Oscars: How a big win for 'The Hurt Locker' could change the Academy Awards

Blogging, with apologies to the gods of journalism, is not an exact science, and trying to blog the Academy Awards through the crystal ball of one’s own expectations is really not an exact science. That said, I committed a major blunder in my attempt to size up the Oscar landscape about a month ago. I said that the Best Picture race would come down to a duel between Up in the Air and Avatar – and, what’s more, that the two movies would be competing in a kind of classic Hollywood culture war, with Up in the Air incarnating the entertainment values of the past (the exquisite humanity of great acting and classically clever writing and staging, all employed in a story at once timeless and timely) and Avatar representing the entertainment values of the future (a new kind of sensually intoxicating spectacle, with a technologically driven art so mesmerizing that it may now threaten to make those intimate storytelling virtues irrelevant). The movie I left out of this equation, of course, was The Hurt Locker. But a critic worth his salt always learns from his mistakes, and my prognosticating flub cues me, I believe, to a fascinating lesson.

First of all, the reason I completely dismissed The Hurt Locker from the Best Picture race — I noted, explicitly, that Kathryn Bigelow had a solid shot at taking the Best Director prize — couldn’t have been more basic: In its domestic release, the movie made exactly $12.6 million. No shame in that (some of the great films of our time have made less than $12.6 million), but this is the Academy Awards we’re talking about, not the Village Voice critics’ poll. Simply put: No movie that’s been seen by that small an audience during its domestic run has ever won the Oscar for Best Picture.

To get a bit of perspective, just go back to a year when the award was given to a relatively low-grossing, non-mass-audience, critically endorsed Work Of Cinema. A useful example would be the year that Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor, to the surprise of many, took home the big prize. The movie was released near the end of 1987, and by the time its run was over it had made $44 million — admittedly, a good portion of that after the awards. Nevertheless, adjusting for inflation, that stills makes The Last Emperor the equivalent (at the very least) of a $100 million grossing movie today: a major feat indeed for an aesthetically ravishing, emotionally forbidding art film about the boy ruler of China. And that, just to repeat, is a low-grossing Oscar winner.

It’s worth taking a moment to point out why, for Academy voters, the box office has always been such a crucial factor. The vulgar way to put it would be: Hollywood, in the end, is all about the bottom line, and so a movie that doesn’t “perform” isn’t eligible, according to the industry’s core values, for the most coveted of honors. Yet the eternal mystic paradox of Hollywood, for the last 100 years, has been that there’s a sneaky humanity built into the DNA of its obsession with pleasing a mass audience. Obviously, if it were just about money, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen would be one of the nominees. But the voters have always needed to know that the big movie they’re voting for is popular, because popularity is the spiritual currency of Hollywood’s art. That’s why we call it “pop culture.”

If The Hurt Locker wins this year’s Academy Award for Best Picture, it will in many ways fracture that essential crowd-pleasing code. Sure, the movie swept the critics’ awards, but that’s never been such a dominant criteria for Hollywood. (If it were, the Oscar for Best Picture would likely have gone to GoodFellas, or Nashville, or Pulp Fiction.) To me, it would be fantastic if The Hurt Locker won, because it would effectively redefine the Oscars as an arena where a work of art, its (minor) success driven by critical praise, could compete on a level playing field. (And, of course, the big structural change this year, with 10 Best Picture nominees competing on a ballot that’s weighted more toward plurality than in the past, could have a major influence on the outcome.) If The Hurt Locker wins, it will really be the culmination of a trend that began back in 1996, the year of Fargo and Shine and Secrets & Lies, when the Oscar nominations were, for the first time, dominated by “small” independent releases. Sure, a handful of indie films (like No Country for Old Men) have won Best Picture since, but before doing so they effectively crossed over and became modest mainstream hits.

