Just one week ago, all of the Oscar buzz was in favor of "Avatar." After dominating the box office for over a month, the film picked up the Golden Globes for Best Picture and Director. From reporters to ordinary moviegoers, no one would stop talking about "Avatar." It was riding an unstoppable wave to the top.
Then, one of the most important precursors to the Oscars, the Producers Guild of America, announced its pick for Best Picture: "The Hurt Locker." While "The Hurt Locker" picked up nearly every major critics' award, it went home empty handed at the Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Now, just one award might not mean "Avatar" is a total goner. However, the Globes are not known as a very good predictor for the Oscars (sorry, "Hangover" fans). The Guild Awards are usually much more accurate, as much of the voting body for the Guilds also vote for the Oscars. Meanwhile, the HFPA, who vote for the Globes, are an entirely separate voting body.
This news still stuns me. While "The Hurt Locker" is one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year, its box office can't help it much. "The Hurt Locker" made about $12 million domestically. That's less than half of what "Avatar" made on its opening day.
Now, Best Picture winners don't necessarily need to be blockbusters like "Avatar," however I do recall people saying that the $54 million gross was too low.
Going beyond money, "The Hurt Locker" makes sense as a Best Picture winner. Not only is it a masterpiece, but it's a defining film of our time. It is by far the best film made yet about the Iraq War. It's a film that combines brilliant directing and technical mastery with fantastic performances and solid writing. Not to mention, it can go down as one of the most suspenseful films I've ever seen.
Also, awarding "The Hurt Locker" would be something of a brilliant move on the Academy's part. In a year where the Academy extended the field to 10 movies in order to attract bigger movies (and more viewers), nominating a little seen independent film like "The Hurt Locker" would be a hilarious screw you to the American public. Well, at least I'll be laughing.
"The Hurt Locker" might even have a bigger shot in the Best Director category. Kathryn Bigelow did an outstanding job giving her film a documentary feel and bringing out the highest level of tension in situations that involved absolutely no blood shed. This is the kind of work someone should win Awards for, and depending on which direction the DGA goes, I have a strong feeling that this could end up being the first year a woman picks up the prize for Best Director.
Then again, the Oscar nominations have yet to even come out. Who knows, maybe voters will shock us all and nominate neither. That's highly unlikely. One thing is for sure though: after years of easily predicted frontrunners ("No Country for Old Men," "Slumdog Millionaire"), we finally have little clue who is going to win. This could turn out to be one of the more exciting Oscar years in our lifetime.
Side Note: I can't forget to mention that "Inglourious Basterds," still my favorite movie of the year, one the SAG Award for Best Ensemble. Actors make up the largest portion of the Academy, and there is always a possibility that "Basterds" could pull of an upset like "Crash" did after it beat out "Brokeback Mountain" for the Best Ensemble prize. I can dream, can't I?