Friday, February 10, 2012

Why Contagion Didn't Get an Oscar Nod

With the Academy Awards approaching, I'm wrapping up my yearly quest to see as many of the movies nominated for Best Picture as possible before the show. Working my way through the list of nominated movies, I enjoyed the clever film The Artist, even though I was initially loathe to watch a French silent film about actors set during the Depression.

But this year's Oscar nominations have been frustrating for me as well, because I thought that Contagion would be nominated for Best Picture or for another major Academy award. Hollywood politics no doubt played a part in the nominations. But I wonder whether the Academy's passover of Contagion comes from a more primal place.

Contagion, which I saw in the fall, was a very difficult movie to watch. Although the script sometimes veered into science lecture territory, in general the movie seemed realistic and frightening as it documented how quickly a lethal virus could spread worldwide.

For me, the movie brought up fresh memories of the 2009 swine flu (H1N1) pandemic. I had been concerned about swine flu, not panicked about it, and mostly allayed my fears by passing out bottles of hand sanitizer to family members.

Because my pediatrician did not have access to the new H1N1 vaccine, in the fall of 2009 I took the kids to a local clinic to get vaccinated, waiting in line with other families and seniors. As the line grew and wrapped around the block, a rumor spread that the clinic had run out of the vaccine.

Suddenly, the police showed up, as if they expected the parents and seniors to riot in the street (and do what? Toss sippy cups and canes at them?). Their presence did not calm people down. It just made all of us nervous: what was going on? As it turned out, the clinic did have enough vaccine, and after waiting several hours in line, the kids got their shots. But the edginess in the line, and in the city, was real.

Now, many of us don't think much about the possibility of another influenza pandemic, until a movie like Contagion is released. Or until researchers are asked to suspend their work on developing a flu strain that is considered a biosecurity threat, as happened earlier this year.

Everyone's a little jumpy these days. Maybe even Hollywood, whose idea of entertainment includes a mother in a coma (The Descendants) and an actor in a downward spiral (The Artist), finds a movie about a global pandemic a bit too disturbing.

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