Bill Maher, a political commentator who I used to enjoy quite a lot, complained on his HBO show last week about the Oscar contenders for best picture being too sad. He proposed the Academy change its show’s name to “The Debbies,” as in Debbie Downer … wah, wah.
Bill needs to take it easy. His whole piece talking about the Oscar films was pretty bad from a comedy point of view, especially because he had to pause for three seconds after every punchline so that his audience knew it was time to “har dee har” and clap. It was a really odd segment that is largely in line with Bill’s entire persona these days, which boils to down to being an angry old man who hates everyone and everything under 40. If he didn’t live in complete bliss in some gated, isolated mansion near Los Angeles, he’d probably yell at kids to get off of his lawn. Oh, what an agonizing existence my old friend Mr. Maher must live.
The part of this whole bit that really bugged me is that he cherry-picked each of the Oscar nominated films to make them appear depressing and boring in comparison to films from yesteryear. The movies he cited from yesteryear as being more cheery, however, included “Milk,” “12 Years a Slave” and “Schindler’s List.” You know, because nothing gets a crowd feeling more hopeful than an assassination, slavery and the Holocaust. All really feel-good flicks for the whole family to enjoy.
As opposed to what Bill’s writers are trying to say, this year’s nominees are not uniquely depressing. Sure, none of them are pure escapism, but Maher reduced them all to their most depressing elements. In the process, he spoiled half of the nominees. In non-spoiler territory, he called “Sound of Metal” a mere movie about a drummer who goes deaf. Well, that’s certainly one read on the film. Mine was more akin to a drummer loses his hearing, but comes to understand his disability doesn’t need to be fixed as long as he has community. But what do I know? Unlike Bill, I actually watched the movie.
He talked about “Minari” as if the film ends in tragedy, when it’s actually more about a family persevering and binding together in the face of long odds. He talks about “Promising Young Woman” in a similar way, as if it doesn’t end with the image of an ironic winking emoji. He talks about “Nomadland” like it’s asking the audience to feel bad for nomads, when really it pushes you to admire their freedom.
Long story short, Bill didn’t watch the movies he was talking about, and it showed. That being said, who cares if the movies had all been depressing? The Oscars are supposed to be a meritocracy and should honor the films that most reflect the times. A movie incorporating tragedy is not in any way indicative of lesser quality. A film without conflict is hardly a film. Pretending as if the films representing 2020 should be lighthearted and an escape is out of touch. And if even the Oscars make you look out of touch by comparison, it might be time to retire and give up your timeslot. Move aside.
Sam Zavada is a copy editor with The Standard-Speaker in Hazleton. He previously served as the news clerk at The Standard-Speaker, working with the obituaries and the community and lifestyle pages. Sam’s work in print dates back to his time at King’s College, where he spent two years as the editor in chief of the school’s newspaper, The Crown. Earlier in his time with The Crown, he worked as a staff writer and the entertainment manager. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.