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Home » Culture and Criticism

The Blind Side and Avatar: Let's Congratulate Ourselves On Re-Colonizing The Other With Weaponized Syrup

Submitted by on February 12, 2010 – 9:20 AM59 Comments

avatar-worthington-rodriguez-weaver-mooreWatching The Blind Side and Avatar in a 12-hour period is not recommended, but is nevertheless instructive.

For those of you who avoid my baseball entries, I've written in the past about the reaction to players who accuse MLB, or individuals within MLB, of racism. The official reaction is customarily quite careful, but the reaction among media and fans is often to blow these allegations off at hurricane speeds. Why? A few of the dismissers are actually racists, or merely terminally insensitive; many others, operating from a position of white privilege, simply don't want to deal with it.

But many Caucasian-Americans, I believe, respond with a modified version of plugging the ears and wailing "LA LA LA LA LAAAAA" because we just don't want racism to still exist. We don't want to believe that it continues; we want that problem in the past tense, because it is a blight, a disgrace, in which we all feel implicated and for which we can't make amends. Nor can we go back in time and fight that shadow, so instead, we act as though it has retreated for good.

Or we rewrite history in our art to congratulate ourselves on siding with justice and righteousness. This is a good-hearted and appropriate instinct — mostly; it's difficult to read Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee and not clench the book and mutter, "Come on, come ON, the negotiations won't work, please just start shooting and save yourselves," even though you know how it ends.

But the instinct is one thing. Inserting a member of the dominant cultural group into the narrative; writing that member not only to master the native ways, but to best the natives at their skill sets; implying that only through the smarts and leadership of the formerly reviled, but now trusted and even lionized, Moist White Dude can the poor peaceful natives and their gooey relationship with nature be saved…in one sense, it's the actualization of a white-guilty desire for things to have gone differently, which, while unsophisticated and patronizing, does mean well in its inception.

But it's condescending, it's simplistic, and last but not least, it's boring to watch, because we have seen it done I don't even know how many times already. Avatar is a gorgeous movie to look at in 3D, but the rewatch value is pretty much nil, because the storytelling is hackneyed limousine-liberal global-village garbage straight from the output tray of the Platitudotron 4000.

The storytelling is beside the point, of course. So is the acting (fortunately, because: stinky; ditto the dialect work). I get the feeling James Cameron comes up with a cool visual idea, invents the technology to execute it, and reverse-engineers the script from there, and if you hadn't already figured out that expecting nuance from a Cameron film is a fool's errand, well, now you know. But it isn't a story, really; it's an event, and while I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, that's likely because I thought I would absolutely hate it.

sandra-bullock-blind-sideThe Blind Side is a different version of the same problem. It's based on a true story, but I don't know how much slack that cuts it in terms of how loudly it congratulates itself on helping out a black kid from the projects — the projects! Egad! I haven't read the book, but I suspect that Michael Oher's story is just a bit more complicated than the "seldom speaks, except to reveal deep pools of insight…unless it's more convenient script-beat-wise to go back to portraying him as developmentally delayed" gentle-giant sketch he's given here. Sean Tuohy's "Who'd have thought we'd have a black son before we'd know a Democrat?" line is played for laughs, but: blech. The iron-magnolia character, which Sandra Bullock doesn't completely sell because she's thinking too hard about that accent: double blech. These "real" people feel as fake as a focus-grouped View-Master reel of cornbread.

Of course everything ends up going Michael Oher's way. Of course he never behaves in any scary or complicated manner; how perfect that practically the only hip-hop in the movie is a 20-plus-year-old track from Young MC — which then leads to a car wreck. Of course his mama just turns him over to the Tuohys, and of course the two mamas have a bonding moment, because the white lady is the bestower of virtue and mercy — but still sassy enough to call a homeboy "bitch" right back! You go, girl! To get me some insulin!

Perhaps everything did happen exactly that way, I don't know. No doubt some troubling incidents got elided in the name of uplift; if not, the screenwriter should have created a few, if only to tone down the sanctimony and drown out the back-patting. And the screenwriter absolutely should have cut the "Shame on you" and "He's helping me" lines, because the character is hard enough to relate to with her 1.5 dimensions without having to watch her beatify herself.

