The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

« Previous Post | The Big Picture Home | Next Post »

Worst Oscar trend story of the week: Grim movies are George Bush's fault


Having voted against the man twice and popped the bubbly when he left Washington, I'm probably an unlikely defender of George W. Bush. But even as a die-hard lefty, I was appalled by the sheer dim-wittedness of Newsweek's Ramin Setoodeh's current post, entitled "Apocalypse Now," which heaps the blame for this year's crop of grim, downbeat movies on our former president.

After complaining about having the distressing experience of sitting through "The Road," and admitting that he found the Coen brothers' "A Serious Man" so depressing that he walked out in the middle of the movie (meaning he missed the funniest rabbinical scenes of all), Setoodeh writes:

"You can blame Hollywood's gloom and doom on the Oscars, but I'm not going to. Instead, I think it's George W. Bush's fault. Most liberal directors felt restless under his presidency, and they pushed the envelope with over-the-top, operatic tragedies. From 1997 to 2000, during Bill Clinton's second term, 20% of the best picture nominees were comedies.... During Bush's second term, the Academy only nominated two comedies -- 'Juno' and 'Little Miss Sunshine' -- for best picture, and roughly three fourths of all the films fixated on death."

To say this is an incredibly hapless way of making a case against Bush would be an understatement. For starters, if Setoodeh picked movies from Bush and Clinton's first terms, the numbers would be far different, so his methodology is undercut right off the bat. And if conservative presidents really inspired angst and despondency from liberal directors, then why wouldn't Hollywood have been full of gloom and doom during Ronald Reagan's reign, instead of gushing with such upbeat, inspirational and occasionally comic fare as "Top Gun," "E.T.," "Tootsie," "Gandhi," "Amadeus," "Hannah and Her Sisters," "Moonstruck," "Driving Miss Daisy" and "Broadcast News" (all of them, except for "Top Gun," best picture nominees, by the way).

Of course, when it comes to making a case for dreary movies, picking the year's Oscar crop has little to do with reality, since the Oscars -- while generating lots of advertising money for newspapers and the trades -- have little do with American moviegoing habits, since films like "Transformers," "Harry Potter," 2012" and "The Twilight Saga: New Moon," while hardly Oscar contenders, will be seen by far more moviegoers than all of the ultimate Oscar best picture nominees combined.

Anyway, I know a few liberal directors and I can assure you that they weren't thinking about all their beefs with George W. Bush when they decided to make a downbeat movie. You can blame Bush for anything you want, but I can guarantee you that it's just as likely that Martin Scorsese would've made "The Departed" and Paul Thomas Anderson would've made "There Will Be Blood" and the Coen brothers would've made "No Country for Old Men" if John Kerry or Conan O'Brien had been sitting in the Oval Office (not to say that I couldn't tell 'em apart, since -- let's face it -- Conan's speeches are a lot funnier). 

Filmmakers are like all artists. They're often attracted to dark, somber material -- it's where the drama is. Digging down deep inspires their best work, which is why Clint Eastwood will forever be known for "The Outlaw Josey Wales," "Unforgiven" and "Million Dollar Baby," not "Bronco Billy." Filmmakers don't look at whose picture is on the post office wall for inspiration. They respond to what's in the zeitgeist or what's in their gut, not who's in the White House. If you want to denounce someone for inspiring depressing movies, curse the morons who flew the jets into the Twin Towers. If you're really worried about why our movies have been downers in recent years, you'd have a lot more luck assessing the emotional fallout from 9/11 instead of pointing fingers at George Bush. You can hate him all you want for twiddling his fingers while the planet kept filling up with carbon dioxide, but don't blame him for "The Road."

Photo of George W. Bush by Ron Edmonds / Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (8)

The comments to this entry are closed.

thanks, Newsweek make's the lefties sound sillier than they actually have become. I read their "if Gore had won" wet dream story and wanted to puke.

I think this is part and parcel with the Time article on how the 2000's were the most depressing decade. Face it, Patrick, it was, and for 8 of those years, Bush was in charge. Even for the past year, it's been more about Obama dealing with the mess he made than moving his own agenda forward. The president has an overall affect on the zeitgeist, since it is his policy that trickles down to ordinary lives, be they our image in the world, or economic policies. I'm not saying any filmmaker is sitting around saying "I'm making this movie because Bush was a lousy president" (was/is, since most of the movies this year was started last year, when Bush was still president), but a sensitive artist probably couldn't help but be deeply influenced by events going on around them, even if it's in an unintentional, intuitive way. Ironically, the one filmmaker one would think would be most critical, wasn't: Oliver Stone made the rather rah rah "World Trade Center", a toothless, wildly upbeat look at 9/11.

Actually they were not morons but religious fanatics who flew into the twin towers.However it was the super moron Bush who started the ridiculous war in Iraq which not only killed & maimed so many US soldiers but also left many of them psychologically damaged - this does not include the hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis who suffered in the same manner. His insane reasoning to start a war has scarred many not just here in the States but all over the world.Hollywood has been making films bringing to light the results of Bush's war only in the last couple of years.Before that film makers feared they would appear unpatriotic as Bush & his gangsters had frightened people into a 'either being with us or against us' mentality.Sadly not many people choose to go see these films & prefer the gross out sophomoric comedies or slasher films. Though people want to forget about Bush to this day we are still paying for his wars & mistakes.You are fortunate to have 'popped the bubbly' to celebrate the end of Bush's reign.For those who lost family & friends because of his actions there is no reason to celebrate.

Well said. Not the biggest fan of the former Prez, but when you start blaming everything, including the rising price of rice in China on him, you know you're so blinded by ideology that you can't see straight. The man has been out of office for a year, just, you know, let it go.

Well said! If you want to see truly doom-and-gloom movies inspired by the times, just wait until the Obama-era films are assessed years from now. Perhaps even Hollywood will make films about the anger that is growing in this country, which may produce a political tsunami that engulfs Washington and State capitals from the Atlantic to the Pacific. We ain't seen nothing yet!

I'll give the author of the Newsweek piece the benefit of the doubt and say that perhaps in his mind he was thinking more about zeitgeist and not Bush specifically. Bush, like any other President, are as much symbolic figureheads as they are leaders, and "Bush" was shorthand for "messed up situation in the country."

Personally, I enjoyed the 2000s. Made a ton of money, married a wonderful woman, and my business had its best year ever in 09. I was looking forward to a good 'ol fashioned protest over The One's escalation in Afghanistan, but I guess all you liberals were at the multiplex watching a gloomy movie inspired by the evil George W.

Sounds like that idiot director OLIVER STONE who blamed everyone but his lousy directing for his putrid movie ALEXANDER and W proving he is one of hollywoods worse directors like ED WOOD Jr,RAY D STECKLER,BURT I. GORDON,OTTO PREMINGER,


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...

Stay Connected:

About the Bloggers



Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: