Even if it's too early to tell, "Avatar," which has basically rewritten the book on blockbuster filmmaking, will be the Oscar champion this year. Maybe voters will choose it because this year, there are 10 nominees for Best Picture. This is a throwback to the early days of the Oscars, and selecting "Avatar" might be the voters' way of saying they missed the good old days when a studio could make a lavish blockbuster that was actually, well...good.
Even if it does contain a radically new style of filmmaking, "Avatar" has everything a voter would look for in a movie: action, romance, humor, and drama. Mostly though, Academy members seem to favor the film freshest in their minds (with the rare exception of "Crash" in 2005), and "Avatar" is all anyone is talking about. This factor seems likely what propelled "Slumdog Millionaire" to be the little-film-that-could last year.
However, as great as "Avatar" was, does it even deserve the trophy? While "Avatar" was a milestone in special effects, its story and characters lacked in certain places. A film should win Best Picture for its quality, not just its importance.
However, "Avatar" does face some tough competition. As Owen Gleiberman points out, this year's race is mainly between the big budgeted "Avatar" and the smaller, character study of "Up in the Air." Both films are fresh in our minds and excellent for very different reasons. One film chronicles a shift in how films are made, while another represents how a good story on film should be told.
"Avatar" could loose out to "Up in the Air" the same way the film "Avatar" is so often compared to, "Star Wars," did. "Star Wars" lost to "Annie Hall," another classic black comedy heavy on character and light on action.
From the way I see it, Academy voters select winners using three different techniques: their heart, their brain, and hype. If voters decide to vote with their hearts, "Up in the Air" will be the likely winner. If they vote with their brains (highly unlikely), the winner would be either "Inglourious Basterds" or "The Hurt Locker."
This year, they'll go with the hype and select "Avatar." I'm not saying this because of a dislike of "Avatar," nor am I trying to start a backlash. I have remained just as wowed by "Avatar" as everyone else has. With "Avatar," James Cameron captured one of the most vividly amazing worlds ever created by the human imagination. This film will usher in a new era of fine filmmaking. However, without the groundbreaking special effects, the story would not have been strong enough to support "Avatar."
Also, I don't believe the greatness of "Avatar" is all hype. All I'm saying is that "Avatar" represents what voters think a Best Picture film should look like, rather than what a Best Picture film actually should be. That is precisely why you can count "Avatar" as this year's frontrunner.