And the award for the most depressing film goes to… Why this year’s Oscars shortlist won’t make you feel any better about 2021

Dementia, homelessness, Guantanamo Bay – this year’s Academy Award contenders are not exactly a barrel of laughs. So, wonders Gemma White, where’s the escapism?

'Nomadland', 'Promising Young Woman' and 'The Father' are all tipped for Oscar nominations come March 15, but they're not for those seeking easy-watching escapist entertainment. AP
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In June last year, Twitter user @bocxtop effectively captured the general global mood by tweeting: “Back in 2014, Happy by Pharrell spent 10 weeks at number one. Could you imagine if he dropped that song now?? He would get 3 streams and a cease and desist letter from society.”

Now, a full year into the pandemic, a cease and desist letter would not go far enough in quashing such unadulterated joy. These days, we'd be looking at divorcing Pharrell on the grounds of cruel and abusive treatment.

Blame it on the zeitgeist, but everything non-streamer-related the entertainment industry has put out over the past year has been low-fi to the point of paralysis, and moody to the point of a teenager whose had their TikTok privileges revoked.

We didn't get a bop from Taylor Swift this year, but rather some sepia-tinged, cottagecore musings about her being like a cardigan, or at the very least a home-knitted house coat. Even the usually top tune-reliant Justin Bieber was found to be in similar navel-gazing territory, pontificating alongside Shawn Mendes on whether being catapulted on to the world's stage at 15 turned him into some kind of fame monster.

Although the Monday, March 15 Oscar nominations announcement is still a month away, by now we pretty much know what's going to make the cut. And make no mistake, no Judy or Bohemian Rhapsody is going to come bursting through a glitter curtain at the eleventh hour to save us all from this dour – though undeniably worthy – collection of films that will have you reaching for your tissues instead of popcorn.

This year's Oscar nominations will likely not feature any light entertainment films in the vein of 'La la Land'. Courtesy of Lionsgate
This year's Oscar nominations will likely not feature any light entertainment films in the vein of 'La la Land'. Courtesy of Lionsgate

This year, as Hollywood attempts to reflect the way we live now right back at us, there is nothing on the slate that might be considered even vague escapism. Even Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is aggressively uncomfortable.

There's Nomadland, which will likely (deservedly) win Frances McDormand her third Oscar, in which a woman loses her job and sets up home in a trailer park, along with a host of other disenfranchised "nomads" – but not the trendy, Gen Z, digital kind.

There's Pieces of a Woman, in which The Crown's Vanessa Kirby's home birth goes tragically wrong. In The Father, Anthony Hopkins descends into dementia, while Promising Young Woman has become a warning for every promising young man.

Then there's The Mauritanian, a true story focusing on the relentlessly grim realities of a man falsely imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay.

For the 2021 Academy Awards, there is no La La Land. No Black Panther. No Bohemian Rhapsody, no Toy Story 4

There is a Parasite, except it's not actually a film, it's all of us, it's our reality and we're all just living in Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk's basement.

But it hasn't always been the case that hard times deserve hard films. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Hollywood had this idea that people might want cheering up when the family farm got repossessed after locusts ate the season's crops. That's why we got the jazz hands-fest of 42nd Street, the ruby-slippered joy of The Wizard of Oz, and the ground-breaking King Kong.

This is because sometimes, hard times are made a little better with some pie in the sky. Or, as Mary Poppins once put it: "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down".

But hey, at least we'll have Hamilton… Except, oh no, sorry, the Academy deemed the Tony Award winner ineligible seeing as it isn't technically a film.

Sorry folks, this year, if you want a side helping of escapism with your pandemic, you're not getting it from the Oscars. Best seek it elsewhere, perhaps from the likes of Doja Cat, Dua Lipa and Bridgerton's Duke of Hastings.

Especially him.