I’d like to go back to the sole point I made in that earlier, myopic post that I think was accurate. I said that the battle between Up in the Air and Avatar would be the most symbolic Oscar race since Forrest Gump vs. Pulp Fiction back in 1994/1995. (For the record, many of you said that in remembering the contest that way, I’d given The Shawshank Redemption short shrift. But The Shawshank Redemption grossed only $28 million; by the classic Hollywood math I’ve just been discussing, it never really stood a chance.) Okay, Up in the Air, while a respectable hit, didn’t forge quite the emotional connection with a lot of the audience that I’d wanted it to. But even if I did have the wrong movie, I think I had the right point: With The Hurt Locker now having all but vacuumed up the year’s critical acclaim, and with Avatar having just this week become the top-grossing domestic movie of all time, Avatar vs. The Hurt Locker is an awesomely symbolic race (and not just because James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow were once married). It’s a clash of size, values, popularity — of essential notions of What Movie Art Is in the 21st century. A Hurt Locker victory would open the door to a new definition of Oscar glory, a defiant celebration of artistry over commerce. A win for Avatar would be, in its way, a definitive assertion of the same old same old. That’s why, more than in quite a long time, I genuinely hope that Best Picture this year goes to the best picture.

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  • Nix

    Dammit. Now you’ve tipped me over to rooting for Avatar. Sometimes I hate you Gleiberman.

    • Trix

      Huh?

      • fail

        Yeah, Nix that makes no sense. Avatar is certainly a visual masterpiece and a revolutionary film, but that does not make it the best film, and that is what Owen was trying to get at.

      • Dedwarmo

        When I left the theatre after watching Avatar all I could think about was when I could get back to see it again. After watching Hurt Lock, while it was an excellent movie, I went on with my life. There was something about Avatar that got into my head that seven weeks later I still haven’t gotten over. Even if it wasn’t the *best* picture of the year it, for me, was the most memorable and most entertaining.

      • D

        @Dedwarmo, see for me that movie was Up in the Air. I dont know what kind of nonsense Owen is saying “didn’t forge quite the emotional connection with a lot of the audience,” Im 15 and i found it beyond gripping so imo Up in the Air should still be considered a big contender.

    • Mike Wyndham

      “That’s why, more than in quite a long time, I genuinely hope that Best Picture this year goes to the best picture.”

      Me too, that’s why I want AVATAR to win.

      • Jennifer

        Because let’s remember, a silly story, lame dialogue and uneven acting can still equal the Best Picture Of The Year when people get caught up in the EXPERIENCE of it. Even though a movie should be more than just the experience. Well, never mind. Nothing like rewarding cool visuals.

      • Zach

        It already won, when it was called “Dances With Wolves”. And then made into a cartoon called, “Ferngully”. I hope “District 9″ wins, but if not I really hope it goes to “The Hurt Locker”.

      • Gale

        Avatar is a good movie, but it’s not the best picture of the year. Are people really so distracted by admittedly great visuals that they don’t need any more than a cookie cutter story? Judging by the box office, I guess so.

      • yeahhh

        Avatar is not the best picture of the year. Its a great film, but I just don’t understand how so many people think its the best of 2009. I just don’t see it. Can someone please explain how Avatar is better than: The Hurt Locker, Up in the Air, Inglourious Basterds, Up!, District 9 and Precious? I’m baffled.

      • Ceser

        all story lines have something in commen with another. The story is not the only thing that makes a movie good. Visuals are important. The way Avatar stimulates the eye is revalutionary, and attention to every detail trums the rest.

      • Zach

        If I was the screen writers of “Dances with Wolves” and “Ferngully”, I’d sue James Cameron for plagiarism!

    • harry

      HUH!?

    • jared4ever

      I guess you didn’t dumb it down enough for Nix, Owen. He still doesn’t get it.

    • Mac

      Of all the nominees, I liked Up in the Air and Inglorious Basterds the best of the nominees that I’ve seen, which includes The Hurt Locker and Avatar. It’s a UITA is a stodgy pick, but man is it a great movie.

  • Stef

    I find it kind of ridiculous that you feel you can just replace one movie with another in your argument and feel like it says the same thing. It rings completely false. You just want something to compete with Avatar, never stopping to wonder why it remains the constant in the equation. Maybe because it’s -gasp- actually deserving?

