In Battle of Oscar Heavyweights, Here’s a Vote for Lightweights

Guest Blog: A movie shouldn't have to make a Big Statement About Humanity, so maybe we should lighten up a little

Awards season means two things to me – stars projecting humility while wearing clothes
worth more than the gross national product of small countries and nominees that I’ll never see.

"Lincoln," "The Master," "Rust & Bone," "Amour," "The Sessions," "Zero Dark Thirty" – these are films, not movies, making serious statements about serious things. Seriously. The performances are committed, nuanced and brave. These films will broaden my mind and teach me more about the human condition. Which would fantastic except that I will never see these films because I’m a moviegoer.

This past year, I’ve enjoyed a buffet of randomness that never failed to satisfy me, all of which fell squarely in the movie category. I didn’t stop smiling for the entire hour and 52 minutes of "Pitch Perfect." I fell in love with Wes Anderson’s latest universe, "Moonrise Kingdom." I laughed through "Ted" and "21 Jump Street."

I was surprised in one way by "Safety Not Guaranteed" and in another by "Take This Waltz." I’m still thinking about "Kumare" and "Magic Mike," for entirely different reasons. I was charmed by "Salmon Fishing in Yemen" and caught off guard by "Bachelorette."

These movies don’t deal with life and death or make Big Statements About Humanity. They’re generally made with one pure purpose – to entertain (and possibly rate a sequel). Yet at the same time, some of them delivered a strong performance by an exciting new actor or a more nuanced performance from a known one. There were unexpectedly well-crafted stories and clever screenplays that have stayed with me, without being attached to a superstar writer or a legendary director. But few of the hundreds of people involved with any of these movies will be nominated for anything. Some will console themselves in their money/meditation rooms while other will redirect their work to become serious enough to merit future recognition.

The entertainment world shouldn’t be divided between “what’s good for you” and “what’s fun.” TV certainly isn’t. But when it comes to awards, the demarcation line is as solid and impenetrable as any prison wall. It’s nearly impossible to merit serious consideration if you’ve earned too much at the box office by providing "light" fare.

Among the award show favorites, I’m interested in "Argo," "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Django Unchained" because they manage to straddle the line between good for me and entertainment. But many of the other nominees are the visual equivalent of wheat grass. I understand and appreciate their benefits, but I just can’t get them down. I do enough work; being entertained shouldn’t feel like it too.

Awards shows always remind me of "Sullivan’s Travels" by Preston Sturges. Buffered by his safe L.A. existence, director John L. Sullivan wants to make a movie that’s “a commentary on modern conditions…a true canvas of the suffering of humanity.”

Through his misadventures, he winds up a prisoner in a chain gang whose sole refuge is a weekly cartoon showing and he realizes that “there’s a lot to be said for making people laugh. Did you know that that's all some people have? It isn't much, but it's better than nothing in this cockeyed caravan.”

While I appreciate the challenge the Serious Films present to actors and directors, I wish they weren’t such a challenge for the audience.

I’ve experienced the collective catharsis in crying together but I emerged rejuvenated by the buoyancy of sharing laughter. Humor, or a lack of life or death pathos, in a movie shouldn’t exempt it from recognition nor should it be judged as the lesser art. It wouldn’t hurt anyone of us to lighten up.