As for their Oscar chances, well, Avatar is going to win a lot of things, der. I think it takes Best Director plus all the effects stuff, and Best Picture goes to something else, but it could win BP too. It didn't get any screenplay noms, so: fine. Proceed. It's a huge achievement, the movie, but it's movies like it that make me wish the Academy had a separate category in which to place cultural events like Avatar, which in many ways doesn't belong in the same conversation with a film like An Education.

Sandra Bullock: tough call. As an actor, she's a hard worker, and I respect that about her, but I wouldn't give her the statue for this, not with Mulligan in the category. She didn't suck, but I'd have nominated Michelle Rodriguez instead.

…HA HA HA! No, not really. Come on. Anyway: without having seen the other nominees, I can't call this one yet, but rumor has it Bullock is the front-runner. No real mystery there: they go with Best Supporting Actress for Precious's one statue, skip over Mirren and Streep for winning before, and don't see Mulligan's performance, so it's Bullock's. I don't love it, but that's one reality.

Death Race 43, Sarah 15; 1 out of 24 categories completed

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59 Comments »

  • Sandman says:

    "… how perfect that practically the only hip-hop in the movie is a 20-plus-year-old track from Young MC — which then leads to a car wreck."

    No! Really? That's – Wow. I don't even know what that is.

    Congratulations on completing the category.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    The category is Visual Effects; only three movies in it. Sigh.

  • LALALA says:

    Right On, Sars! Right on commentary on both of these flicks.

  • Lisa says:

    My friends are all very proud of themselves for loving The Blind Side. Look at us! Southern people! Cheering white people for "saving" a black kid!

    All I could think was, "Where's the white family who "saves" an inner-city debater? Or just some random kid with no discernible talents whatsoever?" The whole story just makes me feel icky.

  • Erin says:

    They definitely pulled some incidents – the scene in the movie that happens at the drug dealer's house happened in real life in the university library, and it was a teammate that he fought (and a little boy was injured as a bystander). And as far as I recall, the scene where Leanne visited the mom never happened at all – Michael took pains to keep the two of them apart. I'd recommend the book, and as for the movie I'm surprised it's up for Best Picture, I'm surprised Bullock is up for Best Actress, and I'm surprised she keeps winning.

  • rab01 says:

    Avatar over Hurt Locker for Best Director? Really?

  • Jeremy Preacher says:

    Michelle Rodriguez at least succeeded in playing the only character in Avatar that I didn't want to repeatedly smack about the head…

  • Natalie says:

    Having recently finished reading The Blind Side, the whole story is a lot more complicated from start to finish. Though I was surprised at how many things they pulled straight from the text, even when they changed up the context. I wish they could have brought more of Michael's personal psychology to the screen; he apparently was about that quiet (dunno if he still is), but he had this elaborate defensive network built into what he did and didn't say. It's a book worth reading, if you don't mind football theory.

    As regards the movie, eh. I enjoyed the football coach cameos and Tim McGraw didn't suck as much as I expected, though it's not like he had heavy lifting to do. I still haven't bothered with Avatar on general principle.

  • Jennifer M. says:

    "Platitudotron 4000" is awesome. I shall now adopt it as my own minority child.

  • RJ says:

    "Sandra Bullock: tough call. As an actor, she's a hard worker, and I respect that about her, but I wouldn't give her the statue for this, not with Mulligan in the category. She didn't suck, but I'd have nominated Michelle Rodriguez instead.

    …HA HA HA! No, not really."

    Gad, you scared me there for a minute, Sars.

    I haven't seen either movie, for the following reasons:

    "Avatar" just doesn't interest me. I don't know why, exactly – I just can't get interested in spending money to see it, or seeing it at all.

    "Blind Side" sounds like one of those saccharine Disney films that irritate me. I like the story idea, and I like the fact that it's based on a true story; I like that people with resources helped someone who needed help, don't we all? But I can't see giving Sandra Bullock an Oscar for that. I might eventually see the movie and like it, despite the fact that I'll probably sit there thinking about how conveniently it all wraps up (so I assume, anyway, not having seen it). But Bullock is simply not an Oscar-type actress. I like her very much, I've enjoyed several of her movies, I love how she comes across as a person in general – I just don't think of her as a high-caliber actress.

    And regarding racism … I shake my head at people who say the situation in this country has improved. You might think I'm about to go on a rant about the South or midwest or something (no disrespect intended to anyone from those areas – I'm attempting to use a cliche, a generalization), but I'm a lifelong New Yorker, and I see it here all the time, on all sides.

