I guess the Oscars do kinda matter, in one way: They have an effect on who gets bankrolled for big, elaborate movie projects. They effect which actors are considered for meatier, more meaningful rolls. The Oscars effect the way that certain kinds of films are marketed, but even in that capacity, the Oscars are increasingly less and less important. That was proven pretty thoroughly in 2010.
In 2010, two of the movies that were up for the best picture Oscar were Avatar and The Hurt Locker. And, if ever two films were the polar opposites of each other, they were Avatar and The Hurt Locker. These two movies couldn't have been more different; they worked so differently and advanced such different themes that it's as though they were working against each other. Hell, they were even directed by former spouses... The Hurt Locker by the then-little-known Kathryn Bigelow, and Avatar by her ex-husband, the glossiest and most self-important whore in Hollywood, James Cameron.
Let's consider the two movies on their own merits. Avatar is a huge sci-fi spectacle of a movie. It cost $237 million to make, it combines live action and CGI, it stars some of the biggest names in Hollywood, it features elaborate set design, imaginative costumes, inventive props and concepts, and clocks in at 162 minutes, or 171 minutes, or maybe 178 minutes, depending on which cut of the film you've seen. And Avatar puts to use all of it's time, money, and resources to tell a story that amounts to "White people are evil, space Smurfs rule."
Now let's consider The Hurt Locker, a film so small in comparison that there just is no comparison. The Hurt Locker featured no real star power in terms of actors; it's biggest star at the time of it's release, Guy Pearce, is only in the movie for the first ten minutes. The Hurt Locker was filmed for only fifteen million dollars, which sounds like a lot to you and me, until you consider that the crew of Avatar spent that much money on toilet paper. The Hurt Locker is set during the war in Iraq and was filmed on location in the Middle East, where the cast and crew lived in squalor and suffered from oppressive heat, digestive bugs and food poisoning. The goal of the film makers, which was to produce a raw and visceral film about war, was largely sustained by shooting under those conditions.
The response to The Hurt Locker from the critics and movie goers who have seen it is almost universal praise. In fact, with this movie, Kathryn Bigelow and her cast and crew accomplished something kind of miraculous. They made a movie about one of the most polarizing subjects of the last 50 years, the war in Iraq, and managed to produce a film that genuinely pleases almost everyone on both sides of the political divide. By focusing on the humanity of those who fight the war, and by quietly but honestly giving us a look at what war does to them, The Hurt Locker gives viewers a sense of the debt we owe our soldiers. In that, in it's unifying power and it's meaningful message, The Hurt Locker can actually bring people together at a time of deep division, and maybe even promote some kind of healing.
So, fast forward to Oscar night, and both Avatar and The Hurt Locker are up for Best Picture. And even fans of The Hurt Locker thought they knew how it was going to play out. After all, the Academy loves an epic. Consider the Lord Of The Rings: Return of the King and Gladiator and Cameron's own Titanic, all recent Best Picture winners. A humble little film like The Hurt Locker was lucky just to be nominated in the Year of the Avatar, right? How could it possibly actually win? Nonetheless, the people behind The Hurt Locker got all dressed up and went to the ceremony and sat politely among their peers, and, whattaya know? The Academy actually tossed them a couple of Oscars here and there. At one point, in a big surprise, Bigelow herself was recognized for her work with the Best Director Oscar. And then, when it was time to finally get around to recognizing the Avatar cash-machine steamroller, this happened:
"Female director makes history at the Oscars," belched Reuters, captivated by the fact that none of the previous Best Director winners were women. The Guardian UK was equally stunned, and for the same reason. The Daily Mail gushed "Kathryn Bigelow made history last night after becoming the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director - and trounced her ex-husband in the process." And on, and on, and on. The Hurt Locker itself, and the profundity of it's story, was almost entirely ignored.
But, none of that really matters, right? As I said myself earlier, Oscars are really about image marketing. A Best Picture Oscar is a marketing coop. That kind of high-profile, prestigious attention gets people to actually see movies, right? Winning a Best Picture Oscar would surely be enough to get The Hurt Locker in front of the audience it deserves, correct?
Since it's release, The Hurt Locker has earned less than fifty million dollars. As of now, Avatar has made more than 2.7 trillion dollars. That's right, two fucking point seven trillion fucking godamn dollars. That means that Avatar has made 57 times more money than The Hurt Locker. Eight motherfucking hundred motherfucking BILLION of those Avatar dollars have been spent by Americans, alone. For about the same money, we could have built 170 Nimitz class aircraft carriers and blown up every fucking thing.
Now, sure, there have been some lasting effects. Bigelow's name is a name now, and she got to direct Zero Dark Thirty, a movie about the military's eventually successful efforts to take out Osama bin Ladin. That movie was mostly snubbed during last night's Oscars, but who cares, right? Kathryn Bigelow's vagina can only break a record once. Meanwhile, James Cameron is developing the next two films in the Avatar trilogy, because if modern movie goers know one thing, it's how to throw their money down the trilogy hole. Oh, and The Hurt Locker? I picked up my copy on blu-ray for four bucks, brand new, just before Christmas, 2011. It's the best movie about war that I've ever seen.
And that is why, even when the Oscars matter, they don't matter at all.