x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

The little movie that won Bigelow at Recession Oscars

The low-budget war movie The Hurt Locker beats the big spender Avatar to the top Academy Award as Hollywood seems to make a nod to tough times.

From left, Kathryn Bigelow, the winner of Best Director for the film The Hurt Locker; Geoffrey Fletcher, the Best Adapted Screenplay winner for Precious; Mark Boal, the Best Original Screenplay winner for The Hurt Locker; and the multiple Oscar winner Meryl Streep at the 82nd Academy Awards.
From left, Kathryn Bigelow, the winner of Best Director for the film The Hurt Locker; Geoffrey Fletcher, the Best Adapted Screenplay winner for Precious; Mark Boal, the Best Original Screenplay winner for The Hurt Locker; and the multiple Oscar winner Meryl Streep at the 82nd Academy Awards.

It may one day become known as the Recession Oscars. Hollywood seemed to make a nod to tough economic times by rewarding the low-budget Iraq war movie The Hurt Locker with the coveted Best Picture prize at the expense of its mega-budget sci-fi rival, Avatar. It was a case of putting blue-collar ahead of blue-skinned.

Sociologists said rewarding Avatar with the best film nod at Sunday night's ceremony might have jarred with the mood of a public fearing for the future of their jobs and homes in light of the global economic slowdown. Other signs of belt-tightening at last night's 82nd Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles were harder to spot as Tinseltown's A-listers shimmied their way up the red carpet in designer frocks and dazzling jewellery.

The win was also interpreted as a sign that America was now preparing to draw a line under its seven-year involvement in Iraq. Despite missing the Best Picture prize, Avatar scooped three trophies for visual effects, cinematography and art direction, while The Hurt Locker took six, including Best Director for Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman to hoist the prize. The Hurt Locker, a gritty war drama that was filmed in Jordan, tells the story of a team of bomb disposal officers who defuse improvised explosive devices on the streets of Baghdad.

Avatar, meanwhile, is a 3D spectacular set on a distant planet where human mercenaries battle tall, good-looking humanoids with tails over access to a valuable mineral. Both stories have antimilitaristic themes. James Paul Mirrione, the associate professor of theatre and drama in the faculty of humanities and social sciences at UAE University, said: "It could become known as the Recession Oscars or it might be better as the Sombre Oscars.

"Avatar is an antimilitaristic film but it is also a fantasy film while The Hurt Locker is an anti-war film. I would think that the sombreness of The Hurt Locker is more in line with the feelings of many people in America at the moment. That sombreness comes from the situation in Iraq and also the financial situation." The win echoed the 1986 awards, when Platoon took Best Picture glory, which was interpreted by many as indicating America's readiness to come to terms with the Vietnam War.

What is surprising about The Hurt Locker is how quickly it came out. "If the Vietnam War is anything to go by, it would normally take at more than a decade before film-makers would attempt to tackle an issue as divisive as a war," Mr Mirrione said. The dean of the faculty of humanity and social sciences at UAE University, Donald Baker, underlined these sentiments. "I would say that the mood in North America at the moment is quite sober, thanks to the state of the economy both north and south of the border."

He said extravagant spending in such an economic climate could have drawn the ire of cinema-goers. "The war in Iraq has been going on for many years now. It is not surprising that the frustration with the war is now filtering into films. Films are the probably the major form of artistic impression in the last century and that art is reflecting popular feelings." The Hurt Locker is also an odd film to win Best Picture, with no stars, said Mr Mirrione, although it probably also benefited from "underdog syndrome".

The rivalry between Bigelow and her Avatar counterpart, James Cameron, had particular spice as the couple used to be husband and wife. Bigelow's US$11 million (Dh40m) war story is quite at odds with its more expensive rival, which cost a staggering $230m to produce, making it the most expensive movie ever made. And while The Hurt Locker has achieved much critical acclaim it has failed to earn the colossal sums reaped by Avatar.

The sci-fi epic has become the highest grossing film of all time, earning Dh7.3 billion - around a tenth of the Dh73 million gross revenue raked in by the gritty Iraq thriller, making The Hurt Lockerr the lowest grossing best-picture winner in the modern era. While Avatar features Sigourney Weaver, The Hurt Locker has a cast of new faces. David Shepheard, the director of the Abu Dhabi Film Commission, said: "The academy chose to reward filmmaking in the truest sense of the word, rather than what Cameron thinks filmmaking is going to become.

"Avatar was a phenomenal film and it exceeded most people's expectations. It obviously had stiff competition this year though. The two films are at different ends of the spectrum, both in scale and in cost." Bigelow was only the fourth woman to be nominated for Best Director, following Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation in 2003, Jane Campion for The Piano in 1993 and Lina Wertmuller for Seven Beauties in 1975.

"There's no other way to describe it. It's the moment of a lifetime," Bigelow said. "It's so extraordinary to be in the company of my fellow nominees, such powerful filmmakers, who have inspired me and I have admired, some of them for decades." The film also won an Oscar for Mark Boal's original screenplay, based on his time as a journalist embedded with a bomb disposal unit. Mr Shepheard said: "Hurt Locker was shot in the Middle East and it shows that the region can promote itself as a place where successful films can be made."

There were few surprises in the acting categories, with the Hollywood heavyweight and five-time Oscar nominee Jeff Bridges scooping Best Actor. The actress Sandra Bullock, best known for roles in romantic comedies and action films, won Best Actress for a dramatic turn in The Blind Side, only hours after she received a prize in the spoof "Razzie" awards, for worst actress in the romantic comedy All About Steve.

The male and female supporting-actor winners went to the Austrian Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds and the US comedienne Mo'Nique for Precious. That the Argentine film Secret in Their Eyes won the best foreign language award was met with surprise. Many expected the prize to go to the latest film by the Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke, The White Ribbon, which won the Palme d'Or at last year's Cannes Film Festival, or to the French prison drama A Prophet.

The critically acclaimed Pixar film Up bagged two awards, for Animated Feature and Original Score. The awards ceremony took place at the Kodak Theatre and was presented by the actors Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, the first time it has been dually hosted in 23 years. For the first time since 1943, 10 films competed in the Best Picture category, instead of the customary five. For Inside the National's video highlights click here At the Oscars slideshow: click here

chamilton@thenational.ae ogoode@thenational.ae