  • Karen says:

    Thank you. Every time I tried to point out to friends how troubling The Blind Side was from a political/racial standpoint, people just remind me that it's based on a true story. As if that somehow mitigates the narrative, which has to be constructed in order to make it into a movie instead of someone's life. Or as if the fact that something is (might be?) true means it can't ever be politically troubling. GAH.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @rab: "Probably will" and "should" are not the same thing. Complicated battle sequences don't choreograph themselves, and the Academy seems to give the size of the job more weight than drawing good performances from the actors.

  • Patricia says:

    For a shorter read than the book, here is the New York Times article that adapts the Oher part of the book (which I haven't read, but I understand is not entirely about Oher):

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/24/magazine/24football.html?pagewanted=all

  • Hannah says:

    …because the storytelling is hackneyed limousine-liberal global-village garbage straight from the output tray of the Platitudotron 4000.

    Thank you once again for a succinct verbal bitch-slap. That was exactly I was looking for to explain why I didn't want to see that movie.

  • Kristina says:

    I love Sandra Bullock but I can't bring myself to ever watch this. I also haven't seen Crash. But oh do I own While You Were Sleeping and Practical Magic. And Demolition Man. So…yeah. I do love this woman, but you are so right on re: the sanctimonious bs leaking like sieve from that movie.
    Clearly, I need to make a more concerted effort to see An Education.

  • Sarah Mark says:

    I agree, we need an Oscar category for, I don't know, Best Juggernaut or something. Avatar, Lord of the Rings, Titanic: they're not Casablanca but they do deserve recognition for their impact.

  • Shannon says:

    Amen Amen Amen. Did anyone else watch Avatar and think Dances With The Wolves meets Last of the Mohicans meets Ferngully? Thank GOD this aborigines have a white dude to save them!

    Special effects: wicked awesome. Plot? Let's just say that I lost a substantial amount of money to my 18 year old brother throughout the movie as he successfully predicted every plot point well before it happened.

  • KTB says:

    I was just thinking to myself that a movie that can't be bothered to come up with an Oscar-worthy screenplay definitely doesn't deserve a Best Picture nod. I'm so glad I'm not the only one!

    I've seen Avatar, but not The Blind Side, and I don't particularly plan to. Thank you, Sars, for taking that bullet for me. Being that it's a James Cameron movie, I decided to just go in with a blank mind and see what happened. It's not a terrible movie, but it's not great. I think it definitely should have been just given special effects and visual effects and left at that. It's not a Best Picture, but then again, neither was Titanic.

    I know that these are the darkest of horses, but I secretly hope that either The Hurt Locker or District 9 somehow sneaks through and wins everything. I think I'm going to be bitterly disappointed, though.

  • Cassie says:

    Avatar lost me as a viewer when my boyfriend's brother mentioned that the ore they're mining the planet for is called "unobtanium". I mean, seriously? I know we're supposed to look and not listen, so as to better take in the splendid vistas and glowing mushrooms and all, but you couldn't bring a little more brain power to at least call it, like, "mythril"? You don't even have to WORK for that one. Sheesh.

    I will not even start on The Blind Side. All I will say is "meh".

  • Jessi in GA says:

    I'm naming my band View-Master Reel of Cornbread.

    Thank you for this review. From now on, I'm using it to explain why I haven't seen either of these movies.

  • Shanchan says:

    I still haven't seen Avatar- I've heard so many bad things about the storyline that I only want to see it in 3D, to at least get the good visual effects, and those showings have been sold out every time we try to go. As someone over on Making Light put it, the storyline follows the classic theme of "What these people need is a honky!"

  • Kristen says:

    'Avatar lost me as a viewer when my boyfriend's brother mentioned that the ore they're mining the planet for is called "unobtanium".'

    @Cassie — what blew me up most was that "unobtanium" was the fictional material Delroy Lindo's character invented in "The Core" for the ship to take Hilary Swank to the center of the earth. I'm just curious whether they copied it on purpose, but sheesh. What a stupid mental association.

  • Jen S says:

    Thank you Sars! I saw Avatar because it was practically an obligation in today's America, and it deserves every technical award that can possibly be dreamed up by the mind of man. It really was a leap forward in that capacity.

    But Best Picture? No way. That award should go to a movie with a script, not a collection of cliches that were musty, dusty and boring fifty years ago.

    "Unobtanium?" Really? REALLY? NOBODY actually sat down and listened to a read through with the poor actors having to say "UNOBTAINIUM?"