    • hc

      Stef, you’re logic and critical thinking skills aren’t welcomed on ew.com. No – I jest. In all honesty, that was the smartest thing I think I’ve ever read on this site – comments or otherwise. In fact, all these comments are pretty good. Kudos to you all! Oh, and I disagree completely with the whole line of argument in this post. Only a dedicated few actually track movie grosses – I think when the larger movie going public reflects on past Oscar winners it’s: ‘A Beautiful Mind’ – arthouse, ‘Lord of the Rings’ – blockbuster, ‘The Departed’ – blockbuster, ‘Schindler’s List’ – arthouse, regardless of final grosses. The Hurt Locker vs. Avatar just continues this arthouse vs. blockbuster paradigm.

      • thin

        There is neither logic nor critical thinking present in that post. For one thing, momentum for Oscar wins often changes in the time between movie releases and the awards ceremony. It’s not Owen Glieberman’s fault that Up In the Air looked to have potential early and has since been eclipsed by The Hurt Locker, nor has he had anything to do with the (apparent) narrowing of the best picture race to it and Avatar. Although I disagree with you on your topic (I don’t think that box office grosses have to actively be tracked for voting to be influenced by them), I credit your post with much more critical analysis and logical thought than Stef’s, which was really just a weakly-camouflaged anti-anything-that’s-not-Avatar post. If she HAD actually employed some critical thinking, she’d have recognized that not only does the author’s original premise still apply, it makes it even more strongly than Up In the Air would have.

    • Kevin

      Uh, no. Heidi Klum is a wonder to behold, but she doesn’t deserve the Nobel Prize… same goes for Avatar winning Best Picture. Though I personally HATED the effects in Avatar (looked like a videogame to me… a well-rendered one, but a videogame none-the-less), I recognize it’s technological relevance. But when you factor in other important aspects of film (acting, writing, emotional involvement), Avatar is a complete failure… what’s worse is that it’s a bloviated failure that thinks it’s more than it actually is. The Hurt Locker deserves Best Picture.

      • Gold Ticket

        Kev, I was amazed by how well suspension of disbelief worked for me with this movie despite all the CGI and how emotive the Na’vi performance capture worked better than magic as well! No problem, if it does not work for some, for for many it does work and is ground-breaking cinema.
        According to the Oscar rules: “An animated feature film is defined as a motion picture with a running time of at least 70 minutes, in which movement and characters’ performances are created using a frame-by-frame technique. In addition, a significant number of the major characters must be animated, and animation must figure in no less than 75 percent of the picture’s running time.”
        But Avatar DOES meet all the requirements of a live-action movie by these rules so unfortunately if you don’t like it, that is not the cinema for you and there is plenty of other live-action movies to see, but your opinion is not professionally backed, by the current rules. I agree too many CGI movies is a bit too much but the odd quality one such as Avatar is an excellent addition and new branch to cinema.
        It must be very tricky comparing these two movies but more measures and qualitatively so suggest to me Avatar is peerless and deserves Best Picture and Best Director.

      • Gold Ticket

        To clear this up:
        “An animated film is any film where everything is animated, and only voices drive the characters. Avatar is a live-action film made from actor’s physical performances. The characters on the screen are doing exactly what the actor did in his performance. People seem to be getting this confused. Everything the actor’s face and body did was translated at close to 100% in photo-real or close to photo real quality, going beyond the uncanny valley, especially with the eyes, which looked fantastic. Toy Story and Up are animated movies because the actor comes in a studio, records lines from a script, and animators take the voices and animate around them. James Cameron used a camera, and a cinematographer, and all the trappings of a live action film for Avatar. He shot the actors performing their part as if it were any other film.” Quote Michael Morse slate.com

      • Kevin

        Gold Ticket, like I said, I recognize Avatar’s technological achievement and it FULLY deserves to win every tech category. But Best Picture means ALL AROUND Best Picture, the movie that combines story, writing, acting, set design, music, camera work, etc. to create an experience that stands above all others. Outside of the visuals and the bravura performance by Zoe Saldana (best “motion capture” performance since Andy Serkis), Avatar has nothing to offer. Simple as that. I would actually rather see Cameron win Best Director (though he wouldn’t deserve it) than Avatar win Best Picture.

