Tough times have had an inverse impact at the movie box office. Relatively inexpensive escapism has led to record revenue for Hollywood. On Sunday, it also translated to the best ratings in five years for the Academy Awards.
But at least for the top three films vying for Best Picture -- "Avatar," with its blue characters and green themes; "Up in the Air," with its pitch-perfect portrayal of the Great Recession's crushing corporate layoffs, and "The Hurt Locker," the first film about the Iraq war to break through culturally, if not commercially -- the escapism touched upon the very reality that many may be trying to forget over two hours and a box of popcorn.
Especially when compared with the ripped-from-the-headlines timing of "Up in the Air," there was a long gap between the beginning of the Iraq war and "The Hurt Locker." Just as with other war films that won the best-picture Oscar, it seems society often isn't ready to watch on the big screen the horrors they have watched in news film footage.
In 1978, after Vietnam vets had long since come home, "Coming Home," a story about lives shattered by the war, lost to the similarly themed "The Deer Hunter."
Vietnam, of course, was a war that divided the nation, as opposed to World War II, which united it. But even the Greatest Generation seemed wary of war films glorifying battle. And so it was a few years after most of the boys came home that "The Best Years of Our Lives," about three GIs' postwar struggles, won in 1946.
To be sure, there were other World War II films that were more in the genre of John Wayne, or in the case of 1970 Oscar winner "Patton," George C. Scott. "Patton" beat out a film about "the forgotten war," "M*A*S*H," which was really an anti-Vietnam film set during the Korean War.
The Academy Awards (let alone mass-market movies) weren't around during World War I. So it wasn't until 1930 that a grim film about how brave boys became broken men after trench warfare, "All Quiet on the Western Front," became the first "talkie" to win.
As for the war in Afghanistan, so far there are no Oscar winners and no significant cinema. And given the gap between what we see on the small screen and what we'll watch on the big screen, don't expect a best-picture nomination, let alone an award, for a decade or so.