    Not to mention the usual problems that come with the "McGuffin Beyond Price that We Evil Humans must have!" Basically, look at how much Earth and its corporations have spent on this project. Huge ships taking a five year journey to ferry hundreds of humans to Pandora. A giant, solid base that's really a small city, with the enormous heavy equipment needed for the mining, support and feeding of the masses of humans, the state of the art labs, and the avatar tanks used to grow the bodies. We are talking countless trillions and trillions of dollars or space credits or whatever. You cannot convince me that this Unobtainium crap can possibly be worth enough to turn a profit, especially since they're very careful not to say what it actually does!

    But let's say Unobtanium is being used to build a telephone to God or allow us to fold space or whatever, and is actually worth all this hoo-ha. That means the forces of Earth will stop at nothing to get back there, blow Pandora to bits and start scooping up Unobtanium from around the piles of corpses. Yes, the Pandoran forces won the ground guerilla war, since they had home court advantage, but the humans are just going to come back and blast them from the atmosphere! Why land when you can fire rockets from space? They haven't bought themselves anything but a twelve year reprieve before the end.

    And I'm not even going to get into the utter stupidity of the two scientists being left behind on Pandora as a reward or some such crap. Has everyone forgotten that humans cannot even BREATHE on this planet without apparatus? And they are the size of tiny dogs, and everything wants to kill them? So they're essentially prisoners on the base, which will fall apart rapidly without mantainence, eating old MREs and cursing and desperately trying to grow their own avatars by themselves with ever more malfunctioning equipment so they can at least run around the killer forest a few times before the humans come back and start blasting. GAH! Good DAY, Mr. Cameron! I believe I said GOOD DAY!

    ….oh. Uh, spoiler alert? Oh, the hell with it.

  • Todd K says:

    @SDB: If I got into everything I hated about The Blind Side, the comment would be longer than the review, but what about that lame third-act complication with the NCAA bureaucrat? The actress is rather good, but the sequence bracketed by her two scenes with Michael is the most contrived stretch of a long, contrived movie. Once Michael and Leigh Anne's implausible rift has been repaired, and all that "tense" "drama" in the projects is behind us, the investigator's concerns can be alleviated in a 15-second scene. "Ma'am, I really do want to go to Ole Miss." "Oh. Well. Then, my work here is done." This was consequential enough to be the framing device?

    I've read that Michael Oher had more football prowess from the start than we're led to believe here, and hardly needed Mrs. Tuohy to explain basic concepts to him. I have not done enough digging to be sure that that's true, but it doesn't matter, if so; it would have been inconvenient to the "Plucky Leigh Anne Does It All" narrative, which is really what this obnoxious star vehicle is about. She saves at-risk youth; she stands up to gangbangers; she marches onto the field in mid-game and takes over the job of the coach…I had read years ago that Sandra Bullock was in talks to play Wonder Woman, but I had thought they were referring to the DC Comics character. I guess it was code for this.

    (I make no comment on the real-life Leigh Anne Tuohy, of course. She probably is as lovely and admirable as this movie insists we find Bullock's pushy Hollywood analog.)

    @Karen: You got there ahead of me. "But it's a true story!" in response to criticism of a fact-based movie is never the trump card some believe it is. Cameras were not, in fact, rolling when all the incidents took place. A stenographer was not sitting in the corner recording private conversations. Any dramatization is the product of thousands of choices by a director, a screenwriter, and actors. Even a documentary about Michael Oher and the Tuohy family would have needed to be shaped by someone.

    @RJ: I don't want to see Sandra Bullock win (certainly not for this), but disagree that she is "simply not an Oscar-type actress." Like or not, she's virtually the prototype for the lead category since Helen Hunt in 1998. With exactly one and a half exceptions, they've all been versions of her: below a certain age, slender and conventionally attractive, marketable in certain ways, strong popular appeal. She's even in the Hunt/Roberts/Witherspoon succession line of someone who's had massive success in undemanding fluff and now is showcased in something that allegedly vindicates her as a real actor of range.

    I think the only way she loses this is if there's some groundswell to the effect of "Meryl hasn't won in 27 years, and should have more than two of these by now."

