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?
Avatar 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.