2009 was probably the most interesting Oscar year I’ve ever blogged about. It was David and Goliath, ex-husband vs. ex-wife, mentor vs. protege, biggest blockbuster of all time vs. one of the lowest grossing Best Picture contenders ever. It was old fashioned, hand held filmmaking vs. performance capture and green screen. Both were war films. Both were kick-ass action films. It was also the year that the Oscar race for Best Picture made the leap from five on a weighted ballot to ten on a preferential ballot. Ten slots for best film of the year was designed to include genre films along with art films along with independent films. It was meant to open things up to accommodate what felt like then a rebirth. This was before international box office ruled Hollywood, before the sequel and the remake had really begun to dominate. The Academy would only use this process of ten nominees for voters to choose before switching back their nomination ballot to five (The Academy would then choose more than five, so far 9 in 2011, 2012 and 2013).
But most will remember 2009 as the year Kathryn Bigelow made DGA and Academy history by becoming the first woman to ever win Best Picture and Best Director. It was a major milestone, not without its share of controversy. “She ONLY won because she was a woman” was a continual lament. “She didn’t really direct that movie, Mark Boal did. And the film only won because it looked like a man directed it.”
The Hurt Locker only gets better as the years wear on. It is genius filmmaking of the highest order, denigrated ONLY because she’s a woman. Believe me, any hipster 20-something male who directed it would be a god by now. Bigelow’s painter’s eye is visible throughout. The focus on three soldiers as the war effects them in different ways, the absence of responsibility of the war in Iraq, the futility of the war, the senseless unpredictability of the many lives lost there — it’s in every frame of this perfect film. It was by far the most deserving film to win Best Picture.
Giving it some heat was Inglourious Basterds, the Tarantino revenge fantasy about killing Nazis. Full of style and wit, Basterds was the favored film of “the internet,” well, those who didn’t love Avatar. The male-dominated film fans could not abide The Hurt Locker beating those two films and still can’t.
Somehow Bigelow’s film hasn’t yet cracked Sight & Sound’s top 250 but mark my words, it will.
We’ll be chit chatting about this as we prepare to close out the 2000s and head into the 2010s. We’ll then likely rubber-band back to the beginning days of Oscar and start from the beginning.