Dear Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences,
This year is a momentous one for the Oscars, primarily because you’ve nominated ten movies for best picture. Bravo. When I saw which movies had made the cut I was especially surprised. Up in the Air and The Hurt Locker I was expecting, but District 9? Hell yes!
Sadly, however, your august body of voters have chosen this year to overcompensate for past stodginess by also nominating Avatar. Like everyone else on the planet, I’ve seen Avatar. And I had a good time. I bet it was even fun for you too, and you probably didn’t feel that guilty about taking a break from all the French New Wave and Italian Neorealism.
The problem is that Avatar really isn’t great. It’s popular and it certainly looks pretty, but what else does it have? Cartoonish bad guys? Topless aliens? When it comes right down to it Avatar is just a Fern Gully mash-up with an enormous budget. It’s impressive, yes, but hardly profound. (This very publication has a review here that says as much.)
Which brings me to my point: please don’t let Avatar win Best Picture. It’s true that last year’s slighting of The Dark Knight was stupid and it’s understandable that you don’t want to make the same mistake twice. However, remember that being popular or impressive isn’t the same thing as being great. Also, there are a whole bunch of other best picture nominees that are popular and acclaimed. Why not give the Oscar to Up, The Blind Side or Inglourious Basterds? These are also all movies that people actually watched.
The problem is that I keep reading about how the contest for best picture is going to come down to The Hurt Locker and, of course, Avatar. The former is a great war movie and, if still in the not-widely-seen genre, is complex and lingering enough to deserve a nomination. Avatar isn’t. I know that I’ve criticized the Academy before for being out of touch (here, for example), but I had hoped for some kind of balance between quality and popular appeal. An Avatar win, on the other hand, will say that it’s one or the other.
So this year keep throwing the fans a bone, but don’t blatantly pander. You proved me wrong about taking “business as usual,” but don’t completely jump ship on quality.
With all due respect,
Jim Dalrymple is a regular culture correspondent for Rhombus.
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