One of my favorite things to do is watch the best picture nominees and see what themes emerge from the collective whole of the movies. For me, as one who is a social commentator, it gives powerful insight into the things our society is thinking as a group. This year was no different.
Theme One: The Distressed Mother
It is easier to find which movie doesn’t have a distressed mother figure. La La Land is too self absorbed to care about family, but aside from that, every film has it. Arrival is probably the best look at it, but Moonlight, Fences, Lion, and certainly Manchester By The Sea feature this concept of a mother in some level of distress attempting to make things right or fix things.
Theme Two: The Boy Looking For Himself
And yeah, this theme is integrally connected to Theme One. This years Oscars could be called “Mother and Son” year. Specifically, on the boys side, is the two brothers in Hell or High Water, the uncle and nephew in Manchester, Moonlight is all about a man’s self discovery from childhood, and Hacksaw Ridge is the main characters intense guilt over his childhood, and the fight to be both like his dad but not like his dad.
Paging Dr. Freud. Paging Dr. Freud.
Theme Three: People of Color
In case you didn’t know it, Oscar has had a problem the last few years with the accusations of being too “white” in the nominations. It was a legitimate complaint and I have noted it in the past. This year compensates. Somewhat. Of the nine films nominated, four feature people of color exclusively. Add “Loving” in the mix, and you get five major Oscar films that are ethnically diverse.
The problem I have, is that with the exception of Moonlight and Lion, all of these movies are ‘historical dramas’ that limit black people to portrayals of the past in the limited role of fighting racism and prejudice. Moonlight alone seems to avoid this trap, where the only roles black people have are those of history. I mean, would Manchester By The Sea be nominated if the actors were black? Hell or High Water would not have been nominated had it been two black brothers on the run from the cops. You and I both know it is true. Why wasn’t the linguist in Arrival a Middle- Eastern woman, since it was her work on Farsi that supposedly got the government’s attention? I think Oscar, and Hollywood, still has a prejudice.
Remember when Emma Stone played a native Hawaiian. Yeah, me too.
Theme Four: A Rebuttal of Technology
Or at least modernity, perhaps. Even in the sci-fi film Arrival, technology is downplayed. It is almost eschewed with disdain in La La Land. Hidden Figures seems to go out of its way to show how great chalkboards are. Hell or High Water is a tale almost devoid of any technology. Manchester By The Sea even has a scene where the Affleck character can’t find where he is going because he doesn’t have a proper GPS. A parallel to this is the fixation with older cars. I think most of these movies have characters driving around in twenty year old cars (or older). In fact, in La La Land, I’m pretty sure in Goslings old car, he is listening to a cassette tape.
I am sure I could find more themes if I sat here all day, but these are the concepts and schemes that jumped off the screen at me. Enjoy the movies.