Oscar Bonanza: TOO MUCH FILM IN YO’ FACE 10: Avatar

In the days leading up to the Oscars, Sentimental Movie Marathon will take a look at each of the Best Picture Nominees. This is OSCAR BONANZA: TOO MUCH FILM IN YO’ FACE. Two days late and many dollars short, we conclude with a look at the highest-grossing film ever, Avatar.

1 WHAT IS AVATAR?

James Cameron’s Avatar is an other world epic that makes use of a number of three-dimensional rendering techniques developed for this project to create the visually stunning world of Pandora. The techniques used in this film could potentially usher in a new visual renaissance in film.  The film also displayed the wonderful capability of 3D film technology.  Avatar was both the most visually appealing film and the most successful film of the past year. Good job, visuals!  It basically looked like this

for three hours.

2. WHAT DOES AVATAR HAVE GOING FOR IT?

Again, Avatar looked wonderful. It also involved this guy

You may have heard of him. He directed Aquaman.

Along with its visual credentials, Avatar also ranks high on the potential DRAMARAMA scale for the Oscars. James Cameron used to be married to The Hurt Locker director, Kathryn Bigelow. Sparks may fly. Ratings may go through the roof!

Avatar is also the highest grossing movie ever. Many people have seen it.

3. WHAT HOLDS AVATAR BACK FROM BEING THE KING OF THE WORLD?

Again, Avatar is cool looking. However, many other parts of it are not very good. Firstly, Avatar is not paced very well. Somehow, Cameron forgets about a device called the “montage.” Here is an example.

Sure, cutting down on things may mean less cool stuff. If Avatar‘s point was to just show cool stuff, then that makes sense. However, Avatar‘s point, to me at least, was to be a movie. Oh kay, so montages may be hokey. However, I don’t think Avatar has a problem being hokey. Some of the dialogue is super campy and obvious, but that doesn’t have to be a problem! For a big, fun, summertime action romp, such things are expected. However, this is an ACADEMY AWARD we are talking about. They just don’t give these things to anyone (To be fair, Three Six Mafia really deserved it. I just love that clip so very much).

It seems that Avatar breaks a lot of generally established rules in storytelling. I know we live/ communicate through a language system that was developed in a sexist environment and therefore our language systems are flawed and phallocentric, but Avatar works in this construct, too. So, it should follow these rules and realize that storytelling is important. Instead, Avatar seems to bash us over the head with thinly veiled metaphors that offend sensibility and occasionally fall on the racist side.

Avatar jumps around thematically. At first, it seems environmental and spiritual, but it eventually turns colonial and scientific. There is nothing wrong with these things but the lack of closure with the first themes is unfortunate.

I mean, this guy gets it.

It also just kind of bugs me that human kind loses at the end. I am glad Jake Sully can have blue sex while Earth explodes, I guess.

4. WILL I TOTALLY LOSE MY SHIT IF AVATAR WINS?

I think, of all the films, I want Avatar to win the least. I do not think it deserves the award for the year’s best picture, at all.

I have talked about this for a while. One friend pointed out that I may have just been exercising my tendency to be a contrarian hipster (I’ve also been accused of this because of my views on The Dark Knight [Yes, The Dark Knight is a great film but I do not think it is a great SUPERHERO film {Spider-Man 2 and x-Men 2 are better}. I think of it as a crime thriller that addresses superhero things]. Like The Dark KnightAvatar tends to be masturbatory at points). That may be a little the case.

However,  awarding Avatar for its achievements would ignore the storytelling aspect of movies. Yes, movies are a visual medium and Avatar excels in that respect. Movies are also a narrative form and, as narrative, Avatar is mediocre at best.

I’ve seen a bunch of comparisons to Star Wars when people write about Avatar. Such comparisons are unwarranted. Star Wars had a heart. That is not to say Avatar lacks care and passion. Cameron’s dedication to technological development for the project is admirable. Avatar has more in common with the occasion of Citizen Kane. The techniques in CK eventually became film staples. Perhaps, the new visions of color and depth that Avatar ushered will be common in everything from crime thrillers to comedies about fucking baked goods in twenty years. A man can dream.

Film as an art is so closely tied to the cultural consciousness that the presence Avatar has almost gives it an edge to win. Faced with climate change, economic hardship, and natural disaster, people want to escape through a middling tale of a thriving world, untouched by the horrors of industry. In that sense, though, Avatar ignores the zeitgeist.  All Avatar can tell people in the future is what our lives were not like.

I do not know how accurate this will be since I have not lived through all of human history. It seems like there is a great concern among the population for being part of big, consuming things. World-changing events, uplifting stories, moments where humanity comes together. Of all the films nominated for Best Picture, Avatar is the closest thing to a super event. However, in the past decade, there have been many such events that could potentially define generations.  But after each of these events, there is a frantic search for a new event in the culture that can top the previous one. Often, the search anoints events are fleeting as important. The wonder of Avatar comes from an awe of how it looks, but our reactions to the film may be the result of the search we undertake to belong to something greater.

There is a large amount of cynicism in my view of Avatar.  I don’t think that Hollywood wants to present more movies like Avatar because of their astounding visuals; I think they want more Avatar‘s because they are difficult to pirate and their home entertainment capabilities hinge on the consumption of new technology. In that sense, I give Cameron more credit because he turned such a corporate sentiment into a generally enjoyable film-going experience. It was not  a transcendent experience, though.

The Oscars are stuffy and esoteric and alienating. I believe that by nominating ten films, the Academy attempted to make more Americans feel part of the ceremony.  Awarding Avatar the title of Best Picture caters to this attempt. Maybe Avatar will not win and Hollywood will see that movies should excel in a bunch of different areas rather than constructing a singular mind-blowing visual experience to distract from other inadequacies. Hopefully, the people who watch the awards rooting for Avatar find disappointment and look into the film that wins the award. Hopefully, they see wonder in that movie.

Avatar should be recognized for its accomplishments in the technical categories. It would be fitting if Cameron won for his directing efforts. However, a win for Avatar as Best Picture would be a misplaced honor.

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