Really? REALLY? When I still bothered with the Oscars I came across criticisms levied against it about how it's out of touch with what the movie-going public really likes, and how it frequently awards obscure movies over big budget box-office hits for reasons that are not known to me. Back then I was all, "Uh but box office hits suck anyway." But that argument doesn't hold water if you consider the fact that the same institution awarded Chicago and Gladiator the top prize. What did these two films have to offer in terms of social relevance and just a plain ol' damn good story that Avatar, according to Oscar voters, didn't?
Here's the answer: Absolutely nothing. And Chicago even has the dubious honour of being universally-panned by the critics. Worse, this year's horrendous results only reinforces the criticism that the Academy Awards have no clue as to what's going on in the real world - that is, beyond the private club of the 5,000 Academy voters who decide on the winners.
Now, I have not watched The Hurt Locker, so I can't comment on its merit per se. But speaking as someone who named District 9 her absolute favourite film of 2009, Avatar deserved Best Picture purely by its own merits, independently of what other movies are about. No other Best Picture nominee can even remotely hope to come close to what Avatar achieved: exhilarating entertainment, use of technology and visual effects that takes the business to a whole new level, and a poignant message at the heart of the visual feast and compelling story-telling. It is socially relevant, but without being depressingly so. What I absolutely loved about this genius film was how it stuck to a conventional structure to tell its story, and yet is able to peel itself back to reveal what it really wants to say. And it does so with such joy, such tenacity, such conviction and excitement, without ever once bludgeoning the audience over its head with its "message".
Avatar was robbed. I'm sure The Hurt Locker is a good film (though I doubt I'd test out this hypothesis - I am disinterested in movies about the Iraq war), but Avatar is an amazing film. How often does such a movie come around, one that combines larger than life visual effects with a compelling and moving storyline, AND still has time to have a deeper meaning? And don't get me wrong - I'm all for a female director winning Best Director, but it's an absolute travesty that James Cameron won for Titanic but not Avatar. And I say this as someone who readily admits to liking Titanic.
So yeah, the next time I decide to care about the Oscars, please remind me that the whole institution is socially irrelevant and pretentious, and not nearly as smart as it thinks it is. I haven't cared about the Oscars for a really long time; this year, I only cared because 1) I was shocked that District 9 got nominated for Best Picture; and 2) Avatar was easily the best movie of last year, though my favourite was District 9, and it would've been nice to see it awarded for what it really is. And you know, I really don't think it's even a matter of objectivity or subjectivity.
Still, when I was monitoring the results on imdb.com, the moment I saw that Hurt Locker had one more win than Avatar, I knew that Avatar was toast. My experience following the Oscars damn closely in 2001 (because Joaquin Phoenix was up for Best Supporting Actor. He lost to Benicio Del Toro in Traffic. Up to now I still don't get Traffic - it was boring and pretentious) taught me that the movie that wins the most awards usually ends up winning the top prize. How sad that I was still right. I would've had loved to be wrong.
Ah well. Time to watch Boston Legal.