The Cynical Optimist – 10/3/10


“I’d Like To Smack The Academy…”

“The Hurt Locker,” directed by Kathryn Bigelow, is an American war film that follows Sergeant First Class William James (Jeremy Renner), a cigarette smoking, battle-hardened expert, who becomes the leader of a U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit.

It is a well-acted, action-filled war epic with captivating cinematography and taut, suspenseful editing. With that being said, I certainly felt that it was one of the best films of 2009 – and felt strongly that it deserved an Academy Award nomination. However, it’s hardly the best of the bunch in my opinion.

In fact, here’s a recap of my top ten films of 2009:

1. Up In The Air
2. 500 Days of Summer
3. District 9
4. Avatar
5. Inglourious Basterds
6. The Road
7. Moon
8. The Hurt Locker
9. Star Trek
10. Adventureland

Yes, any cinema enthusiast can recognize that this film was technically sound, but it simply wasn’t as endearing as films like “Up in the Air,” or “(500) Days of Summer.” Nor was it as entertaining as “Inglourious Basterds” and James Cameron’s technological juggernaut, “Avatar.”

Sure, this modest little war flick was made for a paltry $11 million, but Neil Blomkamp’s “District 9” was also considered a low-budget film at $30 million and contained a compelling story, amazing performances and state-of-the-art effects. Did I mention it was also exceedingly entertaining and – dare I say – more important and relevant than Bigelow’s film?

Kathryn Bigelow is, at best, a competent director. Before “The Hurt Locker,” her best directorial endeavor to date was “Point Break,” starring Keanu Reeves as a surfin’ undercover FBI agent.

Bigelow is only the fourth woman in Academy Awards history to receive a Best Director nomination. Among the others who lost out on coveted accolade: Lina Wertmuller for “Seven Beauties” (1976), Jane Campion for “The Piano” (1993) and Sofia Coppola for “Lost in Translation” (2003).

But does Bigelow really deserve the Oscar? It’s downright ridiculous that “The Hurt Locker” would generate the same kind of critical reception if directed by a man. Its imperfections would be scrutinized to no end. I’m sure if someone like James Cameron or Ridley Scott were to direct this film, everyone would be quick to point out the familiar plot elements and muddled politics.

Director of Photography Barry Ackroyd, under the [competent] direction of Kathryn Bigelow has crafted a pornographic film for enthusiasts of war – fetishizing nearly every aspect of the conflict and focusing on one soldier’s thrill-seeking bravado who puts his men at risk with every bold stunt he pulls.

10 years from now, I have a feeling “The Hurt Locker” will get lost in the immeasurable pile of films about the War on Terrorism. Not only will “The Hurt Locker” be void of significance, but the decision to give Bigelow an Oscar for her [competent] direction will be regarded as a, “Well, she may never get nominated again,” opportunity to make history and give a female director the ultimate compliment – the chance to win something she didn’t earn and rub it in her ex-husband’s smug face.

Speaking of people winning things that don’t deserve them – what about Sandra Bullock? I believe the middling actress said it best when she asked the Academy, “Did I really earn this or did I just wear ya’ll down?”

Let’s face it; “The Blind Side” could have just as easily been a Lifetime Original movie. It could have starred any number of actresses who could have portrayed Leigh Anne Tuohy with proficiency. Yes, the film was endearing and one of those feel-good cinematic experiences – but it’s the emotional equivalent to “Marley and Me.”

If there were a category for “Best Manipulation of Human Emotion,” John Lee Hancock’s film could have easily taken the statue. How could a woman who has made such recent films as “All About Steve” and “The Proposal” beat out Meryl Streep for best leading actress?

I suppose even a blind squirrel finds a nut occasionally, and thus Sandra Bullock has taken center stage as Miss Academy Awards 2010 – tossing aside that “Miss Congeniality 2” sash.

While we’re talking about things that piss me off, let’s talk about the Academy’s tribute to horror films. I was thoroughly enjoying it until I saw a quick snippet of “Twilight” come into my field of vision. What the fuck… are you serious?

Since when did some fifth-rate, piece of shit harlequin romance about sparkly vampires get to share the screen with films like “Jaws,” “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Psycho.” It’s fucking preposterous and insulting to the whole spirit of paying tribute to these films that seldom get the credit they deserve.

Most people have regarded this year’s Oscar race as David Vs. Goliath, but I wonder if we didn’t confuse the roles Bigelow and Cameron were to play in this epic struggle. Sure, Cameron had the technology and the box office receipts… but if you ask me, he never had a chance against Bigelow.

While being a [competent] director, Bigelow made a low-budget, politically charged American war drama that appealed to the Academy’s own brand of politics. Yes, “The Hurt Locker” was a great film – but it feels more manufactured as an “Oscar film” than Cameron’s “Avatar.” It feels so manufactured at times, I wonder if Bigelow gave Clint Eastwood a ring for pointers….