Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wednesday Oscar Retrospective: The Deadlocked Duel of 2009

Welcome to a new weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Wednesday Oscar Retrospective. The Deadlocked Duel is the fourth in a series of projects looking back at the past eight years of the Oscars, dating back to the first ceremony I watched and closely followed.

Each year after the Oscar nominations are announced, there’s at least one category where two nominees end up in a heated battle for the award right up until Oscar night, dividing predictors and keeping Oscar watchers anxiously in suspense. This series is devoted to analyzing the biggest and most intense of those battles each year, in any category.

The Deadlocked Duel of 2009

Avatar” vs. “The Hurt Locker” for Best Picture & Best Director

The background: The juggernaut vs. the little film that could. “The Hurt Locker” was made for $11 million, and raked in less than $13 million over the course of its theatrical run starting in June 2009. “Avatar” had a budget well over $200 million and took home $77 million in its opening weekend alone. “Avatar” didn’t even open until three days after both films earned Golden Globe nominations for Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Director.

Why it was just the two of them: At the Golden Globes, the two films contended against “Inglourious Basterds,” “Precious,” and “Up in the Air.” All three took home one award apiece: Best Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz), Best Supporting Actress (Mo’Nique) and Best Screenplay, respectively. They all had some consolation prize to take home, even though “Precious” eventually bested “Up in the Air” in the Best Screenplay race, sending the former home empty-handed. Some speculated that Quentin Tarantino’s violent film could upset for Best Picture, but in a field with ten nominees, there can only be so many frontrunners. Most importantly, however, directors Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) and James Cameron (“Avatar”) had previously been married, and this was the ultimate faceoff to see which ex-spouse would win.

Setting the stage:Avatar” won twin Golden Globes, for Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Director, earning Cameron his second trophy (he won for “Titanic” twelve years earlier). Despite his film earning hundreds of millions of dollars to become the highest-grossing movie of all time, there was some public backlash against the film. Cameron’s smugness certainly didn’t help, whereas the fact that Bigelow would be the first woman ever to win the Best Director prize. “The Hurt Locker” steamrolled ahead, winning the DGA, PGA, and WGA awards.

Oscar night: Some thought that the two films would split the top two prizes, one winning Best Picture, the other getting Best Director. In that scenario, Bigelow would likely win and “Avatar” would take home Best Picture. As it turned out, “The Hurt Locker” was the film to beat, winning both Best Picture and Best Director and even snatching Best Original Screenplay away from “Inglourious Basterds” and taking home a total of six awards out of its nine nominations. “Avatar” won three technical awards.

Consolation prize for the loser:Avatar” swept the Saturn Awards for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films, winning all ten of its bids, including all four of the acting categories!

Other notable duels: “A Prophet” vs. “The White Ribbon” for Best Foreign Film (victor: third nominee “The Secret in their Eyes”)

Come back next week for a look at the Deadlocked Duel of 2008. If you have a prediction or a suggestion, please leave it in the comments.


Greg Boyd said...

I'll give the Oscars credit here. They got it right. "The Hurt Locker": still one of the best films I've seen that was released this century.

"Avatar", well, you know how I felt about that one. Mind-blowing visuals, almost nothing else.

2008, I don't have a clue about. I have a few thoughts on 2007, but I'll wait on that.

Movies with Abe said...

Two clues for you for 2008: it's not in either of the categories from this week, and I ultimately chose the wrong nominee in my final predictions.

Jorge Rodrigues said...

Let me guess... Streep vs. Winslet next week?

I have to say I rather enjoyed this deadlocked duel. But I can't talk about these two films. I didn't like any of them all that much and I continue to say: outside of the US, no one understands the big fuss surrounding The Hurt Locker. I think both are average films (B for Locker and B- for Avatar). And I can't understand how they collectively passed the opportunity to award Up in the Air which is an amazing film with a timeless edge.