      • L.T.

        @GoldTicket If Motion Capture is an Art worthy of being considered live action then Happy FEET with its motion capture penguin tap dancing sequences should be considered live action! go figure!

      • Z

        @ L.T.
        Every character was actually acting in Avatar, not just the feet.

    • keith

      Good reasoning. But he can substitute a different film here because he most likely believes BOTH films are more deserving of Best Picture than Avatar. I agree with him. In fact, there are probably other films he could substitute and I’d agree with him.

      • john

        “GASP” avatar deserving best picture?? That movie, in essence, lacked everything a good movie should have. A script worth talking about, performances that win raves, a story that (without visual dazzles) captivates the audience. Avatar, once stripped of its visual splendors, is only several steps above a film like transformers 2 in the cinematic food chain.

    • thin

      I find it kind of ridiculous that you can’t see that having the best picture momentum shift from Up In the Air to The Hurt Locker only makes his original argument more pointed. It’s one thing to disagree with the author’s hypothesis, and it’s something else entirely to just fight because you don’t like that he doesn’t think Avatar is this year’s best picture.

      • Dude

        Amen

  • Celia

    If The Hurt Locker wins, then it will definitely make the Oscars much more exciting. In the past few years, the award has gone to smaller indie films (i.e. Slumdog Millionaire, Crash, No Country for Old Men) so I think The Hurt Locker has a pretty good chance of winning. However, the only way that will happen is if Avatar wins everything else (technical awards, director,etc.) and then they might give The Hurt Locker the big prize.

    • ruta

      Ugh. Looking at the last 3 Oscar winners makes me go ‘ugh’. None of those movies are actually very good or, at the least, entertaining. What are those voters thinking?

      • Meier

        Those aren’t the last 3 winners – just the last 3 INDIE winners. 2006’s winner was ‘The Departed.’ ‘Crash’ won 2005’s.

      • Celia

        I agree. Some of those winners are surprises. I’ve noticed they usually give the award to the “most talked about” or the most popular film, so this year that would be Avatar.

  • Rahul

    “A Hurt Locker victory would open the door to a new definition of Oscar glory, a defiant celebration of artistry over commerce.” This is a sad. I thought the Academy was supposed to be recognizing artistry above everything.

    • harry

      here here!!!

  • Joseph

    I truly salute you Mr. Gleiberman. A very insightful blog. Thank you. Keep it coming! I’m so filled.

  • %%

    It won’t. If the best picture of a year were actually awarded the Oscar for Best Picture, Titanic would never have even been nominated.

    • steve

      good point

      • KWise

        Exactly. I always hold up Titanic as an example of a horrible film (in terms of writing, lazily-written characters) that inexplicably won best picture. It is no coincidence for me that Cameron is once again on the verge of doing it yet AGAIN. Go Hurt Locker!

    • kim in kentuky

      yup — it wasn’t even nominated for best screenplay – nuf said!

  • vince

    The Hurt Locker, as impressive as it is, should not win Best Pic OR Director. James Cameron deserves to be rewarded for this amazing cinematic achievement, despite how you personally feel about him. Many people are against Avatar because of harsh feelings for Cameron over the strange Titanic backlash. But Titanic was also incredible and very deserving of its awards, like Avatar. Both films have captivated audiences all over the world, not just with its flashy effects, but with a strong central story. Yeah, it’s cliche and has been done before in other formats, but certainly not like this. People resonate with these characters, and by the end of the 3 hour film, you feel like you just experienced what took place, whether it was in 2D or 3D. Cameron is a master at pacing, and he really gave us one hell of film. Avatar is what cinema is all about, and The Hurt Locker will not be held in the same regards years later. Hell, barely anyone’s even seen it yet. I must stress that I’m not saying the film that makes the most money should win the big prize, because that’s not true at all, but in this case, Avatar is deserving. Luckily, the Academy is made up of people who actually work within the film industry, rather than snobby critics like Owen.

