Monday, January 18, 2010

A Golden Age

Yesterday, it seems, the Golden Globes were distributed.  We'd heard that this was going to occur, but, in the end, we didn't care enough to watch. 

It now seems that may have been a mistake. 

We woke up this morning to some unexpected news.  First, the award for best actor in a comedy was given to Robert Downey, Jr. for Sherlock Holmes.  Secondly, the awards for best director and best film in drama were both handed to James Cameron for making Avatar.

A moment must be spared to reflect on the category designations here.  What makes Sherlock Holmes a comedy and Avatar a drama?  Intentionally or not, Avatar was by far the funnier film.  Both movies tried to incorporate dramatic scenes: Sherlock Holmes was by far more successful in this endeavor.

This isn't to say that we liked Avatar less.  We greatly enjoyed the experiences offered by both pictures, and are more than a little amused by their victories.  But, while there seems little controversy in belatedly celebrating Downey's string of superb roles, Avatar's award seems somewhat more controversial.

We don't believe it can be seriously entertained that Avatar is the best movie of the year in terms of writing, plot, dialogue, or acting.  Likewise, Cameron's directorial skill wasn't displayed through character interaction or storytelling.

Nevertheless, Avatar has raised the bar on many technological levels.  The special effects were incredible; their integration nearly flawless.  We often hear critics complain that many blockbusters are nothing but mindless imagery, a critique we find hollow.  The level of genius required to design and synthesize Pandora is no less impressive, in our humble opinion, than that required to write and direct The Godfather.  After all, no one complains that brilliant, small art house films with a brilliant idea and script lack a 200 million dollar budget.

Avatar's award is, among other things, a victory of style over substance, of design over character, and technology over human.  In some ways, it represents the revenge of industry over the organic principles the film claimed to celebrate.

Would Avatar have been better with better writing?  Perhaps, though it would have had to be much better to make up for the unintentional comedy that helped make the movie so entertaining.  Sure, there are movies that combine amazing effects with brilliant writing and acting - Lord of the Rings being the obvious example - but we can celebrate a movie that focuses on certain aspects, so long as it does these exceptionally.  We do this all the time when we honor low-budget films that forgo effects to focus on human elements.

Why then shouldn't a movie win for nothing more than visual effects?

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