Monday, March 8, 2010

The Oscars Are Classy and You Can Suck It

The Hurt Locker won Best Picture, and as per usual, people are pissed. People were pissed at Crash, Shakespeare in Love, and Dances With Wolves. People will always be pissed. I say people get pissed because they don't get the Oscars. Their expectations are wrong going in. This year's Best Picture race best exemplified that. Let's take the top 2 contenders, Avatar and The Hurt Locker.

Avatar is by far and away the movie for which 2009 will be remembered. However people feel about 3-D (I personally think it adds nothing to filmmaking, yet) Avatar was the movie that made the form legitimate. A lot of movies have used it, but Avatar got people excited about it. It pushed films to the ends of what is possible because James Cameron is the only one who has proven he can experiment that wildly and still make money.

The Hurt Locker is, simply put, the only good Iraq War movie ever made. Making a movie about a war while it's still going on is tough. That's why Robert Altman made M*A*S*H about the Korean War, even though it was clearly about Vietnam. Hollywood's best attempts to capture our current Middle East quagmire result in crap like Jarhead and Stop-Loss. The Hurt Locker relies on nothing fancy, except solid filmmaking and a good story.

The Avatars of this world have legions of fans, billions of dollars, and total media exposure. The Hurt Lockers of this world have the Oscars. At the end of the day, money dictates filmmaking. The medium is incredibly expensive to do right. Without award shows, box office would be the only motivation to make films. Avatar is the highest grossing film of all time, and the story sucks. The film will move the medium forward, but it won't move society forward. Nobody came out of Avatar with a thought in their head they hadn't had before, and that's fine. People don't go to movies to think; they go to movies to be entertained, and that's why Hurt Lockers don't make lots of money. And that's fine. As a society, though, we must, from time to time, demand more than escapism from our artists. So says The West Wing,

"There is a connection between the progress of a society and progress in the arts. The age of Pericles was also the age of Phidias. The age of Lorenzo di Medici was also the age of Leonardo Di Vinci. The age of Elizabeth was the age of Shakespeare."

Simply put, art encourages and inspires the forward momentum of society.

The people with the money, studios and investors, need a concrete motivation to dump millions of dollars into movies with substance. The Oscars is it. The Academy rewards the kind of deep storytelling that box office numbers discourage. Studios like winning Oscars because Oscar exposure boosts box office numbers, and winning an Oscar makes investors want to give those people more money. Sure, the Oscars are just a night of self-congratulations, but they're congratulating each other for focusing at least some of their energy on making films that raise the bar artistically.

This is what I'm saying about people's expectations being wrong. Avatar didn't lose because the Academy hates Sci-Fi or hates popular movies. Avatar lost because the Academy hates shallow movies. If you go in expecting the Academy to reward popularity, you're just setting yourself up for disappointment. If you think Avatar was the kind of deep, artistic film I've been talking about, you should read a book some time. If you think this means I think popular movies shouldn't win Oscars, I'll leave you with one last thought.

The Dark Knight, the third highest grossing film of all time, brought weight to the Superhero genre, which I love, and is already inspiring everyone else to do better. For that, it should have been at least nominated for last year's Best Picture. It wasn't, but its exclusion changed the way the Academy picks the top prize. The Academy is growing with society, but I hope it never gives up on depth.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agreed! However, the show this year sucked the balls of a two hundred year old steer. How they could've had Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin up there and only gotten *that* is beyond me. Hero of the night: Tom Hanks with his beautiful mercy-kill at the end: "And now, Best Picture - The Hurt Locker. Thanks, good night. Roll credits."

-D. Casey

March 8, 2010 at 3:40 PM  
Blogger mistyeq said...

Before the Oscars, I heard a critic on the radio say that Avatar will not win because the people voting in the Academy are the actors... the people a CGI film like that would replace (or at least force into voice-over-dom). Just another factor. I love your commentary, very true!

~ Pam O.

March 8, 2010 at 7:29 PM  

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