During the Great Depression, Hollywood served up plenty of comedies and musicals about wacky heiresses with too much money, but also movies about hard-luck folks whose meager means forced them to take desperate measures. The '70s gave us Jaws and Star Wars, but also a slew of gritty dramas about urban society in crisis. (Think Pacino, De Niro.) Come the millennium, and Hollywood put its contemporary social conscience in mothballs. Never have a decade's movies been so unconnected to what actually happened. And lots happened, if you think about it. But the industry didn't want to: it took refuge in fantasy, in domestic or apocalyptic dream scenarios, hardly addressing issues of terrorism, war, systemic corruption and a worldwide bank collapse. If movies got serious about a social issue, it was usually at a safe remove. Consider last year's Oscar contenders Milk, Frost/Nixon and Doubt. They dealt with gay rights, political corruption and race relations and pedophilia, but were set in the '60s and '70s, allowing troubling questions of conscience to be wrapped in nostalgia.
And when a few movies tried to explain the impact of America's wars on its citizens, audiences stayed away. The only film about the Iraq war to find public appeal was Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, a must-see polemic during the 2004 Presidential campaign. (Milk, Frost/Nixon and Doubt all flopped too.) Then, at the very end of the decade, two movies that connected with modern American reality made some noise; the bombs-in-Baghdad thriller The Hurt Locker and the job-loss comedy-drama Up in the Air. At the moment they are favorites for the top Oscar next March; but neither so far has exactly wowed the mass audience.
Next We'll Take Bromance