Two things to keep in mind as we race down the final stretch of awards season. One: “The Hurt Locker” is almost certainly a lock, having won other Best Picture prizes over and over and over. I favor the conspiracy theory where Kathryn Bigelow gets Best Director and “Avatar” wins Picture, but it’s definitely a more fun horse race than usual.
Two: please remember that this year everything we know about the Oscars will be upended. “You’ve never seen Oscar® like this before” reads one poster, though that nagging trademark suggests otherwise, even if “Hurt Locker” effectively goes on to be one of the least financially popular Best Picture winners ever.
You hear a lot about viewing numbers declining in years when your average man-on-the-street type viewer isn’t clued in on any of the nominees, so you’d think somehow it behooves the Academy to select “Avatar.” But it’s cool. Mewling about how much the Oscars suck, how they might be improved and doing a remorseless autopsy on the inevitable disappointment is a time-honored tradition even more irritating than the actual awards themselves. Even with some real suspense this year, that’s not going to change no matter how many good jokes Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin crack.
The truth of the matter is that, like eradicating racism from the face of the earth, everyone who is responsible for the inherent conservatism of the Oscars will have to die before any meaningful changes take place. (Either that or Hollywood as we know it will itself have to die, which is of course totally plausible.)
Please note that I’m not wishing death upon anyone (it’s really not that important), that’s just how it is. You’re never going to see a moment like Fever Ray’s acceptance speech in Gothenburg earlier this year, though I’d kill for the Oscars to move out of that damn auditorium and allow some dramatic overhead shots into the ceremony. (They could get De Palma to direct!) A little visual elegance would be a big help.
Exhaustive “coverage” (read: speculation) about the Oscars has risen in inverse proportion to declining public interest in the ceremony, a supply-and-demand anomaly I can’t explain that’s presumably here to grapple with (imaginary) increased complexities and nuances. Whatever happens at this year’s awards won’t be that revolutionary. If “Avatar” wins, it’ll upend the usual precedents for what previous voting means but will give the people what they want. If “The Hurt Locker” wins, critics will be happy but the masses will moan. The song remains the same.
On the other hand, when this is over I never have to write about “Avatar” ever again. Which I’m looking forward to. Awards season is like listening to a radio station play the same 30 songs over and over for six months straight.
[Photos: “Avatar,” 20th Century Fox, 2009; “The Hurt Locker,” Summit, 2009]