Monday, January 4, 2010

Symbolic Oscar Races

In a recent article, Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman suggests that this year's Best Picture Oscar race could boil down to two diametrically opposed front-runners, each symbolizing a different set of values for the entertainment industry. In one corner is Up in the Air - a classically composed film which relies on good old fashioned elements like a refined script and well-implemented star power. In the other is Avatar - utilizing the latest in technology and paving the way for what could well be the future of cinema.

At one point in the article, Gleiberman name-checks Annie Hall as a surprise victor in its year. This stood out to me because of a conversation I once had with a coworker...
Of course, there was that. Star Wars. Annie Hall, certainly a good movie; and in your average year, probably Best Picture-worthy. But Star Wars was then and remains now a lasting cultural touchstone, the metric by which all sci-fi and special effects movies are gauged.

Did Annie Hall deserve its win? It's a sweet, funny, well-crafted movie. But Star Wars was pioneering, and set the tone in cinema for the next 20 years or more. And its influence reaches beyond filmmaking. It gets referenced in every medium, quoted in spiritual and philosophical books, parodied and imitated endlessly. Everyone knows what a Wookiee is, what the side effects of being frozen in carbonite are, and where the weak spots of an Imperial Walker can be found. The kids aren't exactly quoting Alvy Singer these days.

It's easy to see the analogy between Star Wars and Avatar: a visually stunning film, using all the latest special effects (some of which were invented out of self-necessity), widely criticized for de-prioritizing character and story. I'm not convinced that Avatar is as thoroughly revolutionary as Star Wars was. (I did greatly enjoy it.) But if Avatar proves to be a harbinger of the future of cinema, Up in the Air could end up looking just like Annie Hall - a quaint little quality film that wasn't nearly as relevant as others in its graduating class.


  1. Not AS prominent I guess, but what about A Beautiful Mind and LOTR? But then again, Titanic beat out Good Will Hunting.

  2. I'd rather watch Annie Hall over Star Wars any day. It's funny, charming and only caused women to wear neckties, not grown men to dress like space creatures.

    And Helby, I think you meant to point out that Moulin Rouge should have won over both A Beautiful Mind and Lord of The Rings, two movies that sound so boring that I wouldn't even put them on my queue.

    What good's an opinion if you don't voice it?

  3. I would agree that avatar has prob not changed the game of cinema the way star wars did, but in terms of a cinematic experience I would say Avatar is this generations Star Wars. With ten best pic noms though the academy's voting bloc could be split all kinds of wacky ways. But i think its difficult to not give the award to Avatar, for what best pic actually represents. Its not necessarily about the best script (see gladiator), but ultimately it is (or should be) about what is the best overall film in terms of the synthesis of script, acting, effects and story, and sure you can point to deficits in one area (Annie Halls effects suck compared to star wars), but its about the sum total. Also its not surprising that star wars would lose, and that Avatar might as well the academy is notoriously not into sci-fi, but after LOTR finally got the win, i've got high hopes


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