    • Paco

      have you seen Hurt Locker? I resonated with those characters and felt I experienced all the stuff they went through just as much as I did with Avatar. Avatar is deserving of all the praise that it has gotten but Im of the opinion that, while it deserves to be nominated for Best Picture, it doesnt deserve to win due to the formulaic nature of its story and cookie-cutter characters. They were very one-dimensional. The men in Hurt Locker have a lot more depth to them, in my opinion which elevates the movie to a higher plane than Avatar.

      • ruta

        gag. “Hurt Locker” sucked. Boring.

      • Sally in Chicago

        Totally agree. I felt like I was there in Iraq with them riding along….it was the tenseness and watching what they went through that was exciting…sort of like a quiet excitement. It had its slow moments, but overall, well directed.

      • Z

        Yeah but that’s pretty much hurt locker. A character study.

      • La

        I wasn’t excited about seeing “The Hurt Locker,” but it blew me away. “Avatar,” on the other hand, bored me to tears. I wanted to walk out halfway through.

      • Ron

        @Paco…you felt like you experienced iraq by watching hurt locker? funny, cuz i was in iraq when i watched hurt locker and it sucked because it didn’t portray anything near or close to what we experience. wow, people are so convinced that this movie is realistic when asked an actual soldier it sucked.

    • Beepela

      It’s funny that you mention the pacing. I found Avatar to be a deeply flawed movie, specifically in the form of poor pacing (nothing happened in the first 90 minutes, and then crazy action for the last 60) and characters that did not feel real. Specifically Sigourney Weaver’s character, which perhaps got a poor edit, but she went from “tough-as-nails” scrapper to gentle hippie with no explanation. That being said, I also hated the Hurt Locker for entirely different reasons, but at least I can recognize that it was a well-executed film, unlike Avatar. Though I know it has no chance now, I’m still rooting for Up in the Air, the best movie I’ve seen this year (although Up was great too, hmmmm….)

    • seattlejohn

      IMO Hurt Locker will probably stand up better over time once people take the time in coming years to check it out on dvd & all this awards hoopla is creating awareness & interest; Avatar seems to be the flavor of the month & will soon wear out its welcome as everybody tries to go 3D to cash in on its financial success…in the long run Avatar will become one of many overproduced spectacles while Hurt Locker will retain its unique & timeless story & appeal; as far as the Oscars I think Hurt Locker will get best director but Avatar will very likely be voted best film

      • Z

        Then why do we remember films like star wars or E.T. and not movies like Anne Hall or Gahndi? Did you think Titanic was flavor of the month? Like it or not Avatar’s gonna stick around with the cultural impact, groundbreaking technology and insane gross. There is a rabid fan base forming which is probably just as large as star war’s, and they’re not gonna forget it and probably won’t let you forget it.

      • ampac

        We don’t remember Annie Hall and Gandhi? Good to know…

      • kudos

        for one thing avatar made crap loads of money cuz it avg around $12.20 per ticket( due to 3d mark up). to put that in perspective TDK would have made 900 million domestic and transformers 2 674 mil. ps star wars is the 2nd most watched film of all time and would have made 2 bil domestic on avatar’s ticket price.

      • Z

        @ ampac
        I was more refering to star wars and E.T. being cultural phenomenoms, and its hard to find someone who hasn’t heard of those films. Ask a random person off the street if they remember Annie Hall and most likely they won’t (not a film critic or anything). It’s not debatable that star wars had a greater effect on our culture then those movies.

    • yeahhh

      Sorry I just cannot agree with you. I guess I would be less upset if James Cameron won best director and Avatar lost instead of the other way around. James Cameron did do a great job. But Kathryn Bigelow did an equal and arguably better job with 1/234234234 the budget. Also I refuse to agree with you when you say, “Avatar has a strong central story.” Been done before so many times. Plus the love story was atrocious! They put no development into it. One second she was showing him the ropes, next minute they are having sex. Oh I’m going to playfully knock my dragon flying thing into yours…. thats about the extent of their relationship being developed. And unobtainum? Really? Couldn’t think of a more creative name? I could continue with things I did not enjoy about Avatar but I think I’ve said enough. This film SHOULD NOT win.