  • Seankgallagher says:

    I haven't seen all of The Blind Side, but I have read the book, and yeah, a lot of nuance is thrown out from what I've seen. For starters, of course, the book is about Michael Oher (as well as, of course, the reason why the left tackle position has become so important in football in the last 30 years or so), and while Leigh Ann Tuohy is definitely an important character, she isn't the story. Once again, Hollywood tells a movie about minorities through the eyes of a white person. Not only that, but in the book at least, Leigh Ann at least learns near the end of the book Michael is not an anomaly – there's a passage about another kid (unfortunately, I forget his name), who came from a similar background to Michael's, and had a chance of escaping his background through football, but was shot and killed instead, and Leigh Ann, in tears, tells her husband about this story – saying that could have been Michael this happened to – and the two of them needed to set up some kind of foundation to help other kids like Michael. You might find that patronizing as well (also the book finishes before you learn if she is, in fact, able to do that – I haven't been able to find out if she has), but at least you get the sense she knows there has to be some kind of systemic change before things are able to turn around for people like Michael, and it's not just a matter of someone like her playing Mary Poppins. From what I saw, that didn't make it at all in the movie.

    One other thing; this movie has been called Bullock's Erin Brockovich. I think it's important to remember Julia Roberts passed on The Blind Side. Now, she may have passed on it for scheduling reasons, money reasons, or something like that, but I wonder if she passed because of how simple-minded the movie was (and you can call Erin Brockovich a lot of things, but it isn't ever simple-minded).

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Has everyone forgotten that humans cannot even BREATHE on this planet without apparatus?

    I think that was Camwanked during the sequence with Grace, and then at the end, when Enya or whatever their Gaiaquivalent is sends tendrils up and lets them trade their consciousness into the other body. Or something. Convenient!

    I'm still not clear on why, if Annyong or whatever could be asked to summon the beast forces, why She couldn't also be asked to this much sooner — or why they couldn't just ask her if she'd mind belching the unobtainium up to the surface and saving everyone years of grief. Like, if everyone's plugged into this TweeNet, can't the life force grok the problem from that, and solve it without bloodshed?

    But then of course there's no call for pious moralizing about indigenous cultures. Heh.

    I kind of enjoyed the Colonel, if only because the guy playing him is clearly having a rad old time. He's all jaunty in the lead plane with his travel mug and his Biceps Of Evil, a-sippin' and a-glarin'; it's fun to watch. "My scars grow more pronounced as it becomes clearer that I am a villainhole! Shoot everything that moves! Rarrrr!"

  • Renee says:

    I saw Avatar twice, both times in 3D. The first time by myself the week it opened because I am both a sci fi and a new technology nerd and wanted to be as unspoiled as possible. So I heard "unobtanium" for the first time as I was experiencing it in the movie, and exclaimed before I could stop myself "really???" I then proceeded to get angrier and angrier at the crap fest of "dialogue" and "plot." The colonial miraculously holding his breath for 20 minutes on three separate occasions. The scientist's unexplained 180 on Sully because he was needed in the learning montage. The pilot being allowed access to prisoners after she abandoned the battle field. The intelligent natives who thought arrows would be effective against the airplanes. AAAAARRRRGGG. I was so annoyed that I really didn't get a chance to enjoy the 3D.

    And it could have been interesting. There were interesting concepts, like Pandora literally having a world wide web. There are plenty of talented screenwriters out of work, Mr. Cameron. Next time, HIRE ONE.

    And yet I went back a second time with my husband because we won't be able to go to both days of the AMC Best Picture Showcase (which he had been waiting for originally). This time, I just turned off my brain and enjoyed the pretty.

    But I will be disappointed in the Academy if it gets Best Picture. I should not be required to turn off my brain to enjoy a Best Picture.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Sean: That shooting incident is mentioned in the film. I definitely think the movie is well-meaning, as I'm sure the Tuohys are, and it actually starts out pretty well; it has a briskness of tone, and I was just telling Alli that I liked how, in the first third, Leigh Anne is just like, "…What. Let's do this, chop chop." But those chips got stale in a hurry.

    The role of Erin Brockovich was written with better depth, I think. I'm not entirely sure Roberts wasn't rewarded for parts of the role that weren't really her performance per se, but I didn't have a problem with it; I like her in the movie and she ate that part up with a spoon. Bullock doesn't seem as confident by comparison, but that could also be the writing.

