Oscars 2011: How the year's top films reflect the times
Many of this year's top movies portray dark themes or flawed characters. Why one culture watcher says they mirror this moment in history.
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So a pall has settled over much of Hollywood – not only over overtly political films like Oliver Stone's "Wall Street" sequel or "The Company Men," but over other genres that seem stubbornly apolitical. The most acclaimed romance of the year was "Blue Valentine," which tells us how arduous and even impossible love is. One of the most acclaimed domestic dramas was "Rabbit Hole" about a couple who try to survive after losing a child. The two most celebrated independent movies of the year, both Oscar best picture nominees, are "Winter's Bone," about a teenage girl in search of her dope-selling father who abandoned the family, and "The Kids Are All Right," in which a lesbian couple fights to secure their family against the incursions of their children's biological father. Even the year's biggest box-office blockbusters – from "Alice in Wonderland" to "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1" to "Inception" – were tinged with sadness.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Oscar nominees 2011
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But one can really see the distance between our traditional films of faith and today's films of uncertainty by comparing ones of the same genre, then and now, and noting how the elements have been reconfigured for our times. "The Fighter," starring Mark Wahlberg as the Lowell, Mass., boxer Micky Ward, sounds formulaic. He is a down-on-his-luck, working-class, last-chance pug who has will and courage and a bit of boxing skill. And he manages to parlay these into a crack at the championship. Another "Rocky."
Except that "Rocky" was a post-Watergate movie when the country was working strenuously to restore its faith in government, Washington, even American idealism itself. It was about resolve, hope, dreams, and inspiration. Its message was that anyone who really wants to make it, can. "The Fighter" has no such platitudes to dispense. It is less about individual strength of character than about need, more about tiptoeing one's way through a personal minefield than about bulling one's way to the title. Unlike Rocky Balboa, Micky Ward is not caught in a slough of despair from which he has to free himself. He is trapped in a web of obligation – to his tart mother who manages him; to his new girlfriend who thinks he has to disentangle himself from his family; and most of all to his spindly, drug-addled half brother who taught Micky how to box but who now seems to stand athwart his dreams.