What This Year's Oscars Mean for Hollywood

By Lynda Obst
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Kevork Djansezian/Getty

It was when The Hurt Locker won Best Adapted Screenplay that the sweep began. A discerning viewer had only to wait for Best Editing to see where the Academy was going, even if it took a while to get there. If any love had been thrown Quentin’s way, it would have been there. But, no…By the time Hurt Locker won its first important showdown with Avatar— in Editing, where its differences were most stark (they’re two totally different styles: one completely pre-planned shot for shot, the other relying on thousands of feet of raw footage, cut together in post-production)—the direction of the night was  inexorable. Throughout the season you could sense it at all the Academy events:  Hurt Locker was gaining in momentum, and everything else was receding.

Apart from Kathryn appearing almost to ascend into heaven, hegira-like, with Marc Boal, her co-producer, beau, and screenwriter, having to grasp her tightly by the arm as if to tie her to earth as they eclipsed Avatar in the evenings topper, there were a few other stunners as well – most notably, the shut-out of  Up in the Air,  which seemed to have been a critics, and not an Academy picture.

The show did some overt pandering to what we call the four quadrants: it replaced the beloved (to women of a certain age – i.e. “upper female quadrant”) Hugh Jackman with a buddy comedy of older men (one funny, one-hottish); and it brought teen-throbs Taylor Lautner, Kristin Stewart and Miley Cyrus out for the lower male and female quadrants. But it couldn't overcome its Las Vegas showgirl clutter, particularly in its garish and unnecessary opening number, undercutting the excellence of the writing.

Some bloggers wagged that maybe Avatar lost Best Picture because the Academy still hates Cameron for his "King of the World" moment. But I think that’s wholly wrong. If The Hurt Locker hadn't captured the spirit of the kind of auteur film that Academy-type audiences learn most from and feel most connected to, Avatar surely would have won. Its way of connecting us urgently to our soldiers – the same soldiers who are standing behind the colonel in Avatar – simply felt newer.

The most important consequence of the Oscar Race is how it affects the movies we make, and in that regard, Avatar won before the awards were even doled out. There will not be hundreds of Iraq movies pitched this week. Three-dimensional extravaganzas on the other hand are the order of the decade, and perhaps beyond.  With the record-shattering opening of Alice in Wonderland 3D on Oscar weekend (not even up to Avatar technology!) it seems as though the whole world has fallen down the 3D rabbit hole, and the industry is tumbling with it. One can foresee, given our industry’s customary “originality,” that we’ll now see 3D remakes of every movie ever made, from The Sound of Music to Terminator 5. Dead franchises will be reborn. And just maybe, with a little serendipity, a few great filmmakers will also make up some new stuff, borne of the essence of three-dimensionality.

WE HAD A LITTLE crime and punishment kerfuffle in town this week – one that ended up with the Academy meting out the cruel and unusual punishment of banning one of Hurt Locker’s four producers from the Oscar ceremony. The crime consisted of producer Nick Chartier having sent out a private email to his friends, exhorting them to vote for his little indie against that studio behemoth with all the power behind it (no names mentioned…)

Now, explicit politicking is banned by the academy, though writing to your friends is not. There is a way to politick subtly, though, and Summit, Hurt Locker’s distributor had been doing it just right, with its perfect publicists getting word out about the movie and “friends of the filmmakers” hosting a series of private parties. (This is what everyone does.) All was going gangbusters.  The last Hurt Locker party I attended, at mogul Guy Oserary’s house for Jeremy Renner, at the peak of the voting season, was so chic, exclusive, and full of stars, that it rivaled anything this Friday night. Nick Chartier’s faux pas was simply so naive that he was pounced on like some kind of leper, in a crazy over-reaction.

The funny thing is that in years past, studios, or their outside publicists have secretly leaked the worst things about competing movies during heated Oscar campaigns. But those leaks can’t be traced. Remember those terrible stories about the abuses of the slum kids in Slumdog Millionaire last year – which came out, interestingly enough, during the voting? It happens all the time. Anyway, poor Mssr. Chartier, the guy who bought the movie when everyone else had passed, put his house on the line to complete the financing of the picture, and helped lift Kathryn out of a career low point to her now-lofty perch of first female Best Director, was forced to watch the movie, like us, at home, with a family party.

FRIDAY PRETTY MUCH much turned out to be Rest Night for the exhausted movie stars. But for non-nominated stars, moguls, managers, agents, and friends, it was a big night out—kind of an  “I survived and thrived another year. So how the heck are you??” kind of night. So it was my evening to dress up, buy a new dress and go out. It was  Sandy Bullock’s night to hang in PJs.

My favorite quote from the Friday night parties was by Jon Landau, producer of Avatar. He was one of only two nominees I saw out and about (the other was Morgan Freeman). When I asked Jon if he was happy about Avatar’s astonishing run,  he answered, “I’ll be happy Monday. If Jim and I had known we would still be working this hard in March, we wouldn’t have believed it. This is nonstop.”

Between you and me?  He looked happy.

BY SUNDAY afternoon, word was that the hottest ticket in town was not Graydon’s, but the previously unknown Nick Chartier’s home party. Everyone was vying to get in. I also heard he was greeted like a star at Ari Emanuel’s WME party, but I wouldn’t have recognized him.

Now that the industry, if not the Academy, is rallying around him, I think I'll call Mssr. Chartier today and see when he's free for lunch.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2010/03/what-this-years-oscars-mean-for-hollywood/37185/