08 March 2010
Rant about The Hurt Locker and Avatar and the Academy Awards
I think it's so funny the way people carry on about the money James Cameron spent on Avatar and act like the fact that The Hurt Locker was made for $11 million dollars is some kind of a mitzvah that qualifies a second-rate director like Kathryn Bigelow for canonization. Avatar is one of the finest spectacles in the history of cinema and I think the backlash against it is absurd. Are these the same people who liked Titanic, the Terminator movies, and the Alien movies? Pauline Kael wrote that we feel compelled to watch movies we won't like because we want to understand their effect on other people. I have to say, this Avatar vs. The Hurt Locker meme is one that has me feeling incredibly alienated, like I don't even know what kind of culture I'm living in. Clearly the writing in Avatar isn't great. It is however the best written movie James Cameron ever touched. Anyone who says it isn't is living in very tightly insulated nostalgia bubble. I think Avatar really is a great movie. Certainly it's flawed but whatever dismissive things people say about it being unoriginal or whatever seem so absurd to me. As if Shakespeare's plays were original. We remember them today not because they were original but because they were better done. (I am not comparing this movie to Shakespeare.) I can't understand how people can dismiss it by comparing it to any number of awful movies like Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas, and The Last Samurai as if this movie doesn't do what all of those movies tried to do so much better. I'm a fan of the Joseph Campbell school of storytelling and I really think the world would be a better place if people told more of this kind of story. I also think that pretty much every discussion of why this film is somehow reactionary, hateful, or politically incorrect pretty much misses the point. It's pretty clear that Cameron is commenting on American foreign policy and our relation to the middle east and to the world as a reckless, imperialist nation. Some people have said this reading of the film in unfounded and those people are clearly either "slow" or weren't paying attention to the movie. I mean, if all the stuff about getting at the stuff under their feet and all that weren't pretty clear the Colonel very pointedly refers to his military offensive as "shock and awe." I know Joan Didion said the future was always bright in the golden land because noone remembers the past but, come on people, this was less than ten years ago. Anyway, the movie combines this very political statement with a classic hero myth. What's interesting about this myth, however, is that the hero doesn't become a hero until he turns his back on his old self and becomes one of the Na'vi people. For all those people who found it very easy to coast through college writing Marxist critiques about anything imaginable and have remained in that lazy stance, I would suggest that this movie is not about the white man needing to save the native people although clearly there is an aspect of that. It's about taking responsibility for our own sins. It's not about patronizing an imaginary race of natives, it's about returning to our ideals. Anyway, as a good friend of mine said after seeing the movie, "How could I not love Avatar? It's like somebody made a movie out of everything I worry about every day." Sure, it's kind of simple; I don't know if you've noticed but there are "legitimate" journalists debating whether global warming is a hoax or whether the president is a secret muslim spy. Furthermore, I'm not sure it's ever been established that simplicity is a necessary evil. I mean, this is an entertainment film. It's meant to be a spectacle, not a movie about ideas, which makes it pretty funny to me that there are more ideas in this movie than so many of the other groupthink favorites this year. I also think it's funny that some of the same people who criticize this movie (or the politics of Precious for that matter) have written defenses of The Blind Side. Anyway, I think there are flaws in Avatar but that some of the criticisms are petulant and absurd. I also think the series of rites of passages is thrilling, as are the battle sequences. I think that the planet is gorgeous and thrilling and all that pantheist mumbojumbo with the tree and everything is enchanting. Of course, this movie speaks to all my own beliefs and so forth and I understand that it wouldn't appeal to everyone. I think it's absurd though the way many people hate it, given all the horrible movies they seem to prefer.
As far as The Hurt Locker is concerned though I feel like I'm through the looking glass or something. It seems universally acclaimed, adored by both professional film critics and film bloggers alike. Strangely, nobody I really know in real life can stand the film. I went to see it because of all the buzz on NPR last year. A friend warned me I'd hate it and I assumed he was being an old sourpuss. I paid my eleven dollars and my mind was blown by how awful it seemed to me. I found myself texting my friend during the movie about how it was absolutely as bad as he had said it was and that it seemed to get more and more painful as it went on. The writing is a joke. The whole movie plays like a long, mean cliche. It's offensive to the soldiers and the Iraqis alike. It's grossly inaccurate. It presents a completely political war as apolitical. I don't understand what's to like about this movie. I did not like a solitary thing about it. The only thing that kept it from being my worst movie of the year is that I saw The Road directly afterward and The Road managed to be even worse. I don't know. I don't think Avatar was the best movie of the year but I do think a lot of these popular "critical favorites" were dreadful. I mean, The Hurt Locker and Precious won awards for screenwriting last night. If that's not bad enough, there is a huge group of seemingly intelligent people who seem to think that those awards should have gone to Inglourious Basterds and Up in the Air.
I don't know. I feel alienated from the world today. I know I dropped my film studies minor in college because I decided that people who study films tend to be geeky fanboys of assorted forms of trash. Boys in brown pants who wore glasses and talked all day about Tarantino and Godard.
My silver linings last night were that Quentin Tarantino lost to a movie whose writing was as uneven as Precious for screenwriting and that my favorite won for best live action short. Yay, The New Tenants!