My Take on Best Picture
Full Disclosure: I originally intended to write a blog about who I thought should win each award at tomorrow night’s Oscars, but despite the many movies I saw this year, it seems the few I didn’t seem are nominated for almost every award. Therefore, I thought it would be unfair to slight films such as “Up in the Air” or “Hurt Locker” just because I didn’t make my way to see them and saw “Leap Year” and/or “Julie/Julia” instead.
So, instead, I thought I’d offer my take on two of the films nominated for Best Picture; likely winner Avatar and Inglorious Basterds.
Like nearly everyone else with a disposable income, I saw Avatar in 3D and had an enjoyable sensory experience. The movie didn’t move me at all, and in fact, I immediately began referring to it as “Fern Gully 3D“.
In comparison, I was just able to watch Basterds on Blu-Ray last night in the comfort of my home, and while my body was snuggly planted on my couch, my mind was years and miles away, being confronted by a very thought-provoking, uncomfortable masterpiece.
Tossing away the cool-guy charm that shrouded Reservior Dogs & Pulp Fiction’s outward appearances, we knew going in that Inglorious Basterds was about war. Actually, both of these movies are supposed to be about war. It’s just that one of them makes you ooh and ahh, and one of them makes you think and examine yourself.
Perhaps its a John/Paul, Shaq/Kobe kind of qualifier. Are you a fan of Basterds or a fan of Avatar?
To site less subjective evidence, lets discuss both films final “battles”.
In Avatar, we’ve already spent nearly 3 hours being stunned by the CGI graphics that Cameron uses. Hell, he makes Star Wars look like a stage production. We’ve got choppers, pteradactyl-type things, blue people, marines, bullets, arrows, explosions, a black panthery-thing… there’s a lot going on and a lot to keep track of. And there needs to be, because at this point, Cameron has tossed out any story-telling. The anti-hero has switched sides, and you’re supposed to feel that the only way he can redeem himself is by killing the humans. Then everything will be right in the world.
Except that it won’t. The blue folks already lost their tree-city, and clearly they aren’t good at setting up back-up plans. Hell, they aren’t even good at setting up an economy. Why not just mine the ore yourselves and sell it to the humans? So now Jake Sully has decided to go full-on native and join a society that’s the somewhere left of Mesopotamia on the cultural-evolution chart. Great choice. Maybe after you teach them guerrilla war tactics, you can move on to agriculture. Or go back to whatever that freaky stuff you were doing with the trees was.
And that’s it. There’s nothing to “think about” here. There is no moral decision for the viewer to make. We’re fed what we need to know and the rest is just a visual opiate. While I was watching this movie in the theater, I actually thought to myself, “this is only one step away from the feelies Huxley wrote about“.
Now take the final sequences in Inglorious Basterds. We have a theater full of Nazis, and an escaped Jew about to get sweat revenge on the people who gunned down her family. Yes, Tarantino could have written a shoot’em-up finale, some sort of Last Stand of the Nazis could have taken place. In fact, the film probably could have gone exactly the way “Nation’s Pride”, the film-within-a-film did. But why do that?
Instead we have poetic justice and excellent dialogue with just enough action to keep us riveted and wondering what will happen next. Point in fact, in the final 10 minutes of the movie, Anie said to me “it makes me nervous, I just wish they were working together”. I love it when I can be over hours into a movie and still have to figure out what’s going to happen next.
If anything, I think Basterds is equally visually-stunning, because the cinematography used by Tarantino brings out the most pure and gutteral human emotions I’ve seen in a long time. Take a look at the face of Shis
In the end, we have two great directors doing what they do best.
James Cameron is a titan of spectacle. His movies are big, and you’re buying a movie-going experience when you see a James Cameron show.
On the other end, Quentin Tarantino makes films, visual narratives that you have to chew on to digest. The hallmark of his films is the dialogue, words that both humanize and polarize, and Basterds has these in spades.
As for me, if the Oscar carried any merit for artistry, story-telling, or advancing the medium, the award should go to Tarantino.