The new movie of the moment?

Posted by · 9:10 am · January 4th, 2010

Stephen Lang in AvatarParamount has shrewdly been playing up the significance of Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air” with its “movie of the moment” quotes, and rightly so.  The zeitgeist elements in the film have been an inexhaustible talking point since its Telluride debut.  And to tap into those elements is to understand the kind of gravitas a Best Picture contender needs to make it into the winner’s circle.

However, I can’t help but get the sense that “Avatar” is stealing that zeitgeist thunder somewhat and moving away of the “it’s just about the visuals” thing as of late.  There have been some comments from readers who think James Cameron’s film is an octane entertainment that couldn’t possibly generate the proper “watercooler” talk to be a mainstay in the cultural consciousness, but 17 days, a billion dollars and a number of op-eds later, it seems the cultural consciousness begs to differ.

Beginning across the pond (and before the New Year) in the right-leaning Daily Telegraph, Nile Gardiner called the film “the most expensive piece of anti-American propaganda ever made,” while nearly a month ago in The Times, Ben Hoyle pulled some political asides out of Cameron regarding the cost of “several hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives.”

Down under in The Sydney Morning Herald, Miranda Devine attacked the film as leftist fire and brimstone, writing that it “ruins itself with Cameron’s sanctimonious hippie sensibility.”  Joel Meares counters at The Punch, rather toothlessly (and to be fair, amid a tirade aimed at quelling the back-and-forth), but he piles on the socio-political sentiment by noting: “As a (skim) latte-sipping leftie and current resident of New York, a place that makes Sodom and Gomorrah look like Amish villages, I’m delighted with the result.  And so should you be, whether you vote Liberal or Labor.”

Meanwhile, on these humble shores, Variety’s Peter Bart claims that “in its first two weeks, ‘Avatar’ has definitely become part of the national conversation.”  He then goes on to spell out what the film seems to mean for those on the left, those on the right and, additionally, for women.  But he is not satisfied with most reviews of the film.  “Instead of discussing mindless mercenaries,” he writes, “the mindless reviewers by and large are focusing on the film’s special effects and the impact of performance capture and 3D.”

This is called a conversation.  And it’s not just about the film’s box office heat, but rather, quite specifically, it is tied to the film’s place as significant political entertainment generated for the masses.  The film is most definitely threatening to become the new “movie of the moment,” much to the chagrin, I imagine, of those putting forth similar messages elsewhere.

And whether it’s the “us vs. military industrial complex” narrative of “Avatar,” the downsizing of corporate America in “Up in the Air,” the headspace of U.S. troops in “The Hurt Locker,” the social concerns put forth in “Precious” or, if you want to read as much into it, the ideas of vengeance and justice being claimed on behalf of “Inglourious Basterds,” this could be the most socio-politically riled up Oscar race we’ve ever seen.

→ 12 Comments Tags: , | Filed in: Daily

12 responses so far

  • 1 1-04-2010 at 9:25 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    “…this could be the most socio-politically riled up Oscar race we’ve ever seen.”

    And I’m loving it!

  • 2 1-04-2010 at 10:11 am

    Al said...

    Avatar is anti-american propaganda? I think Nile Gardiner is losing it.

    The Nav’i are clearly americans, and the corporation is clearly a terrorist organization. Think about it, the Nav’i were minding there own business when attacked, and they didn’t sit there like idiots after being attacked, instead they took out lots of misled “soldiers” and brutally killed them in defense.

    This movie is pro-america, without even realizing it.

  • 3 1-04-2010 at 11:05 am

    AmericanRequiem said...

    someone compared the falling of big tree to the attack on the world trade centers in a discussion i was having, i never saw it like that

    this is the most exciting race weve seen in years, i hope it stays that way

  • 4 1-04-2010 at 11:22 am

    @AL said...

    The only Americans the Navi might represent are Native Americans, or maybe New Agers. Whereas the corporation is way too militarily and corporately staffed and funded and big to be a (mere) terrorist organization; a better stand-in would be an imperialist country or conglomerate that invades and exploits foreign lands and resources. The USA and most European and many Asian nations or their industrial representatives have definitely been guilty of that at one or more time or another

  • 5 1-04-2010 at 12:44 pm

    Fitz said...

    Way to go Gardiner, the Bush-era never really left did it?

    If you disagree with something automatically it becomes anti-American and the vitriol is disgusting.

  • 6 1-04-2010 at 1:37 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    To be fair, Gardiner writes that Avatar is “aimed squarely against American global power and the projection of US economic and military might across the world.” He never full-on shows his stripes, but the way he’s written it, it could be viewed as, yeah, the film is unpatriotic, and was MEANT to be unpatriotic.

  • 7 1-04-2010 at 2:25 pm

    aaron said...

    avatar is like kenny bania. and as george says about bania: “i like stuff you don’t have to think too much about.”

  • 8 1-04-2010 at 2:41 pm

    SHAAAARK said...

    If it’s seen THAT way, Avatar could have a bit of trouble. I mean, Hollywood is liberal, but it’s not exactly anti-American?

  • 9 1-04-2010 at 3:11 pm

    Al said...

    To all who think my comment was crazy:

    I don’t actually see the film like this, nor do I see the film as any other allegory (despite what James Cmaeron may or may not want) I see the film as its self. The Nav’i are simply blue aliens, and the evil corporation – is simply an evil corporation. Thats it. I’m not suggesting that I don’t look for deeper intentions in films, just that I didn’t see one in this. (besides of course the environmental topics)

    Anyway, considering films are subjective for the viewer and not dictated by the film maker, Im sure liberal hollywood will eat it up as they try to say this situation is Iraq. (I dont see it that way, but again, viewers can think what they want)

  • 10 1-04-2010 at 4:06 pm

    Kevin said...

    @ aaron

    Add something to the discussion, or don’t bother. If all you’re going to do is try to come up with “clever” analogies to express your dislike of Avatar in every thread it gets mentioned in, you’re wasting your own time and everyone else’s bandwidth.

  • 11 1-04-2010 at 11:57 pm

    Leone said...

    I like the fact that movies this season seem to, yes, have something important to say, but do it in a way that is ultimately entertaining, which is the mark of really meaningful art, in my opinion.

    To address Kris’ statement that Avatar may be stealing some of Up In The Air’s zeitgeist thunder away – that may be a little overreaching. The biggest topic in the news this year according to the Associated Press was the economy and job loss. I think Up In The Air has “zeitgeist” for 2009 pretty well locked in. The AP Story is here:

  • 12 1-05-2010 at 10:26 am

    Kevin said...

    @ Leone

    “I like the fact that movies this season seem to, yes, have something important to say, but do it in a way that is ultimately entertaining, which is the mark of really meaningful art, in my opinion.”

    QFT. It’s the same reason The Dark Knight was as incredible as it was.