The Academy Awards have come and gone, leaving in their wake the usual amount of discussion and arguing over why movie X should have won Y award. It’s no different this year, and the science fiction genre has lost out on its chance to take home the gold, with Avatar losing out on Best Picture and Best Director to Kathryn Bigalow’s Iraq War film, The Hurt Locker. No doubt, Avatar fans are feeling a bit blue over this.
Avatar was a bit of a favorite for the Best Picture award due to its enormous take in the box office, helping to rejuvenate movie goers into seeing something truly breathtaking. Still, despite the numbers and the visual presence on the big screen, the film really didn’t deserve the top honors that it was nominated for – it was a bit of a surprise on my part that the film was even nominated for the Best Picture and Best Director slots in the first place, for a couple of reasons…
First, and foremost, Avatar was a huge film that wowed crowds because of its visual spectacle. While watching, I was blown away by the effects, the world, everything with how the film looked on screen. With a bit of reflection, the story decidedly didn’t wow a lot of people. It was shallow, predicable, and not something to bring people to over and over again. That’s fine – Cameron has never been one for subtlety – (Giant ships sinking, Robots from the Future, Aliens attacking bases in large numbers, etc) – and the film worked for what it was. Indeed, it won for Art Direction, Cinematography, and Visual Effects, the real stars of the show here. In the end, The Hurt Locker was a stronger, more relevant story that easily topped Avatar in the elements that really define the award: Story.
Second, Hollywood loves an underdog, and what better film than the tiny Hurt Locker to win against the half-billion dollar Avatar?
But when you look at it, there were plenty of other contenders for best picture that would have better represented the genre for the top picks from the public. District 9 was a long shot to begin with, only included because of the larger slot of movies, but Inglorious Bastards certainly also falls under the Speculative Fiction category, and we’ll throw that one in there because otherwise, people will yell at us. Both movies were good, with a lot of meaning and arguably better stories than Avatar, and no doubt would have done the genre proud as the first to win the Best Picture award.
But, while we’re talking about Story, this brings up one of my biggest complaints about the Academy Awards this year, and that’s where Moon was overlooked for Best Picture and Best Actor, for Sam Rockwell’s role as Sam Bells A, 1, 2 and 3. We can throw in Duncan Jones for a Best Director nod as well, because he did the whole thing for under $5 million. For me, Moon was the strongest picture that I saw all last year, with a fantastic, thoughtful and emotional storyline that made it a shining example for what a Science Fiction film should be: rich in story, special effects that supported said story.
So, the Hurt Locker won, depriving the genre of a potential win (and therefore, according to some people, legitimizing the genre, showing that Geeks really are cool), but in doing so, it helped to preserve what makes the award good in the first place: it shows that story is still important, rather than the end result of box office figures and overblown special effects. Because if that was the case, Transformers 3 would be a sure contender for best picture, and nobody wants that.