Staff Editorial: Academy Awards shine light on our times

Our society has placed value on movies from the time of their inception into American culture, and since then, film has assumed a representative role.

So it follows that the acclaimed Oscar award, regarded as the highest achievement in film-making, is a distinguished measure of our societal values. Every year when the cameras flash down the red carpet and nominees waltz or scramble on stage for their acceptance speech, the Academy makes a statement about our culture.

Last year, dark dramas like No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Michael Clayton and Atonement swept the list of nominees and winners as Jon Stewart played host for his second time.

And while these movies should be awarded for their excellence and cinematic merit, critics everywhere recognized last year's gloomy atmosphere. N.Y. Times writers Brooks Barnes and David Carr noted, "The nominations … were marked by dark themes and unconventional endings." Even Stewart opened with the question "Does this town need a hug?"

This year, the dark satiric comedy of Stewart and other former hosts was supplanted by Hugh Jack-of-all-trades-man. The singing, dancing Australian joker's diverse entertainment and fresh style signified the Academy's choices throughout the rest of the "movie event of the year."

The night's big winner, Slumdog Millionaire, led other victors and nominees such as Milk, Frost/Nixon, Doubt and even Wall-E in serving as markers of social change and acceptance.

While funnyman Steven Colbert joked on his show that the awards were "outsourced to India" our country's embracement of Slumdog speaks to our capacity to select a movie that symbolizes a different world perspective.

Additionally, the praise given to Milk represents our collective reception of and a call to action for gay rights. The fourth ever winner of the Best Animated Feature award, Wall-E, also suggested change as a commentary on society and the environment.

The Academy's honoring of Heath Ledger and The Dark Knight, though not necessarily indicative of social change, was an important illustration of our society's value of the film; after all, it was the highest grossing movie of 2008.

The movie industry, and the Oscars in particular, will never correspond to the entire country's film preference or social views, but this year was an optimistic, progressive step away from representing the film elite. In that, the Oscars move toward awarding those who the common audiences adore; thus, representing our culture in a more accurate and respectable light.