Each and every ceremony the Academy Awards offers up not only the ‘greatest’ films of the previous year but also the most ‘important’, ‘progressive’ and ‘topical’ ones too, creating a diverse list of ten Best Picture nominees that sometimes do and often don’t represent the best films on offer. The 2022 offerings are largely on point, with The Power of the Dog earning its pioneering spot along with CODA, Drive My Car and Dune, but as always there’s one ugly duckling among the crowd.
This year’s ‘topical’ pick comes from the Academy’s resident comedian Adam McKay who has become known for transforming tricky topics into digestible Oscar bait lined with light humour, with the financial drama The Big Short and presidential tale Vice illustrating such successes. His latest effort, Don’t Look Up seems lifted from the diary of a cynical teenager who thinks their damning opinion on social media and popular culture is unique and revolutionary.
Stuffed with Hollywood fodder including Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Jonah Hill, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet, Ariana Grande and Cate Blanchett, Don’t Look Up becomes a flipbook of trivial celebrities that disintegrates under the bloat of its own self-importance. Purporting to be a righteous critical examination on the folly of modern society, in being unable to grasp a handle on its own satire, McKay’s film instead becomes something far more fatalistic and pointless
The elephant in the room of McKay’s dramatic comedy is the impending impact of a catastrophic meteorite that has the capability of destroying all life on earth unless it is appropriately dealt with. Primed to fire nuclear weapons at the hurtling boulder to knock it off course, the plan is hastily called off when Mark Rylance’s Elon Musk caricature realises the financial potential of harvesting the rich cosmic minerals nestled within the rock’s core. Does this existential threat suddenly become a matter of financial gain, sound familiar?
The problem is Adam McKay’s ‘genius’ comparison simply doesn’t stack up, with the catastrophic and violent impact of a fast-moving meteorite being totally incomparable to the steady degradation of climate change that possesses no major, obvious immediate effects. The director constructs this inappropriate allegory just so he can shift the blame to popular constructs of criticism, from social media to venomous daytime TV to the red-capped movement of Donald Trump.
Taking a similar hard-line against the folly of humanity in the face of the impending danger of climate change is Pixar’s 2008 masterpiece WALL-E, a children’s animation that handles satire with careful nuance. Evacuating earth due to a breakdown of environmental systems, the humans of Pixar’s film flee into space on all-inclusive cruise ships that pander to their every need whilst robots still on the earth’s surface clean up humanity’s mess with more care and emotion than the ignorant, apathetic humans themselves.
Presenting a human dystopia that is fueled by apathy, the cruise ships shuttle human’s around on personalised reclining chairs whilst offering every consumer need at the very touch of a button. Though the vibrant imagery emblazons the film’s clear message, the satire itself is gracefully veiled, with humans allowing their lives to become blissfully automated in constant escape from the harsh truth of true life on earth.
Whilst Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up is bitter and arrogant in its assessment of modern life, it wallows in the ‘hilarity’ of its own hopelessness, offering no alternative and no hope against the stupidity of modern consumerism. As great films like Network, Dr Strangelove and WALL-E demonstrate, satire should be sharp, direct and thought-provoking, providing a rousing solution for change embedded within a gripping narrative.
What is Don’t Look Up but a desperate bulge of wispy ideas, hopelessly screaming for attention only to offer hot air when you finally heed its call.