  • Carrie says:

    I can't help but think of The Blind Side as the "Red State" Oscar Entry. I can't quite pin it down, but this movie feels to me like it was ruthlessly grown in a petri dish to appeal to the types of movie-goers to complain about sex and bad language in movies, and just want some good old fashioned clean fun! They want characters they can "relate" to, and which don't scare (Precious) or bore (An Education) them. And now they will have their moment on Oscar Night, when Sandra Bullock wins the Julia Roberts award for Most Accent By A Female in a Leading Role.

  • Diane says:

    Jennifer M: BAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAA! Oh, that was a wonderful gust of laughter on a boring afternoon.

    Cassie: Good lord, THANK you for being the single solitary person I've seen anywhere who had exactly the same response I did to the name of the stupid McGuffin. Good grief. And Kristen, now I'm even more depressed over that stupidity.

    I'm a big old sci-fi nerd, and Avatar hasn't interested me since the first five minutes I heard about it. Give me LeGuin, give me Trek, just don't expect to give me a ticket to Avatar and have me pay for it. *meh*

  • lauren says:

    but still sassy enough to call a homeboy "bitch" right back! You go, girl! To get me some insulin!

    i might not see either film, but that right there? made my day.

  • Lee says:

    Apparently there aren't a whole lot of hard core sci-fi geeks around here. :) Unobtanium is a genre convention that is used frequently. Yes, the name is stupid, but it's basically just meant to represent some awesome thing that is so awesome we can't even tell you what it does.
    My thoughts on the film were that I have seen Dances with Wolves and The Last Samurai, so I knew what was going to happen throughout. Pretty to look at, though.
    I cannot bring myself to watch The Blind Side for so so many reasons, which is surprising because I am a southerner who is also a huge college football fan. Oh well…

  • Hannah says:

    "Unobtanium" has actually been in use for a while in the real world (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unobtainium). That doesn't make Cameron's use of it any smarter–it feels like, in the process of making an action/fantasy movie, he got off track and tried to make it a self-aware parable for a little while.

    But at least you can't accuse him of theft. Nor, I suppose, can you credit him with allusion.

  • Jen S says:

    @Sars, I thought that was just for Grace and than the lead at the end, when he's transferring his consciousness into his Avatar body for good, rather than needing the coffin/tank thing to lie in. So the two guys would still have to grow their own Na'vi bodies to be transferred into.

    … or not. I'm sure not going to sit through it again to find out. But I agree that Sargent Evil was funny–that actor knew that there are two levels to a bad guy performance in a Cameron film: "NUCLEAR" and "BLAST." Hee! Like Billy Zane before him, he realized this was the time to make a big ol' tasty ham sandwich.

  • Jess F says:

    This is what amazed me the most about Avatar: they spent HOW much money on the damn thing and they didn't bother to teach Sigourney Weaver how to use a damn Pipetman? Did you SEE that? She's holding the damn thing like a syringe!

    I mean, the plot was Pocahontas/Ferngully/Dances with Wolves in all its cliche glory, but it would have taken 5 minutes and a Google search to make her not look like a blooming idiot to anyone with a smidgen of scientific background!

  • Meagen says:

    @Jen S.

    You do realize there's going to be a sequel or three to Avatar, right?

    That's one of my major beefs with Hollywood these days. Once a movie makes money they make a pack of sequels even though none are really needed. For example, take "The Matrix" or "Pirates of the Caribbean". Both enjoyable movies that can stand on their own. But someone in Hollywood just couldn't resist tacking on two more movies.

    At least when Cameron made "Titanic", any temptation to make a sequel, or gosh forbid a "prequel", sank with the boat.

  • Todd K says:

    [I'm still not clear on why, if Annyong or whatever could be asked to summon the beast forces, why She couldn't also be asked to this much sooner]

    I could let them slide on that one. I mean, I always used to wonder why Popeye didn't just eat the spinach at the beginning of the cartoon too, but sometimes you have to help a formula along.

    Avatar is going to be greatly diminished in the home formats, and thus will age badly. The 3D was easily the best use of that process I've seen. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but this wasn't at all the gimmicky "arrow coming right at you" norm. The images were beautiful, deep and rich, and really earned the description.

