Saturday March 06, 2010
The Most Crucial Difference Between “Avatar” and “Hurt Locker”
Despite this year's best picture race being unprecedented—10 nominees, etc.—all of the prognosticators think we're down to a two-horse race, “The Hurt Locker” and “Avatar,” and they all point out the obvious differences between the two: $2.5 billion worldwide (and counting) vs. $18 million worldwide (and not); sci-fi fantasy vs. gritty reality; Cameron vs. Bigelow. But everyone's ignoring the most crucial difference:
The sci-fi fantasy set on a moon in a far-off galaxy is a greater critique of the Bush administration than the gritty war film set in Baghdad in 2004.
Make of that what you will.
As for which will win? As I said, we're in unprecedented territory. But let me resurrect a chart from last June showing the annual box office rankings of the various best picture nominees for the last 18 years, with the eventual winner in red:
The Annual Box Office Rankings for Best Picture Nominees, 1991-2008*
* Best picture winner in red.
Even when the Academy went rogue in 2004 and stopped nominating any picture that was popular, they still went for the first- or second-highest-grossing film among the nominees. Only once in the last 18 years, in 1999, did they pick outside the top two: “American Beauty,” which was still third.
As for how the box-office rankings look this year?
|1||Avatar||9 noms; Golden Globe|
|5||Up||5 noms; most Best Animated Film awards|
|6||The Blind Side||2 noms|
|25||Inglourious Bastards||8 noms; SAG ensemble|
|27||District 9||4 noms|
|38||Up in the Air||6 noms; National Board of Review|
|65||Precious||6 noms; Indy Spirit|
|131||The Hurt Locker||9 noms; DGA; PGA; WGA; BAFTA; NY Film Critics; LA Film Critics; National Society of Film Critics; Most Film Critics|
|135||An Education||3 noms|
|145||A Serious Man||2 noms|
So “Hurt Locker” has all of those bonafides but...131st? That would be unprecedented. As would a sci-fi pic winning best pic. So pick your unprecedenteds.
The only other movie that seems to have a chance is “Inglourious Bastards.” Lotsa noms, did OK at the box office, beloved by critics, it's Holocausty-y, and, one imagines, it's getting the Harvey Weinstein push. Plus it won the SAG ensemble award, and there are more actors in the Academy than any other profession. It would be a good split-the-difference vote anyway.
My guess is “Avatar” but don't bet the house on it.
My choice is “Up.”