Here’s a pop quiz for you. What are the common denominators for some of the movies that came out in 2020 & 2021, including many that are nominated for the 2021 Academy Awards?
Let me give you a hint: this question has more than one answer.
#1: all of these movies were made – written, produced, directed, the whole nine yards – before anyone ever saw the coronavirus pandemic coming.
#2: the shuttering of movie theaters around the world over the last year prevented millions of moviegoers from watching these movies on a big screen.
#3: obviously without ever intending to do so, more than a few of these movies somehow manage to mirror our current global emergency.
#4: the best of these movies are about personal odysseys. They’re about humanity tested to the limit, about the quest to triumph over trauma, about how to be the hero of your own life. And in that respect, they reflect – eerily and prophetically — how all of us are struggling to survive the pandemic with our spirits, souls, and sanity intact.
In short, the best of these movies do what the best movies have always done. Even if unwittingly, they somehow meet the moment.
Take 2021 Oscars nominee Nomadland
A woman in her 60s (Frances McDormand) loses her husband and her home. The manufacturing plant in town, the heart of its economy, closes down, causing the post office to take away its zip code as if the place has officially ceased to exist. She’s lost everything that mattered in her life. She sets out on the road in a van.
Heartbreaking, right? The worst predicament imaginable. What would you do? Nomadland forces you to imagine what would happen. But guess what? She discovers that beauty can happen. She comes across a community of other lost souls and embraces her new home. She was lost, but now she’s found.
The parallels to our own current nightmare are unmistakable. The pandemic has left millions of us hurting – jobless, scared, sick, bankrupt, lonely grieving, looking over our shoulder for the virus on our trail. We, too, feel lost. And yet we’re hanging tight. We’re looking after each other. We’re managing to pull through. We, too, are finding ourselves.
The same goes for the Oscar-nominated masterpiece The Sound of Metal
A drummer in a heavy-metal band is suddenly losing his hearing. What could be worse for any musician? How can he keep a beat unless he can hear his bandmates playing? He fights to get his life back, but to no avail. Then he realizes the newfound silence might be better. He finds peace.
In doing so, he practices the fine art of acceptance, just as the pandemic has forced so many of us to do. The plague is an undeniable fact of life, so we’ve had to make do. We’ve marooned ourselves in solitary confinement. We’ve kept our distance even from those dearest to us. We’ve navigated government websites to schedule our shots.
And just as the drummer does, we recognize not only what we have lost but also what we still have left – our appetite for life, our devotion to each other, our dreams about a better future. We see how our limitations are limited, how our losses can bring gains. Like Nomadland, The Sound of Metal shows us that it’s okay for us to be forever changed by something completely unexpected and that we can be better for it.
I could go on with other examples. I could rhapsodize about all the movies that bowled me over in 2020 – Promising Young Woman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Minari, Hillbilly Elegy, Soul, The Croods: A New Age, On The Rocks, Judas and the Black Messiah, My Octopus Teacher, Trial of Chicago 7, The Forty-Year-Old Version, Da 5 Bloods, The Collective, Time, The Father.
I’m in the movie business, but movies are so much more than a business to me. I’m a fan at heart.
And if I’m really getting deep, I can further trace the similarities between all these insanely creative movies and the pathogen that has now killed more than three million people worldwide.
But you get the idea here. All this is to say the following. Watch the Academy Awards this year so you can celebrate a year of movies like no other. Then check out these movies for yourself. And go see these movies in an actual movie theater, because increasingly you’re free to do just that (and it’s much better in theaters).
Don’t just stop there. Do what I’m doing here. Praise these movies to the heavens to your friends and your family. Because movies matter more than ever. Just as movies took us through the Great Depression, World War II, and 9/11, they’re getting us through the pandemic.
So hooray for Hollywood!
The best movies are an escape but also an entrance, taking us out of our own heads while leading us back home to ourselves. Just as they show us heroes, they make us believe that we, too, can be heroes. They vaccinate us with a resilience that’s nothing less than miraculous.
Michelle Ross is CEO of Vision Media, a company that is at the forefront of today’s digital transformation in media and entertainment, powering cutting-edge, new media technologies and personalized, virtual theatrical experiences for the most discerning global brands,
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