    • D

      No, Avatar is not “what cinema is all about” because no movie captures “what cinema is all about.” I remember hearing that, when first screening Fargo, Gene Siskel turned to Roger Ebert and said “this is why I go to movies.” Others have claimed that Fargo had no business being nominated for Best Picture at all. There will *always* be both epic, crowd-pleasing movies and smaller, grittier movies that make people feel stuff other than just good.

      The one movie that for me this year that was “what cinema was all about” (and again, this is subjective was Almadovar’s Broken Embraces. A beautiful, sometimes silly movie about movies (and not in a Tarantino way)

      I would say you’ve got it exactly backwards about Avatar lasting and Hurt Locker not. Special FX get old, really quick, and within a few years we’ll see Transformers 3D or some other spectacle that makes Avatar look tame by comparison. The 10 Commandments was the Avatar of its day, but just look at some of the other movies released the same year: The Searchers; The Killing; Forbidden Planet; Invasion Of The Body Snatchers; Each one of them a much more interesting movie.

  • joss

    In one way, I’d be very excited if The Hurt Locker won best picture because it’s a deserving film. However, I also worry about what happens if it does win in regard to future Oscar telecasts. With dwindling audience numbers for the Oscars from year to year, there’s a common theory that by putting big pictures in the mix that hopefully an audience will watch. But that audience will want to see those big pictures win. It SHOULD be about the art, but maybe the big thing that a win for The Hurt Locker may change for good might be record low audience numbers in the future until a major network finally gives up the telecast to a cable network.

    • JLI

      But is an Oscar telecast really as important as awarding artistry? I should hope any organization would not alter its award recipients just for ratings.

    • thin

      You can hope that all you want, but that’s exactly why they changed their nomination format, and it’s why (as explained in this article) very low-grossing movies have never won an Oscar. Interpret those facts however you choose.

  • StillwellAngel

    I think Hurt Locker’s numbers will be much improved on the 12 mill before the oscars roll around. Alot of people I know have been going to see it since it’s arrived in more theaters around here the past few weeks.

    • Sally in Chicago

      Where is it????

    • Mary

      It’s on DVD now so the box office number is not going to improve by much since people can watch it at home.

    • Kelsey

      I’d love to know where, exactly, it’s playing theaters. It was around for about fifteen minutes over the summer (thanks, Summit!) and is now on DVD and Blu-Ray.
      So please, tell us where we can see it in theaters now. I would genuinely love to know; I didn’t get to see it in theaters last summer.

      • Brie

        Until yesterday, The Hurt Locker was playing at a second run/arthouse theater in Grand Rapids, MI. My husband and I saw it just a couple of weeks ago. Fantastic and gripping. But it appears to have been replaced by either An Education or Invictus.

  • David

    I just don’t understand why Avatar is continually down played… It may not be successful enough of a film to deserve the oscar, but referring to it as “definitive assertion of the same old same old.” Not that long ago (and still for some) it was smurfs in space, many predicted a financial disaster. The film pushed the envelope in the scope of what it tried to acheive. Maybe it doesn’t deserve the award, but to write it off as derivative? Avatar took cojones to make, and like any work of art, may or may not be successful in what it tried to accomplish. It is frustrating to see this revisionist history describe the movie as some kind of borderline money grab. It isn’t the film you are criticizing, but the intentions of the film maker, and that is where the problem lies, I think…

    • thin

      “Same old same old” refers to the financial success of an Oscar nominee being a determining factor in its (potential) win, not what the movie was about. Bone up on your reading comprehension, please.

      • David

        “a defiant celebration of artistry over commerce”… Once again, an insult to the intentions of the film makers, with the insinuation that avatar was a commercial venture, not an artistic one. Frankly, you suck.

      • David

        And I am well aware that all films are commercial ventures, if they weren’t they wouldn’t release them. Cameron refused to make the movie until it could be made the way he envisioned it. If it was a commercial bomb doesn’t effect the validity of his vision as an artistic venture.

      • Z

        Why isn’t art considered art anymore?

