Monday, March 08, 2010

Was "Avatar" Too Successful to Win an Oscar for Best Picture?

Let me just confess up front: I don't watch the Academy Awards. I haven't been interested in years. When I was a kid there was still a certain glamor to the biggest award show in Hollywood. It was also a time in which I had actually heard of most of the films nominated. Looking back at years past the Academy Awards looked a lot different than they do today. Take 1988-- a year I picked at random-- and you've got "Rain Man," "The Accidental Tourist," Mississippi Burning," "Working Girl" and "Dangerous Liasons;" almost all of which I saw before the awards show. Compare that list with this year: "The Hurt Locker," "Avatar," "Precious," "The Blind Side," "District Nine," "Up," "Up in the Air," "An Education," "A Serious Man," and "Inglourious Basterds;" how many of those titles had you not even heard of prior to this awards season? Not every year is all about vehicle movies. But more often than not the biggest grossing films are generally not in contention for Hollywood's biggest prizes. And science fiction & fantasy have long been the neglected stepchildren of the movie business despite their huge audience appeal. Just last year "The Dark Knight" was snubbed for an Oscar nomination while being regarded by many as being, far and away, the best movie of the year. When the nominations were announced the oft-repeated meme was that genre films don't get awards; specifically science fiction. Science fiction and Hollywood do have a strange relationship. Producers and directors know that scifi is the go-to genre if you want to make money. The top ten list of the top grossing movies of all time is virtually all scifi/fantasy-- with the sole exception of "Titanic." In fact, take a look at the top 50 highest grossing films-- there are very few movies on that whole list that don't fit into the scifi/fantasy category. "Avatar" now sits on top of the list with over 2 billion dollars in gross revenue. That's almost 1 billion dollars over the next film on the list-- which just happens to be "Titanic;" another film by James Cameron. King of the World indeed. While there are a few top-grossing films that have received award recognition only one, "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," took home the award for best picture. Why is that? It's hard not to feel a bit disgruntled, as a fan of science fiction and fantasy, that the genre I love is so overlooked. It's as if the sheer popularity of the genre is the reason it's so disparaged. One has to wonder if the Hollywood elite recoil from entertainment that has such broad appeal. If you look at the vehicle movies the crop up award awards season you see films that make very little money. "The Hurt Locker," this year's winner is going down as the lowest grossing film to every win for best picture. It seems as if you and I like a movie, well, we must not be that sophisticated. That isn't to say that "Avatar" should have won this year simply due to it's tremendous success. As I have said before, I am one of the very few people out there who still has not seen the film. I have probably read too many reviews that say "Avatar" is little more than a visual spectacle. I've seen, and posted, parodies of "Avatar" that compare it to "Pocahontas" and "Fern Gully." So maybe it wasn't the best film on the list of nominees. But how could I know for sure? I'm biased. I get that. But I suppose most moviegoers are biased as well since the films we like rarely match up with films the movie industry recognizes. Sure science fiction is good for awards in costuming, cinematography and art direction, but it is seldom recognized beyond that. I could get further into the nitty-gritty behind the reasons "Avatar" lost to "The Hurt Locker." Heaven knows there has been a plethora of articles on the subject today. But I wonder if "Avatar" was doomed from the get-go due to the genre and the final nail in the coffin was its huge popularity? Or maybe I'm just bitter "The Dark Knight" never got the recognition it deserved.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I've seen Avatar several times and there is more to it than just a visual feast. It was a far better movie than The Hurt Locker.

Time had an article about why Avatar lost. It has to do with innovative filmmaking and doing something different, and the article pointed to an obscure 'standard' film that won back in the 40's beating out a more artsy and non-standard film - Cassablanca. The article claimed it was also because the Academy voters are old and most did not go out and see Avatar, while all of the other films they could watch at home on their DVD player.

Horror and fantasy have won Best Picture, but we'll have to keep waiting for the big sci-fi winner.

starmetal_oak said...

To say that it has to do with seeing the DVD at home or in the movie theatre where there's 3D totally contradicts your statement as Avatar being more than a visual feast. If it was, it wouldn't matter what platform you viewed it on.

I saw both movies in the theatres. Yes, Avatar was awesome and a really fun ride. But the story did nothing for me. It's a very cliche story, done before, and there are issues between the connotations of a white man coming the rescue of natives that I don't even want to touch. Sometimes it even left a bad taste in my mouth during the movie. But, if I look at it as purely entertainment, the movie was good, but not that good.

To win Best Picture it has to be good in everything, not just visuals (which Avatar did win for). I think the story of Avatar just wasn't good enough.

When I came out of the theatre after watching the Hurt Locker, it really made me think and it really effected me. Instead of leaving and saying "wow those Special Effects were crazy!" I was thinking "hm, what does this mean?". There's a big difference.

I'm glad Avatar didn't win. I want the scifi movie that will one day be better than Avatar. Not just recycled themes in a really nice package.

S.M.D. said...

Shouldn't be shocking at all to us here. At least with The Dark Knight we know there was a clear genre bias, because that movie was phenomenal. Avatar, however, was doomed from the moment people started talking about its story. We can sit here and be sad and boohoo about the fact that sciffy didn't win, but the fact is that Avatar won where it was supposed to win: in visuals. Why? Because there was no possible way it could win for best picture when all it had going for it was the fact that it was pretty. The story wasn't original by a long shot, let alone powerful enough to knock off more engaging films on the list (even The Hurt Locker).

We should be more surprised that District 9 didn't get more recognition, because it certainly deserved it.

S.M.D. said...

Addendum: Moon should also have got more recognition.

SQT said...

I love reading the opinions about "Avatar" because they're so varied. I just saw a pretty spectacle this last weekend with "Alice in Wonderland" so I'm pretty sure that "Avatar" isn't going to resonate with me as much as "Dark Knight." But it clearly has a huuuuge audience that feels differently.

It may be a cop-out though to claim that it was the genre that killed its chances if it was as cliché as I've heard. The real question is whether it would have stood a chance if its plot and script were as good as the visuals.