Someone recently asked me a question that went something like this: “I was surprised by the awards for The Hurt Locker, which I thought was a very good film but not award-winning compared to Avatar. Maybe you can educate me on the finer points of directing so that I can see why Kathryn Bigelow’s work is more worthy than the five years of incredible work that James Cameron put in on a film that is one of the most amazing technical accomplishments in film I have ever seen. I realize that “technology” doesn’t mean everything, but the fact that Cameron could even pull something like this together and make a film that almost defies belief gives it a nod above The Hurt Locker for me.”
That’s a lot to address.
Actually, I was a little late to the Oscar party because I was in London during much of the build-up and actual telecast so missed the hoopla but didn’t really miss it if you know what I mean. The excessive coverage seems like a bit of overkill in the run up to the ceremony.
This is the first year I’ve been asked to pick likely winners publicly (by the Winston-Salem Journal — http://www2.journalnow.com/content/2010/mar/04/032110/top-ten/), and I actually got the major categories right. I went strictly with my instincts about what would win, and this year it was not as close a call to me as it is many years. Still, since my track record selecting winners is spotty at best, I was surprised that there wasn’t at least one unsuspected winner called to the stage to accept an Oscar.
If I were a member of the Academy, I would have voted for the winners except the Sandra Bullock role. Although I appreciated several performances in the category and could make a case for several above Bullock, I didn’t feel strongly about one particular performance nominated for Best Actress this year.
But, back to the central question to consider why The Hurt Locker beat Avatar for the Best Picture statuette. Well, I will concede that Avatar is an amazing technical achievement (but so was Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace — and remember the annoying Jar Jar Binks?). The technical accomplishments and visual style do not mean that it is a film voters believe will have lasting value aside from the technical leap forward.
You might ask if that leap forward isn’t enough, but it would be hard to choose a film that has spawned so many jokes about its simplistic and predictable narrative. Many people have called it Dances with Wolves in space (a charge that resonates with me), but my son reminded me that the plot is exactly like an animated film he saw as a child, Ferngully (and I confess that I only vaguely remember that one).
The dialogue is weak and frequently cheesy, many of the characters come across as stock composites or caricatures, and that undermines the originality of the film and its potential for gravitas. The Academy thinks it likes originality, but it really likes gravitas (or, at least, perceived gravitas).
Besides, Jim Cameron has ticked a lot of people off, and it’s those people in the film community who are casting votes!
As for The Hurt Locker, it was one of my two favorite films of the year, so I have little to complain about with the winner this year. I think the Academy was also motivated to honor a woman director because the industry is so male-dominated. Not surprising (or is it?) that the woman to break this particular glass ceiling directs testosterone-driven films.
Honestly, I usually guess wrong when picking the winners and think the Academy often overlooks the best (likely to have lasting value) films in favor of more popular fare. On the other hand, I think selecting ten nominees for Best Picture turned out to be a good move overall. I liked several of the nominated films very much and only wish that Bright Star had knocked out one of the others to claim a nomination of its own. Of the nominated films, however, I think the best film won.
My second choice would have been either Precious: Based on the Novel Push By Sapphire or An Education, but I certainly would have chosen Avatar over Inglourious Basterds!