They’re still talking about the Oscars on TV and the web, although there wasn’t much worth talking about…except for the stunning (and totally Academy-type) twist when Avatar didn’t win best picture. And what surprises me more, is that so few people are complaining about it.
Personally, I don’t watch the Oscars, as the show often seems to invoke the worst writing in Hollywood. I’m not into watching my favorite actors indulge in 3-4 hours of the most blatant back-patting of any industry—I’d rather watch them in the movies that got them there. Thank God there is no shortage of reporting of every moment leading up to, during and after the awards so that I can catch up! In any case, I know who won, and in most cases, it was not surprising, although the selections were hardly inspired. And it is not to knock The Hurt Locker, which my sister tells me is a wonderful film (look for her blog post on her Oscar picks– she got them all except for best picture and best adapted screenplay).
It truly shocks me that any film could have stolen the Oscar from Avatar, because we ALL saw Avatar, and only a small percentage of that saw the Hurt Locker (or any of the other 8 contenders). It’s not that James Cameron needs another Oscar. He’s already won for Titanic, which also won best picture in 1998. And was it really a better movie? It didn’t seem so to me, but it had the kind of serious dramatic weight the Academy loves. What they don’t love is comedy, and especially fantasy, science fiction, or animation, which are all genres in which the film takes precedence over performance. Do we get it now? The Academy loves films that are vehicles for actors! So best picture is really the best picture for an actor to be in, like:
Gone with the Wind (1940)
From Here to Eternity (1953)
On the Waterfront (1954)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
A Man for All Seasons (1966)
Midnight Cowboy (1969)
The Godfather (1972)
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
Schindler’s List (1993)
Dances with Wolves (1990)
The Departed (2006)
And yes, Titanic, which in 1997, elevated the unknown Kate Winslet and the unnoticed Leonardo DiCaprio to blazing star status.
In a previous post, I talked about the many screenwriting contests writers can enter to try to get their scripts in front of people who might be interested, and able to produce them. The top competition, the Nicholl Fellowship, is sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and now that the awards are over, you might better understand what they are looking for. They want Hollywood, but not too Hollywood. Avatar was just too successful out of the gate, and the Academy loves an underdog. The members who vote are in the industry, and they may consciously or unconsciously, lean toward more serious, less commercial work, and in so doing, I think they totally missed the whole point of the Oscars.
Few films exhibit the sheer blinding force of creativity the way Avatar does. It literally transports audiences to a world conceived entirely in the minds of the filmmaker and his crew. They created a new technology just to be able to film the fantasy and bring it to life. The characters were created from a complete void, without even a basis in humanity to start from. And given the fact that this film forever removes from the lexicon of film the phrase “suspending disbelief,” it seems that the importance of this movie in changing the range of what we will possibly be seeing from now on should have nailed it to the Oscar. But it didn’t.
While politics, personalities and just the times may have influenced the final decision, I think there’s an element here worth examining for those who aspire to any artistic endeavor. Every show, contest, and award is given to fulfill a need the giver has, so don’t get too hung up on what is voted the “best,” because it’s just the best for their needs. Not winning an award does not in any way suggest that your work isn’t brilliant or creative. It suggests that you didn’t get the memo (on whatever they were looking for).
The Academy seems to indulge in a snobbism that pushes popular films out of the spotlight for that very reason—because they are popular. Maybe the thinking is, they don’t need the help and one of the goals of the Academy Awards is to help films that are not doing as well at the box office.
Unfortunately, these awards end up dubbing those artworks that have the broadest appeal as “less valuable” than those with a narrow audience, in blatant contradiction to the word of mouth that makes them so popular. I’ve talked about this in previous posts, where artists tend to devalue themselves if their work has commercial value and they often punish themselves financially for their art, thinking it makes it intrinsically more “artistic.” All of this is about determining value after the fact. Cameron spent twelve years making a film different from anything he had ever done, and he has quite an accomplishment to show for it, with or without the Oscar. As of today, Box Office Mojo reported that Avatar has made $721 million in domestic tickets alone, and over 2.6 billion worldwide. That’s a lot of moviegoers to argue with!
So, Cameron can laugh all the way to the bank, and hopefully, he’ll be encouraged to keep making films audiences like, without pandering to the Academy.
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