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And the Oscar nominees are ... a bit on the dark side

The films leading the race tended to be long on grandeur and bleak in outlook. Is it a reflection of America's mood?

By Laura RandallCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / January 23, 2008

Nominee: Actor Javier Bardem is shown in a scene from 'No Country for Old Men,' which has been nominated for best picture.

Richard Foreman/Miramax Films/AP

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Pasadena, Calif.

The films garnering the most Academy Awards nominations Tuesday covered a wide range of topics, from the early US oil industry and corporate greed to love and loss during World War II. But many had this in common: They were marked by merciless, unsentimental endings.

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With the exception of "Juno," the indie comedy about a wisecracking pregnant teenager, the films leading the Oscars race tended to be long on grandeur and bleak in outlook. The Coen Brothers' "No Country for Old Men," which tied for most nominations at eight, was dominated by drug-fueled violence and ended with a weary speech by Tommy Lee Jones lamenting the onset of unstoppable evil in the world.

"There Will Be Blood," a screen adaptation of Upton Sinclair's novel "Oil!" also earned eight Oscar nods and was capped by a bitter I-hate-everyone speech by Daniel Day-Lewis's ruthless oil baron.

The prevalence of unhappy endings on the silver screen could have its beginnings in the real world: It may reflect the country's overall dissatisfaction with a downturn in the economy and continued turmoil in the Middle East, says Christopher Sharrett, a professor of communication and film studies at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J.

"It's not incidental that these increasingly downbeat films come out at a time of increasing pessimism on the part of the American population," he says. "They're interesting films anyway, but their critical reception … and ultimately commercial reception, is really dependent on the public mood."

He points to "There Will Be Blood," a harsh look at the California oil boom of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. "You have a commentary on the nature of the country itself on oil, which is a topic of much public discourse right now. It's a film that is based on a US novel that is a critique of America, and so is the film. I think there is a connection, if rather tenuous, between the type of fare that came out this season and the current public outlook."