The Best Picture Project – The Hurt Locker (2009)

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

Written by Mark Boal

Starring Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie

 With Guy Pearce, David Morse, Ralph Fiennes and Evangeline Lilly

 The only thing that matters to The Best Picture Project, at least when it comes to The Hurt Locker, isn’t whether the movie was good – because it was – or what the story was about or if the acting was believable or any of that.  The only thing that matters is that, by virtue of winning Best Picture and Best Director for Kathryn Bigelow – the first time a woman won Best Director and only the fourth or so to win Best Picture – all other story lines are irrelevant.  The only one that matters anymore is the trivia question.

 What’s strange about The Hurt Locker, and Kathryn Bigelow winning Best Picture and Best Director, is that there was no surprise to it.  So dominant was the film at awards time that the real surprise was the Golden Globes awarded Best Director to James Cameron.  But given their spotty past – Pia Zadora winning the award in 1981 for Newcomer of the Year – was it all that surprising?

In one sense it’s disheartening to think that in 80 years of Oscars only five women have ever been nominated for Best Director, or that it took until 1986 for a picture even directed by a woman to be included in the Best Picture race (Children of a Lesser God) – after all, we’re supposed to be an advanced society. 

In another sense, though, it’s amazing to think that, with so few women having previously rated a place in the Best Picture race, that a woman would actually enter the race as the prohibitive favorite.  With so little precedent for it, how can we explain women going as also-rans in the category to being champions?  How did Bigelow manage it?  Was it because she didn’t make a ladies’ movie, i.e. a chick flick?  Partially.  Was it because she made a war movie devoid of politics and therefore the kind of war film both doves and hawks could get behind?  Partially.  Was it the universality of the message that adrenaline is a drug?  Maybe?  Or was it the fact that she made a movie about men as well as a man would do?  Probably.

Because the film will forever be associated with the trivia question about the first woman to win Best Director, I’m left to ponder what it’s chances would have been should there have been a man’s name in the director slot.  That question, as such, gets to the whether the film is worthy on its own merits, or if it somehow managed to transcend its own merits out of some dumb-luck and being directed by a woman.

So, was The Hurt Locker worthy of Best Picture or not?   Personally I preferred another movie – District 9 – and thought yet another was better – Inglorious Basterds.  In my mind, then, The Hurt Locker was only third best in the category – sorry Avatar, no love for you – but in a category that’s seen its fair share of lousy movies, from Around the World in 80 Days to Rocky, maybe worthiness is irrelevant.  That being said, on my ballot The Hurt Locker still ran third, a close third, and while I’m not convinced it wins Best Picture or Director with a man behind the camera, I’m certain it still would have wound up in the race.

 Trivia:

The first female director to win Best Director at the Oscars wasn’t the only bit of trivia to come out of the 2009 Awards.  The 2009 Awards also had the distinction of having spouses (or former spouses) competing against one another for the top two prizes – Kathryn Bigelow was married to James Cameron, after all.  It also makes them the first spouses (or former spouses) to have won both of the top awards.

 

File:Geoffrey Fletcher by David Shankbone.jpgFor me, the victory for Kathryn Bigelow, while historic, overshadowed another historic achievement, the Academy Award for Best Screenplay – Adaptation, to Geoffrey S. Fletcher, for Precious, the first African-American to win a screenwriting Oscar.

For the other winners and films left to see, click here.

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