Wednesday, January 20, 2010

So Now What...

As Sunday's telecast of the Golden Globes concluded (with an uptick in viewership from last year), the general opinion was the Hollywood Foreign Press might really be the People's Choice Awards. The behemoth of 2009 filmmaking, Avatar snatches the two biggest prizes (picture, drama and director) in the same weekend the James Cameron opus breaks $500 million in domestic box office; Cameron, pleased with himself, even speaks a few lines of his invented language of the Nai'Vi in winning best director. In winning the best picture drama prize, Cameron bested the other two alleged top contenders, The Hurt Locker and Up in the Air; it also became the first science fiction film in Golden Globe history to win best picture-- something that has never occured in Oscar history either.

In the musical\comedy field The Hangover, with it's massive popularity and gay jokes won in true underdog fashion over more prestige comedy choices like the indie hit (500) Days of Summer and Nine, a surprise casuality for the singing and dancing loving HFPA (as witnessed from previous love for Moulin Rouge!; Chicago, and Dreamgirls.) Could it be that The Hangover could become a real possibility with the Academy after this key win and nominations from the Writers Guild and ACE Editors Guild?


Other populist choices were Sandra Bullock winning best actress in drama for The Blind Side (box office is $230 million and counting) and Robert Downey, Jr. winning actor in a comedy for Sherlock Holmes ($180 million and counting.) While Downey, Jr.'s win won't mean anything to the Oscars, Bullock's stock is ever gaining. After tieing the Critics Choice Awards with Meryl Streep (for Julie & Julia, another big hit at $90 million) and winning the Globe, Bullock has emerged, at least in media terms, as the dark horse in best actress. The "deul" is one between Bullock and Streep. In fact, really the only awards given out at the Golden Globes that didn't go to an extremely popular and successful film were Jeff Bridges actor win for Crazy Heart, and the song "The Weary Kind," from the same film. This is in huge contrast to recent years where the independent film community had stronger grasps in key awards-- for example last year films like Happy-Go-Lucky, In Bruges, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and The Wrestler all won key awards-- Avatar handily beat all of those films box office within it's first couple of days.

I personally thought it was a pretty dull show, even though I can't complain about the majority of the trophies handed out. Well actually I can: The Hangover and it's frat boy humor had nothing on the witty charm of (500) Days of Summer. Robert Downey, Jr., as awesome as he is, had nothing on Joseph Gordon Levitt's incandescent romantic. And Sandra Bullock, as likeable and warm as she is didn't really have an awards worthy performance in The Blind Side, which isn't to discredit it really, even though I wasn't exactly a fan. She has always been a very warm presence on screen, and a natural at the press rounds-- her speech was lovely because she exuded all the charm and American sweetheart-ness we like about her, but in terms of a cohesive, complex feat of acting triumph I think not. Also, I was left cold by the big wins of Avatar, not because I didn't like the film, but because Cameron always has to ruin it by speaking.

Is 2009 a stronger year for commercial filmmaking, or is it post-The Dark Knight criticism coming back in an eager and desperate attempt for award shows to prove that they aren't elitists? I think it's a strange case of both. 2009 has been a boon for commercial filmmaking, notably, I would say with the exception of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, all of the big blockbusters of the year have been decent-- this year alone saw a sort of re-birth in classic science fiction (District 9, Star Trek, Avatar), a rejuvenation in animation (Up, Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Princess & the Frog), a wonderful year for women named Meryl (Julie & Julia and It's Complicated are two of her highest grossing films to date) and Sandra (The Proposal reminded everyone that light comedy is her specialty and The Blind Side made history as being the first film ever to gross over $200 million with a woman carrying it.) 2009 also saw revisionist history at it's finest (Inglourious Basterds became Quentin Tarantino's highest grossing film to date.)


All of this coupled with the diminished returns of the American independent companys-- many of them released less or simply folded in the past year, have put the Oscar spotlight back in big, glossy Hollywood product. It's interesting to note that in the year's before Titanic, American filmmaking and Academy tastes were in a similar spot-- the smaller films were beating the big studio films and the old adage of Hollywood being out of touch was a trademark. Twelve years later and James Cameron has come again to save the movie industry. I meant that remark with a tinge of bitterness, but not too much, being an admirer of Avatar myself and all it's 3-D fantastical glory. The problem with the situation at hand this standstill of the awards season is basically the AMPAS is damned if they do and damned if they don't-- anointed a big popular film will delight the broadcasters and advertisers, and enrage the cinephiles.

My current predictions for the top ten best picture slots are:
  • Avatar
  • District 9
  • An Education
  • The Hurt Locker
  • Inglourious Basterds
  • Invictus
  • Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire
  • Star Trek
  • Up
  • Up in the Air
The ironic thing is that in this first post-The Dark Knight awards show, there really didn't need for a big change like putting 10 nominees for a big movie to enter, and maybe even win. Avatar's principle rivals currently are The Hurt Locker (which has had the critics salivating since opening in July, the prestige factor in being a war movie, a slew of critics prizes and guild mentions, but as of now only made about $12 million in box office-- no film in recent best picture history has made that little money) and Up in the Air (a more AMPAS friendly title with critical support and booming box office-- it's about $60 million and counting-- plus big names in George Clooney, and Academy nepotism in Jason Reitman, and a timely subject matter, but it's also a comedy and it's lighter touch might make it a tough sell for the academy voters who prefer a bit more of a heavy hand.)

I guess the point is should the success of films at the box office be there one reward, and are we mistaken in calling some of the big hitters of the year artistic successes...

Wow, this is been a long rant-- I hope it makes sense to someone...

2 comments:

Carin said...

James, I thoroughly enjoyed your post on the Golden Globes and am especially happy to have finally found someone who shares my view on The Hangover and its over-representation this award season. I also think you handled the Avatar issue well. It is hard to not be a fan, but I also find it hard to applaud when it wins. We'll see what the oscars have in store and I hope we can watch them together. Don't worry, I have DVR this year so you won't miss a single speech.

James said...

Thanks for the comment. I wanted to be explicit that I am a fan of Avatar, but the smugness of Mr. Cameron and the unholy dollars it's made makes giving it awards kind of silly. I look forward as always to watching the Oscars with you. :) ehh did I just really do a smile face there...I'm kinda of ashamed of myself right now.

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