Who Will Win Best Picture: Avatar or Hurt Locker?

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Summit Entertainment/20th Century Fox



I had lunch in the Universal commissary last week with a talented Exec VP of production, and before we ordered our salads, she asked me if I thought the Academy would punish Avatar for being so successful.

It's a revealing question, indicating the resentment the studios sometimes feel toward the Academy for dismissing their best Oscar contenders in favor of less commercial indies.

I answered, "The Academy gave Best Picture to Titanic and Lord of the Rings, and those were the biggest movies of the year."

"Yes," she agreed. "But it would be insane this year if Avatar doesn't win." "If it doesn't, it will be because the story is the least interesting part of the movie, and the Academy loves story," I offered.

She made a funny face.

THIS YEAR it's particularly easy to interpret Academy-think, as the Globes increasingly (to the Academy's dismay) predict the Oscars, and there are few hard calls among the big races that won't mirror the Globes. But there is a feeling in the air that an upset could be in the offing for Best Picture, and my smart exec's question was reflective of this talk.

The big money, of course, is on Avatar to win, and it probably will, because Avatar is a production and a phenomenon of literally epic proportions. The industry can't afford not to honor a movie that pulled every pokey out of every quadrant that ever existed (and some that never did before), with many viewers seeing it more than twice.

The movie has transformed the business, demonstrating to an industry paralyzed by piracy that the way to get bodies into seats at theaters is to create events that aren't downloadable. Moreover, the scale of the undertaking itself, the grandeur of its technological achievement in an increasingly technologically driven business is an epic victory on its own merits, employing thousands of new breeds of employees. Filmmakers have been inspired by the techniques James Cameron innovated, opticians are inventing new personalized 3-D glasses, and applications and spin-offs the rest of us can't even imagine yet are in the works.

But it's not a given that Avatar will win. The Academy isn't the industry: it's a wholly separate, somewhat subversive subset of the industry. And the Academy voter prides himself on his individuality and independence. He thinks of himself as a sophisticated cineaste, and (though aging) as hip and informed. And when the studios decide that, say, Benjamin Button is going to win, it sometimes instead turns out that deep down, inside the soultree of the Academy (as Avatar would say), the heart is beating to the tune of "Jai Ho," and it's Slumdog that wins.

This year, it's Kathryn Bigelow's Hurt Locker—an intensely psychological thriller about soldiers working together in Iraq—that poses the biggest threat to the mainstream favorite. Cinematically, philosophically, and technologically, Avatar and Hurt Locker couldn't be more impossible to compare. They're almost the inverse of one another. The weakest component of Avatar is its story, which might best be described as Tarzan, Fern Gully, Pocahontas, The Lion King, and Dances With Wolves all rolled into one. With Hurt Locker, on the other hand, it's the story that's unique, as opposed to its technology, which was necessarily simple.

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Lynda Obst is a producer and writer who has made 15 films in her producing career, at almost every major studio. More

Lynda Obst was recruited to Hollywood from the New York Times Magazine in 1979 by Peter Guber, for whom she developed Flashdance and Clue, as well as beginning the development of Carl Sagan’s Contact. In 1985, Obst partnered with producer Debra Hill, forming Hill/Obst Productions at Paramount Pictures. They soon made the iconic teen pic Adventures in Babysitting. Then the duo produced Terry Gilliam’s Oscar-nominated The Fisher King, starring Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges.

Obst then began a solo-producing career, where she produced Nora Ephron’s directing debut, This Is My Life, and executive produced Ephron’s second film, Sleepless in Seattle. Obst then produced The Siege, Hope Floats, One Fine Day, and Someone Like You. One of Obst’s earlier projects came full circle when she came on Contact for Warner Bros. in 1997, directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Jodie Foster. In 1999, she executive produced NBC’s Emmy Nominated, two-part miniseries The 60s. Then Lynda moved back to Paramount Pictures, where she produced such films as How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and Abandon.

Obst’s most recent film was the September Warner Bros. release of Ricky Gervais/Matthew Robinson's directorial debut The Invention of Lying, starring Gervais and Jennifer Garner. Her notable upcoming projects include Steven Spielberg’s Interstellar, a sci-fi feature from The Dark Knight scribe Jonathan Nolan, based on a story by Obst, Nolan, and Dr. Kip Thorne; What Was I Thinking, starring Leslie Mann, Elizabeth Banks & Jennifer Garner; and Getting Rid of Matthew, starring Jennifer Aniston.

She has long written about the movie business for magazines and blogs, including a long running Oscar dialogue with New York Magazine critic David Edelstein.

Lynda Obst’s magazine writing, as well as more information on her films, can be found on her website: visit http://lyndaobstproductions.com/.

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