Welcome to The Wood. A whenever I want column where I give Hollywood a hard time. Today (and this week) we're talking about the Oscar race.
I'm in hell. I didn't mean to bring my laptop to a coffee shop in Silverlake, it just happened - Sunset never stops. Next to me, some dude in a fedora is telling his girlfriend why A Single Man should win best picture, and what a travesty it is that it wasn't nominated. Maybe I'd agree with him if he didn't look like a Jonas brother. I overheard him say something about "Quentin voting for Gabby," I thought I caught him pretentiously muttering something about "Carey's spot on debut," then toss away "Jason's populist flick." I was either sitting next to the most powerful producer in Hollywood, or witnessing a reoccurring Hollywood phenomenon I call "first name syndrome."
"How do you know Quentin Tarantino?" I leaned over and asked, finding it increasingly difficult to ignore such overwhelming douchiness in my city.
It's at this time that I realized - this bro's not with his girlfriend, he's on a first date with some poor young actress/waitress and decided to take her to bullshit cafe. She looked sweet, maybe from Dallas, definitely new to the town - as evidenced by her inability to sift through the bottom barrel. She can't figure out why she keeps finding herself at coffee shops in Silverlake alongside phonies with half beards and made up expense accounts. I felt for her.
"Never mind." I turned back to my computer.
My encounter with this Dov Charney wannabe made me think a lot about awards season, and the state of movies in general. Despite his overall hideous aura, the guy actually brought up most of what are considered the "best" movies of the year. He thought Fantastic Mr.
Fox was a return to form for Wes, he was stoked to see an Iraq movie succeed and thought Kathryn had directed this generation's Platoon. He was moved to the core by The Cove, and thought Inglourious Basterds kicked ass, for the most part. I'll admit it, he had pretty good taste, he seemed to have little interest in so called mainstream movies. Not a mention of Avatar, nothing about Valentine's Day or The Hangover.
Naturally, I started to wonder - who sees good movies? These guys? So they can seem smart to sweet little Sarah Jay from Dallas? I became disenfranchised. I worried that for once we finally had good movies again but nobody but these jerk offs were seeing them. But
everyone's seen Avatar. So there's your best picture. James Cameron made another movie that can be loved and, more importantly, understood by everybody. Let's call the effect: "Avartardation." I don't think anybody left the theater after jumping into Cameron's mushroom trip of planetary proportions and said "I don't get it." We get it. The Na'vi were sitting on a rock that the whiteys couldn't obtain so they called it "unobtanium." The epicenter of the civilization was called "home tree" - we all remember home room in high school, this is not new stuff to us. We get it. Even the elitists in the audience had to admit they'd never seen anything like it, proving Avatar to be bulletproof. To the middle, it delivered in all the ways movies deliver, and to the cynics it dazzled enough visually to ensure momentary amnesia about the glaringly weak points in the story and the script.
But the most polarizing moment of Cameron's sci-fi wet dream came courtesy of a line delivered by Michelle Rodriguez, of Hawaiian DUI fame. In a moment when the future of the world hung in balance, when the stakes were no smaller than the fate of humanity itself, Michelle Rodriguez rose from the ashes with a painted helicopter and grumbled "You're not the only one with a gun, bitch." To many, this was a real "Oprah moment" -- to me it was the moment the movie jumped the shark, or nuked the fridge. I laughed hysterically, couldn't help it. I thought surely the whole theater was with me, there's no way people were getting behind this one.
Low and behold, what I saw when I looked around was astonishing: tears in peoples' eyes, some subtle and involuntary fist pumps, some applause. What seemed objectively to be
a laughably terrible line in the script had turned into a winning moment for the movie, and a representation of what was really going on here. These people in the audience were Avatards, most of us are Avatards. We buy that shit hook line, and sinker. After all, who am I to doubt the audacity of the endeavor or the mind-numbing execution by the self pronounced "King of the World"? I had to curtail my laughter, I had to become a fan; I feared if I didn't, the Avatards
would take me out back and stone me with made up rocks from Pandora. This was the winning movie of the year, whether I liked it or not. The movement was too strong, those with taste seemed relegated to coffee shops in Silverlake, shunned and ostracized by the United
States of Avatardation. We could talk about the success of smaller movies this year such as Sin Nombre or Anvil, but nobody could hear us. The Na'vi battle cry was too loud, in this case, in this race, Avatar is in fact the only one with a gun, bitch. Sasha Stone at Awards Daily put it well, "very few people can compete with Jim Cameron, who is not only King of the World, but King of the Universe. This is Oscars old school."
Much has been made of Avatar being the "future" of movies. I hope not. I hope we can find sophistication in our storytelling, I hope we stop regurgitating script formulas, I hope Hollywood stops being repetitive. I'm all for making everything look better, but let's not
forget the story. Let's not forget to make it unique, let's not forget the responsibility movies have to illuminate new things about our increasingly non-cinematic existences.
I packed up my laptop and turned to leave but I couldn't fight my instinct.
"What'd you think of Avatar?" I asked.
Dude looks up from his double espresso and straight into my eyes. I was hoping he would be insulted, that he'd diss the script or somehow be offended by the story's lack of sophistication. I needed to know that someone had taste, even if that someone was Johnny hipster in a fedora.
"Loved it" he said, then shot his date a coy smile, eliciting the same from her.
"Wasn't it crazy?" She said.
"It sure is." I replied. I should have been done with it there.
"What do you do?" I couldn't resist asking him.
"I'm a screenwriter." That's when things went black.
Despite it all, a week before the Oscars, it looks like everyone is bringing a knife to Avatar's gun fight. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe adding an infinite amount of zeros to James Cameron's bank account was enough, maybe The Hurt Locker takes it, and A Prophet gets the recognition it deserves. Maybe the biggest year for Hollywood's wallet can still end in rewarding the best movie, not the most expensive or audacious. Here's to hoping, and here's to rooting for the good movies, not just the pretty ones.
Join me this week as we dissect the Oscar race, I'll help you get through dizzying amount of information and blog posts. I can't wait until it's over, because when it is, I'm gonna give Shitter Island a really hard time.
See you next time in The Wood.