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!


  1. It does make one feel as if they're living in a wholly different world than they thought, this Hurt Locker shenanigans. It's almost as if we've successfully raised another generation of youth to love warfare by creating a distant enemy on which to take out all of their hate and frustration.

    You should really take up that film minor so that it's not just those types of retardo idiots.

  2. I can't believe we agree on something so completely here, at least with regards to Avatar since I haven't seen the Hurt Locker. However, everything you and others have said about it make me think it's not the kind of movie I would like.

    Now, the Green Zone, I can't wait!

  3. I liked this much and this is what criticism came to mind:

    1. Dances With Wolves and Pocahontas are not terrible movies.

    2. You maybe should expound on how even though Hurt Locker is ostensibly an apolitical film, it really isn't, because it's so strongly from an insane, suspicious, fucked-up American perspective. All Iraqi citizens were all pretty much portrayed as creepy, soulless, inhuman, shifty, and sneaky. I think the part that made me want to barf the most, and that likely I'll never forget as one of the most wretched moments in film, was the late night scene in the professor's house. I think that might have been even worse that horrible ending, which would have likely thrilled 100% of my coworkers at Movie Exchange in Houston, the douchiest, most homophobic coworkers I've ever had, and also that doucebag millionaire's son softball teacher I dated, who thinks he's a free-thinker for listening to Howard Stern and, by way of Facebook, has been mostly excited about Year of the Bull and The Obama Deception in the last ten months.

    3. What was so bad about the screenwriting in Precious? The book was very Alice Walker-influenced crossed with that writer from New York City that Jesse knows about, who writes this interntionally horrible prose about the ghetto, but who's name escapes me. I thought it was a really successful and interesting merger of the two styles. If people can still celebrate Faulkner's cracked corn Southernry, then why not Sapphire? I thought the screenwriting seemed lively and was adapted from the book in the right sort of way.

    PS: My favorite Oscar moment was Oprah talking to Gabourey Sibide. I started crying, especially when Oprah said about how she Gabourey was nominated for her performance and not because of politics.

  4. The parts that jumped out at me were the insight--and you've mentioned it in the past too--about the tightly insulated nostalgia bubble. And that bit about shock and awe.

  5. I guess it just seemed like some of the mushier stuff was kind of sentimental. I'm not sure what it was that seemed a little off. Like many of the popular movies this year, it seemed to succeed a lot on the strength of the performances.

  6. What? WHo is the writer I know about? James Baldwin? I'll cut you, your James Baldwin hate, right out of your belly, Whitey.

    Anyway, I loved Mariah Carey in Precious, and I've never ever loved her before nor will I since.

    THE GREEN ZONE, Zac? I expect more of you. The trailer made me a little sick to my stomach. Its ridiculous move from depoliticized to Iraq as outright simple backdrop from superficial action fodder is barfy. Yes, barfy.

  7. We'll see what happens with The Green Zone. It'll likely be bad but maybe it won't.

  8. did you watch La Teta Asustada yet?

  9. just finished it. still digesting.

  10. Not James Baldwin. Hulbert Selby Junior. The book was Last Exit to Brooklyn. Maybe I'm confusing you with Ben, my old bass player. That book was the opposite of sentimental. But I also love any and all forms of Oprah-esque sentimentality.

  11. Not James Baldwin. Hubert Selby Junior. The book was Last Exit to Brooklyn. He's the opposite of sentimental. But I also love any and all forms of Oprah-esque sentimentality.

  12. I've only seen the movie of Last Exit to Brooklyn. It was ages ago but I liked it when I saw it. I remember liking some parts more than others but it seemed like there were thing I really liked about it. It doesn't seem to be on DVD here so it looks like I have another reason to indulge in my VHS nostalgia...