    Director/Picture handicapping: Interesting that you think Cameron gets Director but something else takes Picture, and I say it's more likely the other way around. Kathryn Bigelow has too much on her side. She's the oldest in the race, if not by much, so she gets the "has paid her dues" cred. She's only the fourth woman to be nominated, and this sort of "it's time" excitement/sentiment was just not there for Jane Campion or Sofia Coppola. To the point made about degree of difficulty, Cameron's is a painstaking achievement, but I think Bigelow matches him in her way — she shot a challenging movie in 120-degree heat in Jordan, on a shoestring. As far as precursors I go, her DGA and slew of critics' prizes probably trump his Golden Globe. Also, he's won once, and he's widely disliked, and no one wants him to get another opportunity to make a speech.

  • MeganT says:

    Total techno nerd, and I often turn my brain off at the movies–if I want to think about my entertainment, I read. So turn off the brain, enjoy the pretty that is Avatar (which I saw in 3-D at the local IMAX, and yes I did have to buy my tickets three weeks early), and root like crazy for Kathryn Bigelow to win for Hurt Locker. Avatar won't hold up to rewatching, except as a vehicle for heckling–and cheering on Sergeant Evil and Norm the Pissy Scientist.

  • rab01 says:

    @Hannah – "But at least you can't accuse him of theft. Nor, I suppose, can you credit him with allusion."

    Not sure if that was sarcasm or you haven't heard that Cameron has been pretty vocally accused of stealing the idea for Avatar from a story by the late Poul Anderson, titled "Call Me Joe." It's about a crippled man who has the job of mentally guiding a remote alien/drone exploring another planet and decides that he prefers being the drone.

    If it was sarcasm, sorry. And I salute the dryness of it.

  • Hannah says:

    @rab01–I like to think it was dry, but no, it wasn't sarcasm. :) I was only referring to his use of "unobtainium"–bad idea, creatively, but not lifted from any one else in particular.

    I don't doubt that he could've lifted the story idea from somewhere else. I get the impression that the stories (and their origins) don't get a whole lot of sit-down time with him.

  • Kim W. says:

    Until I saw how Giovanni Ribisi's character was written in AVATAR, I didn't know it was even POSSIBLE to write a zero-dimensional character.

    Seriously. He had more "teh big evil corporate guy" stereotypes than Montgomery Burns. I half expected them to have a scene with a little blue alien kid eating candy just so they could show Ribisi stealing it.

  • RJ says:

    @Todd K – @RJ: I don't want to see Sandra Bullock win (certainly not for this), but disagree that she is "simply not an Oscar-type actress." Like or not, she's virtually the prototype for the lead category since Helen Hunt in 1998. With exactly one and a half exceptions, they've all been versions of her: below a certain age, slender and conventionally attractive, marketable in certain ways, strong popular appeal. She's even in the Hunt/Roberts/Witherspoon succession line of someone who's had massive success in undemanding fluff and now is showcased in something that allegedly vindicates her as a real actor of range.

    I had to read this a couple of times to realize that we agree :). I see your point – as far as those who make these decisions go, Ms. Bullock IS an Oscar-type actress, and "The Blind Side" IS Oscar material.

    Come to think of it, I didn't agree with Helen Hunt's win, Julia Roberts' win, Marisa Tomei's win, or Gwyneth Paltrow's win. Or, for that matter, Renee Zellwegger's win. I'd give Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep Oscars just for showing up, because I love them; periodically, I'd include Kate Winslet in that.

    I'm curious – you said "one and a half times" that wasn't the case – who were you thinking of?

  • HeatherB says:

    I work in a video store, and have had nearly every customer rave "You must see 'Avatar', now, in theaters, in 3D!" at me. And I…just don't want to.

    As the hype started building pre-release, I thought, "Oh, it's 'Titanic 2.0' – really awesome special effects, an unspeakably dreadful script, wooden one-dimensional characters, and Cameron's special ability to suck the acting talent right out of anyone who's otherwise good." And from what y'all have said…yeah.

    I used to really like him, back in the "Terminator"/"Aliens" days. I think he spent more than 5 minutes on a script then. That's my problem with him – he loves the tech stuff, fine, more power to him, but he needs to stop filming his first drafts. A crap screenplay makes a crap movie, no matter how you shoot it.

    And, as mentioned…"unobtanium"? A word that's been around so long you might as well call the stuff McGuffinium? He couldn't be bothered to make something up? LAZY, LAZY, LAZY. Inexcusable.

    The Academy needs a special category, something like "Great Leaps in Film Technology", that doesn't also imply the technology was used for a good film.

    "Hurt Locker"/Kathryn Bigelow all the way. Amazing movie. (Also loved "District 9", but it doesn't have a prayer.)

