It's Oscar time. Unfortunately -- or perhaps fortunately -- I haven't seen anywhere near all of the contenders. For that reason alone, I can't write an Oscar column. Throw in the fact that I think the Oscars are one of the most overhyped events in American life. They're almost as bad as the Grammys were when they were still around.
Wait, they still have those? Really?
OK, well, the Oscars are still overrated.
But I do love movies, and I'm fascinated by what they say about American life. Of course, movies don't always reflect or articulate what moviegoers are thinking. Often they merely express what Hollywood thinks Americans are thinking or what Hollywood thinks they should believe.
For instance, over the last decade, Hollywood unleashed a stream of high-profile films directly or indirectly about the war in Iraq. Nearly all of the polemical antiwar films bombed. Robert Redford & Co. were desperate to remake "Coming Home" and other antiwar films, but Americans weren't interested. The few war movies that did well pretty much avoided the sort of preachy jeremiads you'd expect to hear at Susan Sarandon's book club. For instance, "The Hurt Locker" -- nominated for Best Picture -- largely ignores the debate over the war and instead tells a gripping story about our troops' heroism. "The Kingdom," another war-on-terror movie, was a hit despite the best intentions of director Peter Berg, who wanted it to be a parable about the cycle of violence. It succeeded because it was good action movie that depicted Americans as heroes.
It's a bit funny, then, to hear some people claim that "Avatar," with its cartoonish environmentalism and hackneyed attacks on the military and those evil corporations, is proof that Americans love serious left-wing preaching with their popcorn. "For years," writes Patrick Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times, "pundits and bloggers on the right have ceaselessly attacked liberal Hollywood for being out of touch with rank and file moviegoers, complaining that executives and filmmakers continue to make films that have precious little resonance with Middle America." The last laugh is on them, cackles Goldstein, because "Avatar" "totally turns this theory on its head."