Why 'Avatar' lost the Best Picture Oscar

0

Comments

Add +

Everyone expected ‘Avatar’ to be the big winner at last Sunday’s Oscars, but it was a smaller film that did the business. Dave Calhoun finds out why.

Most of the talk before Sunday night’s Oscars boiled down to two films: ‘Avatar’ and ‘The Hurt Locker’. James Cameron v Kathryn Bigelow. The battle of the exes. Digital v analogue. David v Goliath. As the weeks went by, post-‘Avatar’ sobriety set in and ‘The Hurt Locker’ became the narrow favourite to win the Academy’s big prizes. And so it was that Bigelow’s film about a US army bomb disposal unit in Baghdad won six Oscars, including prizes for Best Picture and Best Director, while ‘Avatar’ won only three, for Visual Effects, Art Direction and Cinematography.Now that the Champagne is drunk and the tuxedos are back in storage, it’s time to ask: why exactly did Bigelow’s $11 million film (which took less than $13m at the US box office) triumph over James Cameron’s $300m, box-office-busting blue juggernaut? Most people agree this was a middling year for Oscar nominees. ‘The Hurt Locker’ is smart, swift and sane – but nobody thinks it’s a masterpiece. Which means there’s more behind its triumph than mere quality. So, what other factors were at play?

1 Oscar is sniffy about sci-fi


The Academy is a conservative body, not known for a love of sci-fi. Those who thought ‘Avatar’ had a chance of winning the Best Picture Oscar pointed to Cameron’s ‘Titanic’ and its success at the box office and the Oscars (despite, like ‘Avatar’, being slammed for its poor script and story). But ‘Titanic’ was a traditional picture: historical, romantic, epic, led by stars. ‘Avatar’ is different. Oscars-wise, it’s comparable to ‘Star Wars’, which was nominated for ten and won six – all of them technical.

2 James Cameron is not as popular as his film

Avatar’ is hugely popular and has made billions of dollars. But there is less goodwill in the US film industry towards Cameron than many may have thought. His ‘king of the world!’ outburst at the 1998 Oscars lingers long in the memory and earlier this year he irked traditionalists by dismissing a harmless comment by Meryl Streep that her work doing a voice for ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’ was similar to the work of actors on ‘Avatar’. ‘She did a voice performance for a day or two,’ Cameron said in rebuttal, leading to silly reports that he had ‘slammed’ her. A month later, a British producer told me the same story at the Baftas, suggesting that  Cameron’s ego was causing annoyance in the film business.

3 Oscar voters like to think that Hollywood matters

The Oscars are voted for by members of the industry, many of whom like to think they’re doing more than making mindless multiplex fodder. ‘The Hurt Locker’ is a good film for the conscience. ‘Avatar’ just screams mammon.

4 ‘Avatar’ is divisive. ‘The Hurt Locker’ was a consensus choice

Many conversations about ‘Avatar’, even among fans, go this way: ‘It looks amazing,  but the characters are dodgy and the new-age stuff is iffy.’ ‘The Hurt Locker’ might be less groundbreaking, but more people agreed it was a balanced work, with directing, acting and writing all working in harmony.

5 A chance to make history in an unhistoric year

Bigelow is now the first woman to win a Best Director Oscar. The opportunity to break a 65-year, all-male run surely proved persuasive to those whose pens were hovering over the ballot paper.

6 It’s not all about the money


There was much talk about this year’s Oscars being destined to reward commercial success (ie ‘Avatar’). This was repeated so often in the media that maybe there was a backlash among voters annoyed at being typecast as interested only in money, not art.

7 Hollywood loves a comeback


Bigelow was on the skids before ‘The Hurt Locker’. Her last film, ‘K19: The Widowmaker’ (2002) only made $35m at the US box office, despite a budget of around $100m. Fans of ‘Near Dark’ or ‘Point Break’ would have been satisfied to see her back on fighting form with a self-produced, independently made film.

