Hollywood deserves congratulations

Ah, substance, how we’ve missed you.

For all of the knocks that 2005 received about the sad state of film these days — and with national theater attendance down seven percent — popping $9 on a seat in front of the big screen has been a rather depressing prospect. But all you need to do is take a look at this year’s Oscar nominations to prove there was a reason to buy popcorn this season. And 2005’s offerings have actually tackled some incredibly weighty subjects that most studios are too often afraid to touch.

With the usual drivel has come a lot of poignant and unique substance at the same time.

Yes, we’ve been given Big Momma’s House 2 — which is only weighty from the standpoint of Martin Lawrence’s fat suit — but this past year has also given us films like Syriana, about big oil and corruption in the Middle East. Or films like Crash, exploring the intricacies of racism and human interaction in modern Los Angeles. The former is up for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor. The latter was nominated for six awards, including Best Motion Picture of the Year. When was the last year you remember the Oscars being this skewed toward important subject matter? Along with those two are at least five other films exploring subjects often deemed too controversial (or intellectual) for our timid American audiences.

Last year’s winners were nothing to sneer at, but their “issues” were wrapped up within themselves, and did not expand into issues facing the world today. Million Dollar Baby was a boxing drama. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was social commentary, but only on a personal level. The Aviator was historical, yes, but was it as historically important as this year’s Good Night, and Good Luck, which documents Edward R. Murrow’s historic battle to expose the underbelly of McCarthyism?

And Spider-Man 2, well…

Years before haven’t been much better, either. The problem hasn’t been a lack of good films — for instance, you can’t argue that the final Lord of the Rings isn’t a masterpiece. And to be fair, prior years have also given us City of God, House of Sand and Fog, and The Pianist, to name a few.

What distinguishes this year is that the Oscars have been given a greater number of poignant scripts. Aside from Syriana, Crash, and Good Night, and Good Luck, we also have Munich, about the 1972 Olympic massacre; The Constant Gardner, dealing with the corrupt influences of pharmaceutical companies in Africa; Brokeback Mountain, with the ever-controversial social issue of homosexuality; and even The New World, finally taking a more realistic look at the beginnings of our country. Perhaps for every three *The Island*s, 2005 has given us one substantial gem.

Every year is a crapshoot with the American film industry. But something, for whatever reason, has driven studios to attack some meaningful subjects this time around (in addition to their usual offering of suspense thrillers and witty-yet-pointless comedies). It’d be nice to say that U.S. film is becoming more attuned to real life, and therefore more relevant. That’s probably too grandiose. For now, let’s assume that a few old studio executives discovered they still had pulses — and they read The Washington Post a bit more, too.