Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Monday, February 22, 2010


How do you decide if a work of art should be critically acclaimed, if it is it is the best? This is the problem the Olympics always run into where it comes to ice dancing. It arises in fine arts as well as entertainment. Often the work judged most 'artistic' isn't the one the public prefers. Walk into an art museum and see what appears to be a white canvas with a tiny dot somewhere strategically placed (maybe). The work is critically acclaimed and the average person shakes their head.

The question arises at this time of the year with the Oscar which goes to the best film of the year. Does that mean most artistic? Most emotional? Most popular? How does one define that simple word-- best? I know from experience that one person's best is often another person's ick.

I would like to leave behind the question of best director as that seems to me a different issue. I am more interested in how someone decides a film is 'best' in a given year. Often the Oscar awarded films are not the ones with longevity. Should still being enjoyed in 50 years mean anything when it comes to this year's Oscar? Should the likability of the director play a role in the decision?

I understand crowds alone do not make a film automatically best, but Oscar will only make itself even more meaningless if it ignores a film which is very popular, has a strong message, and also happens to be state of the art. Pretty much everyone is in agreement that one film this year will impact movies for years to come. Yes, I mean Avatar which has received mixed critical reviews. It seems a lot like the way critics felt about Titanic which was also slammed by 'experts' while loved by the public and which I still enjoy watching every now and again. (In case you didn't know, I don't care much what critics think where it comes to the movies I most enjoy.)

Even though I almost never go to theaters (maybe one a year), it was important to me to see Avatar in the theater because I thought the theater experience and seeing it in 3-D would be an important part of it. I had read reviews saying it had a poor plot and its technology was all that really mattered. Okay I would judge for myself.

I loved it. To me it had a good story, good casting, and something behind the story that gave more meaning to it than simply enjoying oneself in watching it. It was a very enjoyable artistic experience. I had remembered 3-D from a kid but this was a vastly different experience. This isn't so much about arrows coming at you as it is about taking you into another world, making you part of the experience which is particularly apropos given what Avatar is about.

Before I get to that though, Avatar does speak to values like environment, honor, relationship, and responsibility that are important to me. As is the case with many great films on values, it does so in a simple way thereby satisfying none of the experts-- not the right wing, not a lot of the critics, not even Native American groups. Native Americans didn't like that the Na'vi got together and swayed... That was supposed to be inaccurate except who decides what is accurate since this is an imaginary world created by James Cameron. People who are pagans, oriented to the land, do not automatically have to be Native Americans!

It is a sweet film, environmentally challenging, thought provoking, action filled, beautiful, energetic which criticizes the industrial complex currently ruling much of today's world as well as its imaginary one. It also had considerably more plot than I expected given the criticisms that swirl around it.

Besides concern for the natural world, recognition of its power, here's the question it poses-- if you could create a fantasy you, would you eventually prefer that creation to your physical reality? Suppose that creation was physically superior to your abilities, more beautiful/handsome, totally different, more in tune with its natural world-- how tempting might that become to wish it was really you? This is why the 3-D aspect of Avatar is particularly crucial. It puts you into that world for you to consider your answer.

In the world of the internet, people enter into games and do create avatars for themselves who become everything they wish they were. That might be unhealthy when the fantasy becomes stronger than the reality and never the twain can meet; but in Avatar, it happens that there is a physical reality to that avatar, and the humans can go inside it leaving them later torn as to whom they would rather be.

Perhaps Avatar's worst crime in the eyes of the elite is that it leaves the viewer feeling good when they leave the theater. In today's entertainment world, that appears to be a huge negative. So many films today leave you feeling terrible when they are over. They catch you in a cycle of despair and often never lift you out of it. Are they the ones critics consider the best? Tell me again what 'best' means?

is unique, powerful, and left me, at least, happy to have spent a few hours in an alternate reality but more concerned than ever that we make our reality better. We don't need to do this through an avatar but through more concern for what we are allowing to be torn apart in our world in the name of greed-- and too much of it is in the name of greed.


Kay Dennison said...

I haven't seen "Avatar" but I'm adding it to my list after reading this.

I have long suspected that that the best picture selection has a great deal to do with politics and, more often than not, disagreed with their choice.

Annotated Margins said...

