The best pictures of the past year, taken as a lot, are an incredible assemblage of cinematic excellence, deep social concern and an abiding, non-saccharin optimism.
In this context, the most poignant award presented Sunday night went for the Best Documentary Film to “Citizenfour.” This is downright shocking, in a good way, and should signal to the powers-that-be that the best sensibilities of literate America are beginning to aim their formidable resources in a very interesting direction.
Maybe for the snobbish professional critics of the “sin-e-mah” this doesn’t mean anything, but they seldom matter for anything in terms of the real world.
But the documentary award was brazenly given to a film that touts the efforts of Edward Snowden and his collaborators to unravel to the covert world of the Big Brother octopus, a frightening and hideous kraken, that has been allowed to entangle itself into the pours of society in the dark, in the name of “national security.”
Snowden, whom many of the architects of this creature of a Brave New Fascist World call a traitor and worthy of death, was elevated by the Academy Awards people as a national hero, for crying out loud.
Some may say this was done for the purpose of defusing the Snowden effect by absorbing, swallowing it up, as it were, into the existing social fabric. But if so, it was done as a rear-guard action, to tame the impact of the revelations that have come forth. The kraken remains alive and well in the meantime.
But that is a cynical view that I chose to reject this time. Put it together with the other great films of this year – in particular “Selma,” “The Imitation Game,” “The Theory of Everything,” “Still Alice,” “Boyhood,” among other outstanding achievements – and their roaring social sensibilities, and you have a collective offering that is a cause for hope.
It is also played out in the rejection of the film, “American Sniper,” which was treated as just another movie glamorizing war, as it turned out, and although nominated for Best Picture at an earlier stage in the process, was virtually shut out in the voting.
No, this is not a time for touting war, even with its ugliness as a bi-product. It is also not a time for fantasy or science fiction. No more hobbits or Mr. Vaders for now, as entertaining as those were in an earlier time.
It is a time for taking reality by the horns, for substituting science (as in the remarkable stories of the wisest physicist of our age, Stephen Hawking, and Alan Turing, who is widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence) for science fiction, and for presenting us with painful, unfiltered images challenging us to find scientific cures for Alzheimer’s and ALS.
We’re offered a different way of winning a war, not by macho battlefield assassins, but by a nerdy scientist, a homosexual who, according to the closing credits, is estimated to have saved (not taken, but saved) 14 million lives and shortened World War II by four years through his ability to crack the Nazi code.
We’re given a glance into our nation’s own recent history, when proud legions of African-Americans led by the immortal Dr. Martin Luther King, stood up against brutal prejudice and its angry, violent force to cross that bridge in Selma, Alabama, just 50 years ago. Just 50 years! Can you believe it?
Some will argue that all the problems addressed in these mighty films are still with us: incurable disease, wars and their perpetual mongers, cruel anti-homosexual prejudice and persistent racism. But we’re not where we were on that day in Selma, on any of those fronts.
Those who can’t see the progress that has occurred cannot bring out the best in themselves to play it forward now.
This year’s best movies have exhibited the power to stir us toward a better tomorrow, and to wrest from the gnarled hands of the elites who are trying to install a new totalitarianism with a force such as they have never imagined.