Hurt Locker v Avatar war heats up ahead of Oscars
After its producer is caught sniping at Avatar, Oscar favourite The Hurt Locker is suffering a backlash
No-one expected the phoney peace of this year's Oscar campaigning to hold. It hasn't. Just before Academy voters have to file their ballots tomorrow, a series of nasty rows and accusations of dirty tricks has erupted involving the two leading contenders, The Hurt Locker and Avatar.
What's surprising is that it's taken this long, considering the high financial stakes involved and the fact that the directors of the two films, Kathryn Bigelow (left) and James Cameron (right), were once married.
The row started when it emerged that Nicolas Chartier, one of the producers of The Hurt Locker, which is about a bomb squad in Iraq, had sent mass emails to Oscar voters urging them to vote for his film for best picture and "not a $500 million film", clearly a reference to Avatar.
Chartier also suggested they put The Hurt Locker at number one on their list of choices for best picture and Avatar at number 10. Such overt politicking is against the strict rules of the Academy, which runs the Oscars. The rules specifically prohibit any "attempt to promote any film or achievement by casting a negative light on a competing film or achievement". The Academy is considering what penalty to take against The Hurt Locker and Chartier who has issued a series of grovelling mea culpae.
Much more damaging, however, is a story in the Los Angeles Times last week in which active duty soldiers and veterans question the accuracy of The Hurt Locker’s portrayal of life in an army bomb squad. The Hurt Locker has been winning accolades, and is still expected to win best picture and best director, because of what was believed to be the accuracy of its harrowing portrayal of the war in Iraq. But some soldiers are calling it “Hollywood hokum”.
Sgt. Eric Gordon, a bomb squad technician who was posted to Iraq, told the Los Angeles Times that he and his friends would laugh at the film when they watched it. He said a scene in which a technician defuses a bomb with wire cutters was particularly ridiculous. "It's similar to having a firefighter go into a building with a squirt bottle," he said. Another bomb squad technician said, "There is too much John Wayne and cowboy stuff."
As the front-runner, The Hurt Locker has been taking other late hits. The film has been widely criticised from the left by those who claim it doesn’t take any obvious stand on the rights or wrongs of the war in Iraq. In the last few days Kathryn Bigelow, the director, has countered by saying that the film does show the "futility of war".
Bigelow herself has even come under a last minute attack from feminists, which is bizarre considering that she is likely to be the first woman ever to win the best director Oscar. Film writer Martha Nochimson questioned whether Bigelow, most of whose films have been about men, was a "feminist pioneer or a tough guy in drag".
In an article in Salon calling Bigelow the 'Transvestite of Directors', she writes: "Looks to me like she's masquerading as the baddest boy on the block to win the respect of an industry still so hobbled by gender-specific tunnel vision that it has trouble admiring anything but filmmaking soaked in a reduced notion of masculinity." Ouch!
It’s unclear how much these rows and dirty tricks will affect Oscar voters. Roman Polanski won the best director Oscar in 2003 even though a transcript of grand jury testimony by the girl he had sexually assaulted in 1977 was widely circulated to Oscar voters. And A Beautiful Mind won best picture and other Oscars in 2002 despite accusations put about by competing producers that John Nash, the brilliant mathematician played by Russell Crowe, was anti-Semitic and that the film was inaccurate in important matters.
At least, with the rows and accusations this year, we know we are finally in a real Oscar race.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Since this article was posted, the Academy announced on March 2 that producer Nicolas Chartier will not be allowed to attend the Oscars ceremony as a result of his emails. Should The Hurt Locker win best picture, he will be allowed to collect his Oscar at a later date. ·
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