    But, as KTB said, I think I'm going to be disappointed.

  • SP says:

    Ugh. Daven't seen "Blind Side," and don't intend to; I absolutely loved the book, and I don't enjoy Sandra Bullock one bit, so the movie was always going to be a nonstarter with me. (I would disagree with only one description of the book in the comments above: I couldn't be less interested in football theory, as a concept. But in the context of the book, I cared and found it fascinating — so you can enjoy the book even if you sort of *do* mind football theory. :) )

    Anyway, this just depresses me: "Of course he never behaves in any scary or complicated manner" — because, oh my God, if there is one thing about Michael that stands out in the book, it is how deeply, incredibly, monumentally complicated a person he is. He's determined that the most effective defense mechanism is to shut down when people are coming at him, but that's not about being a simpleton.

    Sigh.

  • Todd K says:

    @RJ: [I'm curious – you said "one and a half times" that wasn't the case – who were you thinking of?]

    Helen Mirren and Marion Cotillard, the latter being the "half," because although she and the film came out of nowhere and she was no established commercial performer for the industry, she was another young beauty.

    I don't mean that everyone in the litany of Hunt, Paltrow, Swank (twice), Roberts, Berry, Kidman, Theron, Witherspoon, and Winslet was undeserving. There's a range of talent there, and I found some of those wins gratifying. But a kind of template has emerged in the lead category over the past decade-plus. In their respective years, I was pulling for Ellen Burstyn in Requiem For A Dream, Imelda Staunton in Vera Drake, Felicity Huffman in Transamerica, and Julie Christie in Away From Her. I knew none of them had much of a shot.

  • Deirdre says:

    @Sean (hi, btw!): "(and you can call Erin Brockovich a lot of things, but it isn't ever simple-minded)."

    So, The Blind Side is more simple-minded than Erin Brockovich? Yikes. I only saw that for the first time about a week ago, and while I didn't think it was bad I sure didn't feel like it broke any new ground or had anything really new to say.

    I tend to agree with Todd that if the Picture/Director awards are split this year, it's likely to go Avatar/Bigelow. Aside from the points he made, the New Yorker also pointed out this week that there are a lot of ex-wives in the various voting blocs, and Bigelow might get a few votes out of that.

  • Seth L says:

    I need to send you cookies or something as thanks for this whole series.

    "I kind of enjoyed the Colonel, if only because the guy playing him is clearly having a rad old time. He's all jaunty in the lead plane with his travel mug and his Biceps Of Evil, a-sippin' and a-glarin'; it's fun to watch. "My scars grow more pronounced as it becomes clearer that I am a villainhole! Shoot everything that moves! Rarrrr!""

    Also, "Annyong." You are priceless Sars.

    Oh and please stop before you hit transformers, it will hurt you.

  • Seankgallagher says:

    Sars – thanks for correcting me about the shooting.

    Deirdre (hi to you as well! I promise I'll e-mail you soon!): No, I didn't find Erin Brockovich simple-minded. I can understand finding it flat, and no, it doesn't break new ground, but it treats the subject with a light touch, instead of being heavy-handed, doesn't make the title character into a saint, doesn't turn her story into a story of "redemption," and doesn't shortchange the actual victims (unlike, say, A Civil Action).

    Re Avatar: I didn't mind "Unobtanium," even though I thought at first it was Cameron's way of trying to be like Rocky & Bullwinkle. Also, I guess I'd go with the consensus of "loved the visuals, thought the story was so-so." I do have to disagree with the characterization of the acting on two fronts; like Sars, I did enjoy Stephen Lang hamming it up as the colonel, but I also liked Zoe Saldana as the Na'vi warrior.

  • Soylent says:

    Well as bored out of my gourd as Avatar made me (internal thought process: now that he's mastered the flying dragon, can we please have a 10 minute sequence of Sully flying around pretty scenery. No! No! No! I was joking! Can't you detect sarcasm? Aaaaaaaaaaaargggggghhhhh) I am now grateful for its existence because it has inspired some of Sars' greatest writing, and that's saying something.

    "hackneyed limousine-liberal global-village garbage straight from the output tray of the Platitudotron 4000." is platinum

  • Deanna says:

    And the bill for cleaning Diet Coke off my screen and keyboard goes to Jennifer M. Congrats on the adoption of the Platitudotron 4000, and may it produce many safe vanilla hit movies for you in years to come.

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