      • John

        @Z: Cause elitists hate “successful” art. It has to be small, relatively unknown and entirely dialogue driven with little to no visual style (read: completely minimalist) to be considered legitimate. Trust me, if Hurt Locker had made a ton of money and made Katheryn Bigelow extremely rich, people would HATE it just to be contrary. It was a cool little movie, but you would think it was the second coming of cinema. It is merely a convenient “anti-Avatar” for the snobs.

      • kudos

        well avatar to me isnt art, would you say transformers 2 is art? pandora was nice but no better than a video game world. so no, but the question really is, if avatar was well written and had heath ledger like performance (tdk) would it than be art. ps james should have had a screenwriter write this, he isnt a good writer.

      • Z

        No it wouldn’t, Heath Ledger does not make a movie art (and I hated him in TDK as well as that movie). I’m tired of people comparing Avatar to transformers 2 as well. Avatar used the effects and technology well to draw you into the story and not use it as a gimmick while transformers was just about making the biggest bang. It’s a completely different thing, and I’ll say that Avatar is much more artistic than The Hurt Locker. It’s a great craft of movie entertainment, which is the first concern of a movie anyway.

      • Z

        Also stop comparing it to a video game! What makes it similar to a video game? That its effects are gorgeous? Or are you bashing on video games not having any plot which is obviously false. I’d say a lot of video games have better stories than any movie I’d seen. Assassin’s Creed 2 was intruging and the ending blew me away just as an example.

      • thin

        You’re still getting it wrong, David. “A celebration of artistry over commerce” is not talking about the intent of the filmmakers, it’s talking about the voting motivations of the academy members. Good grief. You don’t need to go scrounging up out-of-context quotes to prove that the author isn’t in favor of Avatar winning best picture, he comes out and says it. That is not, however, what the theme of this article is. It’s about what a foregone conclusion of the winner of this race would have been in the past (and in all likelihood will be the winner this time around as well), and what the significance of an upset would be. There is actually a separation between the author’s personal feelings about the movie and what he discusses here, and if you had the reading comprehension skills to understand that, I wouldn’t need to be explaining it now. I swear, I actually do know a lot of intelligent people who greatly enjoyed Avatar, but you wouldn’t know that they exist by reading the comments that inevitably follow criticism of it in any form here.

      • Z

        @ thin
        And you wouldn’t know of any one who hates avatar actually being polite from this site, although I happen to know a lot of people. That being said, David was throwing his share of insults as well. I just don’t understand why a talk about avatar always comes down to insulting each other.

      • DoctorSubmarine

        @ Z To say that only elitist snobs hate Avatar is to assume that Avatar is actually a good film and that all movie critics, Owen included, are totally illegitimate in their professions. Everything that you said could be flipped around. I could say that anti-Hurt Locker people are using Avatar as a way to argue that Oscar never congratulates successful films.

  • ruta

    One point you are leaving out—the Oscars are not entirely based on what happens at the ‘cinema’ any longer. DVD sales and rentals actually make up more of a film’s profit than an original theatrical run.
    So, in the long run, “The Hurt Locker”, through sheer means of its nominations and possible wins, could go on to gross a huge amount of money as it will be rented and purchased by millions of people.
    So Hollywood is still very much into the ‘bottom line’ after all and values have not changed as much as one might believe.

  • Jeff

    To me, it isn’t necessarily the “big” vs. “small” movie competition that this Oscar race represents. Think about the two movies. One represents the love of war and the thrill of war (“war is a drug”), while the other represents the love of nature and the need to protect it from man and war. It’s two combatting messages, not just combatting “sizes.”

    • Jenny

      You are spinning THL as if it’s a pro-war film, which it is not. To rearticulate its basic argument, “war is a drug” as a representation of the “love of war” shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what the film is trying to do.

    • anonymous

      Why would you equate “drug” as being a good thing? Common sense, people!

    • D

      I see it completely different. The Hurt Locker manages to see things in shades of gray, whereas Avatar pounds down a message of good guys and bad guys. It flattens serious debate about the environment into simplistic Hollywood terms.

