscars are about politics, not art…I won’t be watching them again…I was so bummed that he didn’t win.

    • delialloyd July 14, 2009 at 2:20 pm #

      me too. i thought sean penn was brilliant but he’d already won before.

  6. steven germain July 14, 2009 at 5:52 am #

    Let me know if you do not like it (it has a simple plot line and I suppose a preposterous one so it is possible not to get into it – simple works for me but its not for everyone). I have printed the Clancy Martin article on treating alcoholism to read tomorrow. You might find David Foster Wallace’s list of thjngs you learn in rehab of interest.

    • delialloyd July 14, 2009 at 2:21 pm #

      thanks. have been meaning to read DFW for awhile now-think i’ll add him to my summer rdg list.

  7. rachel July 14, 2009 at 11:44 am #

    Well, as a non-participant in the Oscar-watching sport, I may not be entitled to an opinion – but nonetheless I’m with you all the way – the commercial stuff already dominates the general cultural scene and if the art films just be being better managed to carve out some acclaim at the Oscars, more power to-em!

  8. Sue July 14, 2009 at 12:53 pm #

    I can understand why Oscar Corp. wants to increase its ratings. We all know that we won’t get any Oscars at all if they stop making money. However, I wish that they had chosen to go the Golden Globes route and create another category. I appreciate that the GG has been able to honor the talent that goes into comedies and musicals as well as dramatic talent.

    Although I appreciate the finely honed character-driven dramas that get the most Oscar attention, I tire of the fact that no woman can get recognized as best actress without making herself hideous, getting raped, or being a murderer….or some other pathological characteristic.

    I was ecstatic the year Chicago won!

    • delialloyd July 14, 2009 at 2:21 pm #

      you are right about the women. it’s a real shame. i loved chicago too! thanks for visiting, sue!

  9. daryl boylan July 14, 2009 at 1:51 pm #

    Hear, hear! Not that I expect your to-the-point observations will be heeded by the Hollywood powers-that-be, but expanding the nominations to include more commercial bores is but one more reason not to watch the Oscars.

  10. Veronica July 14, 2009 at 5:53 pm #

    I agree about the oscars and feel-bad themes. I find them literally encouraging: as in, to give courage, in the face of real-life difficulties. Even with an unhappy endings you feel as a viewer that you,ve shared in the protagonist’s struggles and are more experienced in life. It is exhilerating; maybe because we are not aging wrestlers nor drug addicts and we now know how to avoid some of those disasters from sharing the protagonists’ failures.
    Anyway, I really enjoy your blog—I just wish there was more of it: more writing. At 46 yrs old I really identify with your “finding yourself in adulthood”.
    Also, I can’t recommend Girl in the Cafe stongly enough. Wonderful movie that manages to be light and tragic at the same time.

    • delialloyd July 14, 2009 at 8:43 pm #

      thanks, veronica. so glad you’re enjoying the blog and wish i had the time to do even more writing. i am definitely going to put Girl in the Cafe on my list!

  11. steven germain July 15, 2009 at 2:20 am #

    I have posted on my blog a stunning video interview of DFW. You might find it of interest – http://roughfractals.blogspot.com/2009/07/dfw-interview.html

  12. Margo Tritsch April 19, 2010 at 3:50 am #

    Hello, I really like the look of your site. What design are you using?

    • delialloyd April 19, 2010 at 9:21 am #

      hi margo. thx for dropping by. this is a simple wordpress design: “contempt” (ha!) which I’m actually thinking of getting rid of in favor of s/t more personal. but glad you like it!

  13. Cellas December 2, 2015 at 8:17 pm #

    Ah, they turned out great! You made Mickey Rourke look good, too. Have to say, glad that Brad Pitt didn’t win that one. I was a litlte worried.

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