What I found really interesting about this year’s Academy Awards was the theme of nostalgia that permeated it.
Let’s be honest, if we went on the Internet right now without any knowledge of current culture, you could assume that half of our society simply hasn’t gotten over ‘70s and ‘80s cartoons and will not rest until the “ThunderCats” memorial in Times Square has finally been constructed – but the cinematic nostalgia that we were treated to this year runs much deeper than that.
Instead, four out of the nine best picture nominees directly dealt with the very early 1900s (five if you want to count The Tree of Life, though that covered everything from the earth’s creation to Sean Penn’s character’s clinical depression). So what does that say about us as a culture? Are we finding parallels between our existence now and our counterparts 100 years ago?
Maybe, although I can’t speak for everyone when I say that our newly post-recession America probably wouldn’t look too familiar to the America of the Roaring ‘20s. I think we can attribute these feelings to the idea that we’ve lost something in the past 100 years. Deep down it’s the same reason people still love those old cartoons from the early days of their childhood. It’s this idea that the world wasn’t so troubled back then, that for some reason things were a lot simpler, be it ‘90s Nickelodeon shows or Charlie Chaplin.
The movies the film industry picked this year are almost all guilty of playing on our emotions in this way. Hugo paid homage to the literal magic that went into early French cinema and War Horse was a throwback to the epic war movies of yesteryear with a simple goodhearted protagonist with noble companion contrasted with the horrors of WWI (think Lassie with bayonets).
I’m sure I don’t need to remind anyone that The Artist was such a literal back-to-basics movie that it’s silent. I enjoyed The Artist a great deal, but as far as cinematic nostalgia goes, it’s virtually impossible to go back any further than this without doing a shot for shot remake of a Thomas Edison film.
The only film to actually get the pulse of this new wave of old was the also-nominated Midnight in Paris by Woody Allen. Half taking place in 1920s Paris and half in present day, the movie practically told the audience that no matter what time period you live in, people are nostalgic for the previous one, so stop listlessly longing for a better time to the point where you miss the time you’re in.
It’s a relevant and funny message when you think about it in the context of the movie’s competition, and it doesn’t take much to picture Woody Allen making snide remarks in a room with the completely straight-faced and serious Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg.
The only movie, however, that looked at our backwards-focused culture and laughed to us about it lost to a silent love letter to the ‘20s.
It seems like we may be stuck in the past for a bit more, as long as the studios can continue to think of new and exciting ways of not going forward. Here’s to waiting for Vaudeville: The Movie and The Three Stooges. Wait – one of those is real.