Lighting candles

It’s not often I find myself in agreement with the Vatican, but something they said recently about this year’s Oscar-winning films caught my attention, and chimed with thoughts I’d been having recently on the same topic. Basically their complaint is that, this year at least, the Academy rewarded films which are “filled…with hopelessness”.

I’ve seen “No Country For Old Men”, and while I enjoyed it for its formal qualities, the evocative photography, the memorable characters, the restrained yet powerful acting, and so forth, it’s true that it doesn’t really say very much other than “There sure are some crazy, violent people out there – what’s the world coming to, eh?”

During my teens and twenties I was as keen as anyone else on dark, violent, fashionably nihilistic films, more often than not because they were written and directed by men (and they’re always men) with abundant technical flair, which was an additional reason to find them “cool”. But as I’ve grown (up, hopefully…) and become a father (I think that’s relevant here) I find myself much more interested in people who have something positive or useful to say, in films and books which display qualities such as humanity, compassion, understanding, and, yes, hope.

Now I’m not saying that films, or any piece of artistic expression, for that matter, should all be sweetness and light and happy-clappiness and “ain’t life grand?”. But if you’re going to trawl the depths of despair, or poke about in the darkest nooks and crannies of the human psyche, I’d say that it’s only really worthwhile if you come out the other side having learnt something, or having found some way to illuminate that darkness a little.


14 thoughts on “Lighting candles

  1. rasman1978 February 28, 2008 / 4:59 pm

    I found Ratatouille rather uplifting! 🙂

    I enjoyed No Country For Old Men for the same reasons you did. But I’d have chosen Atonement for Best Picture, I think. But Atonement is pretty misery-filled, too. I think that the industry in general has the idea that a happy ending is for fairytale PG movies and that, to be a truly great film, you must move the audience to tears via tragedy. Of course NCFOM didn’t move anyone because there was no emotional attachment to any of the characters. It was pure art for art’s sake.

    Did you think there were more deserving films last year?


  2. simonlitton February 28, 2008 / 5:10 pm

    I didn’t see Atonement, but I read the book, and what makes it different from NCFOM is that, following all the misery and suffering, it’s finally about someone desperately trying to do the right thing and make things better. Hence the title.
    I have nothing against tragedy, as long as there’s some point to it. Otherwise it’s just “Life’s a bitch and then you die – ha!”
    More deserving films? I was glad to see Michael Clayton get so many nominations (and yay for Tilda Swinton’s win!). That’s a film about someone rediscovering his humanity, and I’d highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it.
    Ditto “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”.


  3. rasman1978 February 28, 2008 / 5:23 pm

    Cool. I’ll check those out. Atonement is worth seeing if only for the wide, panning, “why did they spend all the money to do this?” shot of Normandy Beach. I’m glad Juno didn’t win much.

    And I’m as amazed as everyone else that Transformers didn’t sweep all categories.


  4. simonlitton February 28, 2008 / 5:30 pm

    Well, I was pretty shocked that it didn’t win Best Visual Effects (Transformers, I mean). The Golden Compass was very pretty, but come on…


  5. Tiffany February 28, 2008 / 5:46 pm

    I really thought that Juno was a perfect choice for best picture. It deals with everything real, yet offers a hopeful glimpse at humanity. I was disappointed in the winners, too. (And really, after last year with The Departed, hasn’t the dark side enjoyed a long enough reign?)


  6. simonlitton February 28, 2008 / 5:49 pm

    Yes – just say no to the Dark Side!
    I haven’t seen Juno yet, although I’d like to. I know the Vatican liked it because of the whole “deciding against having an abortion” aspect…


  7. V-Grrrl February 29, 2008 / 12:31 pm

    Like you, I found that once I had children, I couldn’t go to “dark places” just for the sake of going.

    I won’t watch violent films, no matter how critically acclaimed they are. They just savage my emotions and I don’t NEED that. I do, however, enjoy serious dramas, but most of all, I like really stupid comedies.


  8. Peter February 29, 2008 / 3:58 pm

    Like V-grrrl, I gave up on the “desperate, pitch-dark drama”, the overdose of violence or the worn-out digital effects of many present day movies.

    I just want to have a good time and laugh 🙂


  9. Karen MEG (Pomtini) February 29, 2008 / 4:19 pm

    I’ve always tried to avoid dark films, and now as a parent of young childredn especially so. Of course, now I can only watch on my small screen once these movies come out on DVD. So I’ve actually missed a lot of the “best picture” oscar films, as you’ve noted they’ve tended to go over to the dark side of late. I don’t mind dark comedy, but violence for the sake of violence, no matter the quality of the acting/ cinematography, wouldn’t sit too well with me.
    I’d also like to catch Juno … it’s funny the controversy that even a movie like that manages to stir up … have you seen the debates from both sides of the pro-life/ pro choice movement? Amazing.
    No surprise that it received a thumbs up from the Vatican.


  10. CuriosityKiller February 29, 2008 / 6:27 pm

    I haven’t been completely caught up with all the Oscar nominated films, and I guess it’s no surprise that I haven’t been rushing to the theatres for the dark films…

    Your’e right… even my 2007 favorite “La Vie En Rose” has such a sad sad (briliantly acted) soul within the beauty of it.

    But I think that’s when we’ll hail to everyone and can’t stop talking about — when a realistically portrayed film with a good ending finally does come out. Don’t you think?


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