  • JaMES

    The only way that “Avatar” is in any way better than ANY of the others films is in the box office mass appeal and overall visual splendor. In any other way that makes a picture great, it IS equal to “Transformers: RotF”. I’m still shaken by the last scene in “The Hurt Locker.” “An Education,” and “Up in the Air” broke my heart… For a couple of hours “The Road” still felt too real. But when you scruff away all the sheen from “Avatar,” what is there? I’m sure if this were the year “The Dark Knight” was eligible we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. Because, unlike “Avatar”, TDK was both successful and artful.

    • Z

      TDK was not artful, it was the joker running around acting like a maniac.

      • Addison

        Lies, Z! Lies! The Dark Knight was the best picture of the year in 2008 and the academy blew it by not giving them a nomination. Also, even though Avatar has made more money, TDK has had a much larger impact on our culture that Avatar ever will.

        I enjoyed Avatar very much. I loved it. But it’s not a better film than the other ones nominated. It’s not even one of the best James Cameron films. T2 and Aliens were both better movies. The academy hopes that seriously considering Avatar for best picture will help make amends for completely missing TDK in the best picture category last year. But TDK was not just a commercial success. It was an extremely powerful story. This year’s most powerful story may very well be the Hurt Locker, but it is certainly not Avatar.

      • Z

        I thought the story was pretty predictable, but whatever. I do have to say though, that avatar will be remembered far longer and have a greater impact than the Dark Knight. It was a groundbreaking step foward for the movie business and made much more money than the dark knight which does matter. Pretty much everyone has seen avatar, and all this discussion about it being horrible is just reinforcing the point of it being unavoidable and a huge impact on culture even today.

    • Z

      Avatar uses its visual splender to encompass you into the film and care about the Nav’i, and just used the technology to make an entertaining film. Transformers was just trying to make big explosions and wasn’t entertaining at all.

  • Jeff

    Furthermore, I’m getting tired of all this “Avatar doesn’t deserve the best picture prize” nonsense. I do agree it wasn’t the most original screenplay, but I can’t remember the last time a movie mesmerized me to the level that Avatar did. Or the last time I saw something twice. Or the last time I told everybody they had to see it. The Hurt Locker was great filmaking, but I wouldn’t recommend that movie to anybody. Sorry.

    • Gold Ticket

      Well said Jeff, I’ve heard this too. The wonderment of cinema again or comparisons to “The Jazz Singer” or what sound and colour changed movies in the 20’s and 30’s. Also comparisons to the phenomena of Star Wars that that generation always loves to mention THEY SAW IT! Well Avatar is to a new generation what Star Wars still is, I suspect.

      • ObiHave

        I saw Star Wars when it first came out and I couldn’t begin to compare that sort of phenomena to Avatar.
        Star Wars created a sort of national craziness…BTW Star Wars didn’t win best pic…seems like a little picture called Rocky did.
        They’ve both stood up pretty well. It doesn’t really have to be a popularity thing…actually Oscar rarely is.
        That said, I kept looking at the time during Avatar whereas as I was 3/4 of the way into Hurt Locker before I took a breath. You don’t need gazillions to tell a good story…even George Lucas had a realatively small budget back then.

      • Mac

        @Obihave: Rocky won Best Picture for 1976. Star Wars IV didn’t came out until the following year when it lost the big prize to Annie Hall.

      • Z

        @ Obihave
        That’s because it came out a cuple of months ago, give it time. You can’t predict what will happen, but I fell it has a lot of similarities with star wars that could definately make it into just as big of a phenomenom.

      • D

        I wouldn’t go too far with that comparison: The Jazz Singer is an immense pile of crap.

    • anonymous

      So because you loved it, everyone should. Again with the logic.

      • Z

        He’s giving his opinion, not forcing his beliefs on you. Lighten up.

  • Sally in Chicago

    I agree with Rahul. Plus, it would make the Oscars seem like they value script writing, direction and action over boxoffice and big stars. Let’s face it, THL didn’t have one noted big star (unless you consider Ralph Fiennes in 5 minutes of scenery big), and the director is hardly known outside of the Wood….this would be a majuh win and upset and bring Oscar back its glory.

    I just wish they would re-release the HL. It was in Chicago for like a minute and each time I couldn’t make it to the movie, but had to look at it on demand.

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