Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Slow down! You move too fast!

I take it all back!

Less than a week ago, I wrote a post called "Why I root for James Cameron" -- a post I very much regret, even if it was designed primarily as an opportunity to tell the story of my first screening of Titanic. Seeing Cameron on the Golden Globes last night -- not once, but twice -- reminded me why I shouldn't root for him, and in fact, in the space of a week, no longer do.

Two shocking Avatar-related things happened over the weekend, actually. I'll list them in order from least to most disturbing.

The first was that Avatar raked in another $41.3 million at the U.S. box office, making that five straight weekends in which it has crossed the $40 million threshold. It blew past Star Wars at the box office, now up to $492 million, and seems certain to eventually pass Titanic ($600 million) as the highest grossing film of all time. (Again, apologies for being U.S.-centric in my box office totals.)

This I can take. Accolades from the public come in famously strange forms. Witness the $146 million box office haul for Paul Blart: Mall Cop, one of the worst movies of 2009. Besides, that $492 million is, as we all know, inflated by IMAX and 3-D ticket prices. Inflation is an argument purists used to identify Gone With the Wind over Titanic as the true all-time box office champion, since it had the most individual tickets sold (rather amazing, given how many fewer theaters there were). The same logic holds true for Avatar.

No, the thing that really bothered me was the second thing that happened: Avatar won best dramatic feature at the Golden Globes. Which may just make it the frontrunner to win the Oscar for best picture.

This is a new piece of information I need to incorporate into my understanding of the phenomenon that is Avatar. Not only public acclaim, but critical acclaim.

I suppose I should put critical in quotation marks. The body that selects the Golden Globe winners, the Hollywood Foreign Press, is a famously lambasted entity. This same body gave a nomination to Bobby, Emilio Estevez' ridiculous ensemble drama about the assassination of Robert Kennedy, a couple years ago. This same body also gave best musical or comedy to The Hangover last night. I like The Hangover fine, but I don't feel like it's the kind of movie that should be winning best anything, do you? The fact that the Golden Globes have a category where it would actually be a logical contender shows you a little bit about the populist standards of the Hollywood Foreign Press.

But the Hollywood Foreign Press does show some predictive ability in terms of which movie wins the Oscar. From 1996 through 2003, the Golden Globes picked the eventual Oscar winner in one of the two available categories, honoring The English Patient, Titanic, American Beauty, Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King as best drama, and Shakespeare in Love and Chicago as best musical/comedy. All of those films won Oscar's best picture.

It wasn't until 2004 that the streak was finally broken, when Million Dollar Baby lost out (rightly) to The Aviator before going on to win best picture. Since then -- and this is what gives me hope -- it's been kind of a mixed bag. In 2005, eventual Oscar winner Crash wasn't even nominated for a Golden Globe -- and hallelujah to that. In 2006, Babel beat out The Departed -- and though I strenuously disagree with that, it ended up being a happy surprise to see Scorsese's film take the Oscar statue it richly deserved. Then in 2007, I applauded the Golden Globes again when the superior Atonement beat out the overrated eventual Oscar winner No Country for Old Men -- though for true justice, There Will Be Blood should have beaten them both. Last year it was back to the status quo, with Slumdog Millionaire winning both top awards.

The strange thing is that I shouldn't be too disappointed to see Avatar rise to these heights. I did like it, I just didn't love it. And of the two films I considered to be the best picture frontrunners until last night -- Up in the Air and The Hurt Locker -- I like Up in the Air only marginally better than Avatar, and I like The Hurt Locker less. Yes, I like The Hurt Locker less than almost everyone I know, a topic to which I may devote an entire post later this week.

But I guess what happens every year around this time is that I realize some of my favorite films are not going to get any Oscar love, and films that left me feeling more "meh" than I wanted to -- like Avatar -- start gaining momentum. You won't trick me into talking about those films here. I've got two weeks and one day before I post my own year-end list.

Oh, and then there's the issue of Cameron himself. During his acceptance speeches last night -- he also won the best director award -- he reminded me what an ass he can be. In an attempt at magnanimity, he asked the people in the room to applaud themselves for having "the best job in the world." (The camera cut to Leonardo DiCaprio, who was sitting on his hands.) It was the perfect example of how being an asshole is a condition that oozes through a person. Cameron wasn't even trying to aggrandize himself here, or at least not directly. But he did think he'd "have the room" by telling a bunch of highly paid entertainers -- of which he himself is implicitly one -- to pat themselves on the back. (He also went for the most tired joke line in the book, talking about how they better not start the music to hurry him off because he has stuff to say. That might have been funny the first time someone made a reference to the show's internal time management protocols, somewhere around 1983.)

Cameron's attempt to whip up a furor of self-approbation didn't really work -- the applause was half-hearted at best. Here's hoping that the voters sitting in this room, who will cast their ballots for the Oscars in the coming weeks, will remember that icky moment of self-congratulation disguised as peer generosity, when they decide whether to make Cameron "king of the world" again this year.

And maybe somehow I'll get my best picture nomination for [name withheld] after all.

No comments: