erik lundegaard

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*

Year
BO rank
BO rank
BO rank
BO rank
BO rank
2008 16 20 82 89 120
2007 15 36 50 55 66
2006 15 51 57 92 138
2005 22 49 62 88 95
2004 22 24 37 40 61
2003 1 17 31 33 67
2002 2 10 35 56 80
2001 2 11 43 59 68
2000 4 12 13 15 32
1999 2 12 13 41 69
1998 1 18 35 59 65
1997 1  6 7 24 44
1996 4 19 41 67 108
1995 3 18 28 39 77
1994 1 10 21 51 56
1993 3 9 38 61 66
1992 5 11 19 20 48
1991 3 4 16 17 25

* 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?

BO Rank
Film
Bonafides
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.”

Posted at 08:52 AM on Saturday March 06, 2010 in category Movies - The Oscars  
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