Monday, March 08, 2010

oscars cont.: political controversy in this year's nominees

There are several Oscar movies that delve into political/social issues in a ham-fisted manner and have caused a bit of a stir in the process: Avatar, The Hurt Locker, and The Blind Side. Everyone knows about Avatar and its myriad interpretations, with people in all sorts of quarters claiming the movie as their own while conservatives blast it for being anti-American and, quoting John Podhoretz, "blitheringly stupid" (it certainly is the latter, though with respect to the former, it struck me as more broadly anti-imperialistic).

It's The Blind Side that interests me more, however. It only got a 58% fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes, a surprisingly low rating for a Best Picture nominee, and several of the "fresh" reviews are mixed at best. Here's an example, from the Detroit News:
It's a cute, touchy-feely crowd pleaser that wants nothing more than to wrap audiences in a warm holiday embrace. In a sense, it achieves that goal, but it is overly sentimental in a Lifetime movie kind-of-way.

The negative reviews, however, are at times truly vicious, such as one calling it "an ode to white privilege." From the NY Daily News:
Writer-director John Lee Hancock has turned Oher's remarkable life into a Hollywood fable that trades difficult truths for easy clich├ęs.

Several use the word "cipher" to describe Michael Oher, the kid at the center of the story, and argue that the movie is little more than the sanctification of Sandra Bullock's character. They argue that the book tells a complicated story of race, class, and southern culture wherein the boy Oher is being helped, yes, but also being used, and while so many others are left to rot in west Memphis ghettos.

Again, I have to see it myself before I can make a judgment, but the evidence so far is not promising. But hey, at least it won't have jive-talking robots who can't read, right?

The Hurt Locker's issues are related more to the portrayal of American soldiers. One of the loudest voices crying foul is Paul Rieckhoff, whom I've come to respect through his vocal opposition to the Iraq War. His argument is that the protagonist, William James, is unprofessional and reckless with the welfare of the soldiers in his command and with his own life. This movie, however, got 97% from Rotten Tomatoes, all pretty stellar, so I'm more sanguine about this one (pun intended).

As an aside, looking at the reviews I think it should have been more obvious that The Hurt Locker had an edge over Avatar. As with The Blind Side, the reviews for Avatar tended to have lots of caveats, and one big one in particular: that the actual story is dim-witted and derivative. Similarly, many positive reviews of The Blind Side note the simplistic narrative and notable absence of any attempt to deal with the obvious questions prompted by the narrative and deftly probed by the book. With The Hurt Locker, however, there are few such caveats.

1 comment:

Rene said...

I think the issue with avatar was that the story was eventually just a kid's story. Oscar voters don't like children.