Earlier today Variety‘s 12.7 Tim Gray posted a piece called “After a Tough 2016, Is Oscar Ready for an Upbeat Winner?” The gist is that things are so dark and gloomy now that Academy and guild members will be more inclined to vote for smart mood elevators like Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion and Sully than more solemn, sad-hearted films like Fences and Manchester By The Sea. (Gray tries to spread the blame around but we all know that the primary reason for blue-state despair and depression is the imminent authoritarian robber-baron regime of Donald J. Trump.) When I hear people say that they want to see something happy because current events are so dark, I want to throw up. This is what the lightweights were saying in the early to mid ’70s in the wake of the Vietnam War, Watergate, the Nixon resignation — “Ohh, we feel so gloomy! The movies need to save us by making us laugh and cheer again!” One of the most deplorable ad slogans in this vein (and actually one of the most repellent slogans of all time) was the one for That’s Entertainment!, to wit: “Boy, do we need it now!”
Incidentally: La La Land is not an upbeat thing, per se — it’s a musical love story, yes, but it’s mostly about struggle, rejection, creative frustration, feelings of futility, etc. It has some gloriously happy moments and one of the greatest endings of any musical ever, but it’s mainly about things being damn hard for striving artists and about how love doesn’t necessarily work out, even between a guy and a girl who are seemingly made for each other.
And Fences isn’t much of an upper either. It’s basically about a family living in a kind of prison, and about the terms of that sentence along with certain protests and negotiations.