8 Finally, an Iraq movie everyone can get behind


The Hurt Locker’ isn’t the first movie about Iraq (‘In the Valley of Elah’, ‘The Messenger’, ‘Redacted’…) and neither did it break the run of such films performing badly at the box office. Yet ‘The Hurt Locker’ is a film that is both topical and entertaining – and one which is mildly questioning of the war while still  honouring the courage and sacrifice of US solidiers. Everyone’s a winner!

Author: Dave Calhoun



Users say

0 comments


Top Stories

Meet the dream team: a preview of ‘Les Misérables’

Meet the dream team: a preview of ‘Les Misérables’

Director Tom Hooper and his cast tell us how they turned the super-musical into movie blockbuster.

Oscar predictions

Oscar predictions

The Time Out film team weighs in on the nominees for the 2013 Academy Awards

January film highlights 2013

January film highlights 2013

Get ready for the big guns… Spielberg, Tarantino and Bigelow

October film highlights

October film highlights

Daniel Craig’s 007 comeback, a genius indie romcom and all the mysteries behind ‘The Shining’ unravelled.

The Time Out film debate 2012 highlights

The Time Out film debate 2012 highlights

The results of our study on the state of films and filmgoing in 2012.

Read 'Time Out film debate 2012 highlights'

Martin Freeman interview

Martin Freeman interview

'The Hobbit' actor tells us why he wouldn't have a pint with Bilbo Baggins.

Sam Mendes interview

Sam Mendes interview

Dave Calhoun speaks to the director of 'Skyfall' about the latest film in the Bond franchise.

Ang Lee interview

Ang Lee interview

The genre-hopping director tells us how he invented a new genre with 'Life of Pi'

Michael Haneke interview

Michael Haneke interview

The twice Palme d'Or-winning director discusses 'Amour'.

Read our interview with Michael Haneke

Thomas Vinterberg interview

Thomas Vinterberg interview

The Danish director talks about his powerful new drama 'The Hunt'.

Read our interview with Thomas Vinterberg'

Ten things the 'Twilight' movies did for us

Ten things the 'Twilight' movies did for us

Time Out looks back at the impact of the 'Twilight' saga.

Discover what 'Twilight' has done for us

On the set of 'Sightseers'

On the set of 'Sightseers'

Time Out heads to the Lake District to visit director Ben Wheatley on set.

Read about our visit to the 'Sightseers' set

Tim Burton interview

Tim Burton interview

The director talks about 'Frankenweenie', which he describes as 'the ultimate memory piece'.

Read our interview with Tim burton

The top ten Christmas films of 2012

The top ten Christmas films of 2012

Our pick of the best films showing over the festive period.

Read 'The top ten Christmas films of 2012'

What's your film guilty pleasure?

What's your film guilty pleasure?

Mean Girls? Dirty Dancing? Tell us your favourite film guilty pleasure.

Read 'Film guilty pleasures'

When teen stars turn serious

When teen stars turn serious

Ten young actors come of age on the silver screen.

Read 'When teen stars turn serious'

50 years of James Bond

50 years of James Bond

From Connery to Craig, we revisit all 22 Bond films.

Read '50 years of James Bond'

Paul Thomas Anderson interview

Paul Thomas Anderson interview

The director talks Scientology and working with Joaquin Phoenix.

Read the interview

Hilarious horror films

Hilarious horror films


Ten funny horror movies which went spectacularly off the rails.

Read 'Hilarious horror films'

Martin McDonagh interview

Martin McDonagh interview

The director talks psychopaths and theatre – 'my least favourite artform'.

Read the interview

Autumn horror films

Autumn horror films

We round-up the five best horror movies of Autumn 2012.

Read about this Autumn's best horror movies

On the set of Skyfall

On the set of Skyfall

Time Out visits Istanbul to see the latest Bond movie being made.

Read 'On the set of Skyfall'

Bond: then and now

Bond: then and now

Does Skyfall refresh or rehash the James Bond franchise?

Sally Potter interview

Sally Potter interview

The British director explains why 'Ginger and Rosa' is her most mainstream film yet.

Daniel Craig interview

Daniel Craig interview

'I’m almost as in demand as Brad Pitt’