I am the lone Avatar defender on this site. Shep abhors the film, and I’m pretty sure Hans is less than luke-warm about Cameron’s latest opus.
Me, though, I was kinda into it. I came out of the movie feeling like I’d just seen a good Cameron spectacle, complete with revolutionary visual effects, well thought-out action scenes, and a plot that had an adequate amount of twists and turns. I defended the movie to my cohorts.
Then the awards nominations came in. And Avatar became what it really shouldn’t be — the runaway favorite to become this year’s leader in awards.
At the Golden Globes, the movie picked up best Director and best Picture (Drama). It even nominated a writer’s guild nomination for best screenplay.
Best screenplay? REALLY??? I mean, even the movie’s most avid defenders will concede problems with dialogue, logic, and convenient story elements. Love the movie all you want, the script isn’t better than the one for Inglourious Basterds. Period.
So this begs the questions…why all the love? I’ll put on my “arrogant bastard” cap and give you the answer.
Let’s set the stage. Every year, it seems like awards ceremonies (like the Oscars and Golden Globes) mean less and less to filmgoers. For avid fans, the “bullshit” factor is too great, and casual moviegoers get bored with watching movies they’ve never heard of clean up. In addition, the awards shows are accused of being snooty and stuck-up, and Hollywood is admittedly continuing to lose touch with reality.
Last year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences attempted to take a small step toward solving this problem by expanding the “Best Picture” field to ten nominees. The idea is that with a greater field, more popular films and blockbusters might make it into the running.
This year, though, it looks like the critics and awards-givers are going a step farther. When Avatar, a fairly standard blockbuster, began to garner critical and audience acclaim, the Academy (among others) smelled an opportunity.
For as long as they’ve been giving out awards, these groups have always wanted runaway locks for awards. The Academy is obsessed with lavishing praise on a very small handful of movies. Each year, a huge field of good movies is knocked down to five or six “biggies.” Instead of approaching each category individually, they look at movies in terms of “number of nominations.” So even though that small movie (that wasn’t that great) might have the best female performance of the decade, it will most likely be snubbed for a merely “good” performance from a movie that actually has a shot at the top honors.
And when it looks like there could be one movie that will “sweep,” Lord of the Rings style, watch out. The Academy will do everything they can to provide that movie with as many nominations as possible. They want there to be a powerhouse of film that everyone can cheer for, get behind, and celebrate as “THE GREATEST SHOW OF THE YEAR!”
This is, after all, show business. The goal isn’t fairness, it’s spectacle, and you can’t achieve a great show when you have twenty different movies taking home one or two awards. It has to be a horse race with two or three films out front galloping for the finish line. That great indie drama might just have to make due with a best supporting actor nomination.
I can feel it in the air–these awards peoples really want Avatar to clean up. They want one film to define the year, and they want us to believe it’s Great with a capital G. They want to prove they love the same films as the “common folk,” they want to push the hype as far as it can go, and they want to make sure people actually, you know, tune in to the show.
With Avatar they’ll succeed at all their goals, but they’ll shoot themselves in the foot in the process. Does anyone remember Gladiator? Or A Beautiful Mind? Remember how those films racked up award after award, and everyone talked about how they were the best thing since sliced bread? And remember how quickly we forgot they even existed? That’s the fate that awaits Avatar. Once the movie is off the 3D silver screen, it will be relegated to the middle of the fanboys’ DVD and Blu-Ray collections. Nobody will even argue that it’s Cameron’s best, debating (at best) whether it’s better or worse than The Abyss.
When it comes out on DVD, I’ll buy it. I might even watch it a few times, and I’ll enjoy it. But ask yourself…in ten years, will we really think this movie is better than Up in the Air or The Hurt Locker?