Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

Custom Search

© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Na’vi knockdown

“If you have the chance, SEE THIS. Trust me.”

Those emphatic few words were scrawled above the entry for The Hurt Locker in the 320-page program for the 2009 Seattle International Film Festival. The program was sent to me last summer by my friend Darlene, whose judgment on movies has always proved pretty much impeccable. I know that because she usually agrees with me. Or I agree with her. Whatever.

Sadly, I have yet to see The Hurt Locker. It did play in Galway in the autumn, but it came and went so quickly that I didn’t even have time to go out and start up the car. I did, of course, manage to see Avatar. And that puts me squarely in the same situation of hordes of other people on the planet: I have seen the movie that recently won Academy Awards for Art Direction, Cinematography and Visual Effects, but I have not seen the one that won Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Editing, Sound, Sound Editing and Original Screenplay.

It comes as no surprise to people who pay attention to me that I was thrilled that The Hurt Locker came out the top winner Sunday night (in my case, Monday morning), and there’s some irony in that. Normally, I am bemoaning the indifference that he Academy shows the genres of science fiction, fantasy and horror. But, at the end of the day, there are lots of things I know and don’t know, but I pretty much knew that Avatar wasn’t the best movie of 2009. As wowed as I was by its visuals and technical accomplishments upon seeing it, it is a movie that does not improve in the memory as time goes by. Some movies tend to seem better as they recede into our memory’s past, but for me Avatar has done the opposite.

There is another irony in the triumph of Kathryn Bigelow’s movie over that of her ex. James Cameron’s movie featured American marines attacking and slaughtering a peaceful, spiritual people and then (spoiler alert!) leaving in ignominious, humiliating defeat. Different commentators have had different takes on what Bigelow’s film says about American policy or military conduct, but it clearly treats soldiers as real human beings. Both producer/director Bigelow and writer/producer Mark Boal, in accepting their multiple Oscars, made a point of honoring the troops and other people putting themselves in harm’s way. Michael Moore was nowhere in sight. The mere election of Barack Obama may not have changed the heart or ambitions of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but it has clearly worked wonders with the tone in Hollywood.

But enough about the movies. What about the awards ceremony itself? Did it justify staying awake until past 5 o’clock in the morning for people living in Zulu time? Only for those who can’t bear to think they might have missed something—in other words, me. Overall, there was something retro about the night. It was a back-to-basics broadcast that didn’t wow us with new technology or fabulous Billy Crystal-style comic montages and/or dance numbers. (Neil Patrick Harris’s entertaining opening number was more Las Vegas than Billy Crystal.) Sure, there was the usual inclusion of animated characters, but that’s old hat by now, and none of them actually walked onto the stage. (Some of the those little jellyfish thingies from Avatar did float down.)

And speaking of animation, here’s something else that is embarrassing for me to mention. Because I live with a nine-year-old, one of the few categories for which I had seen all but one of the nominees was Best Animated Feature Film. No, that’s not the embarrassing part. The embarrassing part is that the only nominee in that category which I have not seen is the one that could be considered local to me, in terms of production and setting. That would be The Secret of Kells, a French-Belgian-Irish co-production, of which Kilkenny-based Cartoon Saloon was a key participant. For what it’s worth, we did see the actual Book of Kells just a few weeks ago during our visit to Dublin for, among other things, the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. But the movie we’ll have to scrounge up on DVD.

But back to the ceremony. Even though it continued the trend of squeezing out as much of the unpredictability and spontaneity as possible, that didn’t bother me as much this year. In recent years, the producers had been going back too often to the well of reliving Hollywood’s past glories, in tributes and Chuck Workman-like highlight reels. There was little of that this year, and the exceptions were easy to take. One was a tribute to horror films, which was nice to see, even if it provided the confusing information that the genre includes John Schlesinger’s Marathon Man. The other was a tribute to the late John Hughes, reuniting many of the actors associated, early in their careers, with his movies. It was nice to see and helped make up for the “in memoriam” segment which continued the unfortunate practice of having live musical accompaniment. James Taylor’s performance was lovely, and that’s exactly why it distracted from the tributes. Taylor’s vocals were obscured by sound clips and the collective scratching of heads by people wondering why Michael Jackson could be included and not Farrah Fawcett and maybe even Beatrice Arthur.

The acceptance speeches were generally pretty good. A lot of winners have learned to self-edit and get off before the music forces them off. Still, some awardees were treated meanly, particularly Juan José Campanella, winner of the Best Foreign Language Film award for The Secret in Their Eyes, who barely managed to shout out support for Chile in the wake of its recent earthquake as the orchestra overwhelmed him. By the way, that Argentine film must be pretty darn good since it beat both the highly regarded Un prophète and Das weisse Band, as well as Ajami, which is a pretty darn good movie.

As for the big speeches, Mo’Nique and Jeff Bridges gave somewhat self-indulgent speeches but not annoyingly so. Sandra Bullock was actually pretty good and managed to be emotional with seeming too self-centered. And she performed a public service by encouraging youngsters to keep up with their piano and ballet lessons and to appreciate their parents. (We need that kind of support in our house.) Anyway, you can’t help but like someone who, the night before picking up her Oscar, goes in person to pick up her Razzie. And who laughs heartily when Steve Martin asks rhetorically, “Who doesn’t love Sandra Bullock?” and Alec Baldwin quips, “Well, tonight we may find out.”

Thank goodness, however, that egos are always kept somewhat in check by the likes of Steve Martin and, especially, Ben Stiller. His gag of announcing the Best Makeup award hilariously all done up like a Na’vi (along with Martin’s gag of pulling out a spray can to kill those pesky little blue floatie things) really took the mick out of Avatar and helped set the tone for the evening.

For those of us who like a bit of unpredictability in the evening, we had to make do with the Best Documentary Short Subject award, which went to Music by Prudence. Director Roger Ross Williams was making his way through one of the less scintillating of speeches of the evening when a woman grabbed the mic from him to have her say. Apparently, she had worked on the film and had dropped out because of creative differences. A couple of web sites called it “a Kanye moment,” but it seemed to me to be more of “a Mr. and Mrs. Sahali moment.” Is Desirée Rogers’s new job being in charge of security at the Kodak Theatre? Those line-ups of famous people who heap praise on each of the Best Actor nominees are still annoying, but I’m getting used to it. Interestingly, the best jobs were done by Tim Robbins (for Morgan Freeman) and Orpah Winfrey (for Gabourey Sidibe). All the free-flowing love and praise even seemed to have an effect on Sean Penn, to whom it fell to announce the Best Actress. He mumbled something about making up for past omissions and I thought, wow, he’s finally going to thank his wife, whom he failed to thank in not one but two acceptance speeches.

But, of course, he didn’t.

-S.L., 11 March 2010

If you would like to respond to this commentary or to anything else on this web site, please send a message to Messages sent to this address will be considered for publishing on the Feedback Page without attribution. (That means your name, email address or anything else that might identify you won’t be included.) Messages published will be at my discretion and subject to editing. But I promise not to leave something out just because it’s unflattering.

If you would like to send me a message but not have it considered for publishing, you can send it to

Commentaries Archive