Some Best Picture winners were small, brooding, character-driven dramas, such as Ordinary People or Million Dollar Baby. Some drew us in with their shocking screenplays, expressive violence and emotionally-wraught suspense, as in The Silence of the Lambs, The Departed, or No Country for Old Men. Still other films probably took home the Best Picture Oscar from a sheer creative, awe-inspiring, production-value standpoint (as long as they had a compelling story), a.k.a.: Chicago, The Return of the King, and, yes, Titanic. Then there were those rare movies that came along that possessed all of these qualities: Forrest Gump, Braveheart, Gladiator. Avatar is NOT one of these, but will remain in both audience’s and voters’ sensory-side of the brain long after the 3-D glasses have been “recycled” (or hoarded in pockets until outside, like mine).
James Cameron’s $300 million dollar spectacle is truly one of the most intriguing, visually astonishing events to hit theaters since, well, The Lord of the Rings. Avatar tells a simple story, yet certainly not without complexity or pathos, not unlike a classic Disney fairy tale. The story is fun and lightly compelling, yet has been told many times before (white man attempts to rape the land of the natives at any cost). The acting is quite convincing, especially Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver, who offer powerful performances behind Cameron’s self-proclaimed “performance capture” technology. There are even well-documented, controversial messages about nature conservation, the role of the military, the enigma of war, and the over-extension of capitalism. However, Avatar’s best asset is what Cameron has been crowing about for years, its awe-inspiring, groundbreaking visuals, which are meant to be experienced, not simply watched — and he has succeeded masterfully.
James Cameron is the Michael Jordan of technological filmmaking — he is pioneering, invincible, and walks the talk. Even though we (and the Academy) have seen these types of stories and limited-vocabulary characters over and over again, we don’t mind this time because nearly every second in Avatar looks, sounds, and, seemingly, feels as if it was not only painstakingly fabricated by a perfectionist, but nurtured with care, love and magic — yes, even some of that old movie magic that apparently has been in hibernation for several years. This is why Avatar seems too short at 163 minutes, why millions of people around the world are returning to re-experience the epic, and why it just might take home the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture of the Year — it is truly groundbreaking, magnificent, and, well…fun — now we know why James Cameron took twelve years to make Avatar — this is what entertainment should be, and will aspire to be — for the next twelve.