The Academy Award choices revealed last night were in general a pleasant surprise. They indicated a welcome, if but nascent and imperfect, movement toward an appreciation of quality as opposed to politics.
Most prominent, of course, was the number of awards for The Hurt Locker, which nabbed six of them, including Best Picture and Best Director. Those who found Avatar insufferably addlepated and didactic surely were pleased that it didn’t get the nod for either of those awards, winning just in plausible categories: cinematography, art direction, and visual effects.
In addition, those annoyed or offended by Avatar producer-director James Cameron’s many public pronouncements affirming and further arguing the expensive and technically advanced film’s message against technology and modern civilization were undoubtedly pleased by the fact that his ex-wife won Best Director and Best Picture.
That had to sting Cameron and provide a good dose of schadenfreuede to his detractors, but it’s only fair to observe that The Hurt Locker is more deserving of honor than Avatar and is the type of film Hollywood likes to present as representing the industry’s aims. Whereas Cameron’s film is a loony, ambitious, romantic fantasy that enthralls audiences despite and because of its excesses, Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is earnest and thoughtful in addition to being dramatic and providing sensations and thrills. Once could certainly argue that it’s not the best picture of the year, but it’s not any kind of a disgrace. In Hollywood, that is progress.
In addition, Bigelow’s public comments about her film, like the movie itself, have been refreshingly free of polemics. Last night she said, “I’d just like to dedicate this to the women and men who risk their lives on a daily basis in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world, and may they come home safe.” That’s precisely the sort of safe, almost undeniable sentiment most likely to appeal to a broad swath of the public. And it’s certainly a smart approach when publicizing a film that has made less than one-hundredth of what Avatar has brought in.
Similarly, Hurt Locker screenwriter and Oscar winner Mark Boal said, “I would like to thank and dedicate this to the troops. The 115,000 still in Iraq. The 120,000 in Afghanistan, and the more than 30,000 wounded and 4,000 who have not made it home, and to my father, who did not live to see this. He died a month ago.” This sort of thing is a great contrast to Cameron’s blustery gab in the wake of his film’s release.
The Best Actress award for Sandra Bullock’s performance in The Blind Side is certainly commendable. She gives a fine performance, and the film and characterization give a positive view of Christianity—something all too rare in Hollywood theatrical films in recent years. If, as with Jeff Bridges’ Best Actor award, this was something of a career honor for Bullock, it’s good that it was for this particular film.
(Too bad she had to make a tone-deaf pitch for homosexuality in her acceptance speech.)
The Best Supporting Actor award for Christoph Walz in Inglourious Basterds is fully deserved. It’s a terrific performance. The winner for Best Supporting Actress, Mo’Nique (Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire) likewise brought a high tone to the proceedings by remembering Hattie McDaniel (the first African-American to win an Oscar, for Gone with the Wind, in 1939) and thanking Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey.
The nod to Perry is significant, as his films show an appreciation of Christianity quite out of step with contemporary Hollywood mores, and he has (perhaps not coincidentally) been under much attack for creating some comical African-American characters who are as silly and stupid as those routinely played by caucasians in contemporary movie comedies. For Mo’Nique to mention him took some courage.
In addition, Mo’Nique thanked the Academy “for showing that it can be about the performance and not the politics.”
As expected, Up deservedly won the award for Best Animated Feature, quite deservedly. In fact, it may well have been the best film released last year, and the one that people will most appreciate in years to come. If this year’s awards and relatively depoliticized ceremony mark the beginning of a long-term trend and not just a one-time thing, that too is something people will definitely appreciate for years to come.