Before we begin, there are two important things to remember about the Oscars. The first is the Charlton Heston Rule. That rule is that the Academy is made up of a lot of people like the late Charlton Heston—old fogeys with traditional tastes. Wonder why Crash beat out Brokeback Mountain or There Will Be Blood didn’t take best picture in 2008? It’s not a hard or fast rule, but think about what your grandmother might vote for. There are a lot of retired actors and techies out there who have a say in what wins.
The second rule has been inaugurated this year. It’s the Steely Dan Rule. What do the ‘70s jazz-funk duo have to do with the Academy Awards? You might remember in 2001, their disc Two Against Nature beat out stiff competition from Radiohead’s Kid A. The reason commonly given was that the producers, engineers and other tech-heads who made up the Recording Academy wanted to recognize the painstaking approach Fagen and Becker took in the studio. Two Against Nature didn’t win because it was filled with great tunes like “Do It Again.” It won because, to a group of voters who use their ears for a living, it sounded great.
It’s this latter rule which makes me think that James Cameron is going to have a good night. Avatar is pretty much a turkey as far as movies go and a staggering display of kitsch. There’s no denying, however, that legions of effects people have spent a lot of time making it look good. That effort will, Squally thinks, be honored by the Academy. Cameron also gets the credit for marshalling that effort. Say what you want about Avatar. Like Titanic it took a guy with a genuine Napoleon complex to put it on screen. The Hurt Locker may be the better movie, but it’s still a more modest achievement—especially in terms of box office. At least Kathryn Bigelow gets a chance to work again, which nobody was expecting after The Weight of Water Avatar’s victory, though, is somewhat bittersweet. That the movie should be honored with a best picture nod when wiser heads understood that its acting and script were somewhere around the level of that Tucker Max flick is a pop culture crime of the highest order.
So now onto the rest …