2008 Oscars – The Most Depressing Ever?

I think as a general rule movies nominated for the Oscars are depressing. Some shining examples from past awards ceremonies (and this is just the past 20 shows)

Cry Freedom (1987)
Dead Poets Society (1989)
The Piano (1993)
Schindler’s List (1993)
The English Patient (1996)
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
The Hours (2002)
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

I think a good case can be made that all these movies were both good and depressing. Some had their moments of happiness,  of course (although some were depressing from start to finish: Cry Freedom, anyone?), but in general, most would have made me cry if I was the sort who cried at movies (instead I cry at sappy commercials and children’s films, like Lilo and Stitch and The Land Before Time.)

However, I believe that this year may be the MOST depressing year, in general. See, in the past years, there have usually been some happy/ier movies also nominated for awards. Like Juno, Little Miss Sunshine, Shakespeare in Love, Beauty and the Beast, etc. But this year, there is an utter dearth of happy movies. I suppose Slumdog Millionaire could be considered somewhat happy, since it does have a sort of happy ending (except for that whole bathtub scene and all), but it’s also depressing – I mean, hate crimes, orphans, orphans being blinded, orphans being exploited, torture, slums. I loved the movie, but still, I was a little sad after it was over.

I haven’t seen all the movies nominated, but I’ve seen a lot. Here’s the tally:

The Reader (Best picture, best actress)
Slumdog Millionaire (Best picture, best director, a bunch of others)
Frost/Nixon (Best picture, best actor)
Milk (Best picture, best actor, best supporting actor, some others)
The Wrestler (Best actor, best supporting actress)
Changeling (Best actress)
Doubt (Best supporting actor, best actress, best supporting actress)
The Visitor (Best actor)
Frozen River (Best actress)
The Dark Knight (Best supporting actor, some others)
Walle-E (Best animated movie)
Tropic Thunder (Best supporting actor)
Wanted (some artsy category)

Obviously Tropic Thunder was not depressing. It was stupid. But that’s different. And Walle-E, while a depressing glimpse of a possible future, also had a lovely ending and was really a sweet movie. And Wanted was an action movie. So these three are not being considered in my round-up or any further discussion here.

To get to the point, ALL of these movies are sad. But which is the saddest? Hard to say. Coralea and I were discussing this very thing today, after watching The Visitor (excellent, but sad. Obviously.). However, I have made a list of what I think are the:

Top 5 Most Depressing 2008 Oscar Nominees:

5. Slumdog Millionaire (for the reasons listed previously)
4. Milk (persecution, assassination, suicide)
3. Frozen River (human smuggling, bereft single mother, possible dead baby)
2. The Wrestler (wasted life, crap father, push-pins, deli meat)
1. The Visitor (horrible US immigration policy, deportation, racial profiling, loneliness, detention centers, having to leave someone you love, this happens every day to people)

In spite of being depressing, I would still recommend ALL of these movies. Slumdog Millionaire, Milk, and The Visitor were really touching stories, with beautiful moments in them. There were also the kinds of movies that make me want to be a better person and do good things. Frozen River and The Wrestler were really amazing portraits of individuals we rarely see or hear about. Good, lovely, depressing films all.

If anyone disagrees with my judgement, I’d be happy to hear other thoughts.

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