Monday, January 4, 2010

In Defense Of Avatar As "Best Picture"

As the Oscar season approaches, I've noticed a trend in a lot of articles, blogs and comment boards regarding Avatar and how it has become a front-runner to be nominated for, and possibly win, Best Picture. The general consensus is that it's a great movie, certainly groundbreaking but it isn't 'prestige' enough to be considered for cinemas highest honour because it's a sci-fi movie and it's too cgi heavy. It's too "commercial" or "low art". How could a movie with giant blue aliens, far off planets and Michelle Rodriguez stand shoulder to shoulder with such fine, sophisticated films like "Schindler's List" or "Crash"?

Criticisms I've seen levied at it are things like "the story is too weak", "I can't empathize with computer generated characters", "the acting isn't up to snuff". My argument against those sentiments is: that's why there are seperate Oscars for acting, screenplay, visual effects, etc.

Ok, so maybe the story isn't the most in depth. Maybe it is Pocahontas in space. So it doesn't win for Original Screenplay. (and for the record, the story of Pocahontas is centuries old and the reason that it endures is a testament to the power and timelessness of it- and Disney).

So maybe the majority of the movie is spent with giant blue aliens interacting, aliens clearly drawn up in a computer. Doesn't mean that it isn't still very human situations, responses, feelings being played out and played out very convincingly. Remember, say, The Lion King? That was the story of a lion who loses his dad and tries to regain his livelihood, all hand drawn. But who didn't get more than a little choked up when Mufasa dies? If you can have any sort of emotional response to what is ostensibly an incredibly well done cartoon, then the film has succeeded. Here's your visual effects Oscar!

Maybe it isn't an actor's piece, but not every film I watch has to have the main characters sobbing and wailing over a dead child, drug addiction, broken heart, "insert poignant difficulty here". But the actors play their roles, they play them well, and they leave the Oscars to the Meryls and the Clooneys. Which is fine by me.

The reason that Avatar should be up for Best Picture is that the overall pupose of a movie is to create a world, to immerse you in it, to have you buy into the story being presented and to create an emotional response in the viewer. It does this in spades. Previous classics of cinema have done the same, movies like Star Wars (the original bunch), the Lord of The Rings trilogy, even such high-falutin' fare like Titanic (let's not forget how much cgi and action was in that movie).

The mindblowing success of Avatar is proof that not only did James Cameron create something visually astonishing, moderately brain involving and vaguely socially responsible, but he's gotten millions and millions and millions of people to buy into that world and be affected. Not just sci-fi nerds or action buffs. but the masses. That is surely a sign that the movie resonates with people in a very big way.

I'm not saying that a movie should win Best Picture based on financial success alone- can you just imagine a world where Transformers 2 gets nominated? My brain would explode at the thought, but it's still a wet pile of mush from watching it. But in a race where Avatar is sure to be considered for multiple Oscars, one needs to set aside their preconceived notions about what is and isn't suitable to be up for Best Pic and instead think "what movie took me somewhere, moved me, involved me, interested me, entertained me, showed me something special, more than any other?" and accept that a movie with giant blue aliens and Michelle Rodriguez could very well be that movie.

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