You will probably never hear Michael or me say, "We only use movies as an escape." We enjoy comfort movies and "veg out" movies as much as the next person, although we tend to be a little picky about what we'll accept in those categories. We don't do horror, gratuitous violence, or comedies whose target audience is 14-year-old boys. (EDIT: We do watch comedies, just not the juvenile ones.)
However, for us, watching nothing but escapist movies would feel like living on a diet of only Big Macs and cotton candy. Our aesthetic side would start to feel flabby. We like to watch movies that challenge us once in a while. We especially like movies that develop the psychology of characters. If they do so while tackling an important historic issue, all the better.
One of the best serious movies that we've seen in recent years was the German movie The Lives of Others, which won the academy award for Best Foreign Language Picture in 2007 (awarded for movies made in 2006). We first saw it more than a year ago, but I've been thinking about it again because I recently bought it on DVD. We've watched it recently and listened to the commentary, and I am so glad we've added this to our collection.
The movie is set in East Germany in 1984. It shows how the Stasi, the state police, spied on citizens it suspected of being dissidents and how it coerced many people into informing on each other. The central character of the film is a Stasi officer who is assigned to eavesdrop on a playwright and his actress girlfriend. This officer has never really been exposed to art before, and as he spies on the couple, he slowly begins to change, partially because of the emotional power of art and partially because of their relationship. The situation portrayed turns out tragically, and yet it is a tragedy that produces grace and hope for two of the characters. Seeing the film again, I found it even more moving than I did the first time.
The writer / director did extensive research, and the historical accuracy of the film is superb. The movie is an incredibly powerful portrayal of what oppressive dictatorship does to the people who live under it. If anyone thinks that it's no big deal to have our government spying on U.S. citizens with warrantless wiretapping, I would suggest that they watch this film to see exactly where that kind of violation of privacy can lead.
If you like historical / psychological movies and you missed this one, check it out. It will make you think, and the characters will haunt you long after the closing credits.