My wife and I love movies. Friday night is movie night at our house. A few months back we watched a documentary, "This Film is Not Yet Rated," about the MPAA ratings board and how they rate movies. Some of the greatest movies ever made will never make it to the screen.

Ingineer66 said...

Avatar is Dances With Wolves in 3-D. Amazing special effects, pretty predictable on the story.

mandt said...

Avatar was a great adventure, a super-duper entertainment, rich and deeply satisfying flick. Avatar's worst crime in the eyes of the elite is that its fantastic reality holds up a mirror of truth to the powers that govern us.

Rain said...

What I felt, ingineer, was that the story was just a vehicle for the ideas. It's the ideas that were important and ones that the viewer takes away and thinks about later (especially the two dominant themes of connection to environment and the power of the mind). He called it Avatar for a reason. It's a lot deeper than it appears to those caught up in the visual feast who haven't yet explored the ideas. I think it's why it will have longevity. Of course, I am a fan of kids' movies; so definitely not a film sophisticate :)

Darlene said...

I haven't seen AVATAR and probably won't be able to see it in 3-D. But as I read your post my memory reverted to a movie of a different culture that left a lasting impression; one that I would like to have visited. It was LOST HORIZONS and Shangri-La has stayed with me all these many years.

Since I haven't seen AVATAR I don't know if the comparison is apt.

I agree with Kay that politics has a great deal to do with the Oscar winners and losers. I have read that this is true.

Rain said...

I would say that is more apt a comparison, Darlene, than the one I have heard most often with Dances with Wolves, a film I also much liked but didn't see the culture of the Sioux as presented as ideally as that of the Na'vi. the Sioux didn't have the physical power of the Na'vi.

The other thing is through his 'avatar' the hero could join into the Na'vi world as a real part of it which his handicapped body would have denied him in his own. When he had the opportunity though to get surgery to fix his 'old' body, that's when the real conflict was presented. Betray the culture he had come to love or let his body stay crippled.

I think you will enjoy it without the 3-D which was hard on some people. It made my daughter motion sick and she's not the only one. Some chose to see it in 2-D theaters for that reason. I had wondered if it would cause me problems but maybe because my contact corrections are monovision, it didn't bother me. She got past it by just taking off the special glasses and still very much enjoyed it.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

I haven't seen AVATAR and God knows when I will---especially the 3-D version. Because of my confinement I have to wait for the 3-D DVD....! But having said that, I have spoken to people---many people I know, who have seen it. Everyone says that this is technically a break-through film....Many felt they had seen the story before in one form or another. In a way I wish I would stop hearing about it and would just be able to see it, for myself....! (lol)
I appreciate your feelings about the film, very very much Rain. And I'm glad you had such a wonderful experience....
I was reading someone just today who was talking about The Oscars..(It was in a 'trade papers'), and they said that when "2001, A SPACE ODESSEY" came out, it was as new and innovaive as Avatar is now...I remember seeing that film and being blown away---I can even tell you the Theatre I saw it at and that was in the late 1960's!
"2001" did not win The Oscar that year.
"AVATAR" certainly may win. But I'm hearing more "THE HURT LOCKER" from some of the people I know who are Academy Voters. I have seen that and think it is a truly fine fine picture--and an important picture, plus, it was Directed by a woman, (An Ex-Wife of James Cameron, as a matter of fact...) And I have read more than once that he not only thinks she will win Best Director, but that she should! I really respect him for saying this.
IF she wins as BEST DIRECTOR, she will be the very first woman in the 82 year History of The Academy Awards to do so.
It may be that she will win for Best Director, and AVATAR will win for BEST PICTURE. The Academy Membership are ALL Professionals and take their work and their vote very seriously, so....whatever happens will be very very interesting.
I wish I could see "AVATAR" tomorrow!

Rain said...

Thanks for your take from the 'inside', Naomi. I have been hearing it will be Hurt Locker all the way. We'll find out and often I am disappointed. I found this site which lists the movie that got it, the ones that weren't even nominated and the one the authors decided should have gotten it. It's kind of fun-- Best Pictures. They have a second listing that goes back to the beginning of Oscars with the same opinions. It is especially interesting to see who didn't even get nominated and of the winners, many are not much watched today while the others are still regulars on DVD sales. Although some of that could be what studio owns what.