All of Hollywood is a buzz over “Lockergate,” the “scandal” where “Hurt Locker” producer Nicolas Chartier broke Academy rules by sending E-mails to members asking them to vote for his Best Picture nominee. Coming out just a week before member votes are due on Tuesday, March 2, it has cast doubt among many that “Locker” can upset “Avatar” in a David vs. Goliath match up for Oscar’s most prestigious award. One race where this controversy should have no bearing, however, is Best Director.
Any filmmaker who continues to have the chance to direct major motion pictures can’t necessarily be described as unlucky, but until recently Kathryn Bigelow’s career hadn’t met up to initial expectations. After receiving strong notices for the now cult vampire flick “After Dark” in 1987, Bigelow broke out with the 1989 Jamie Lee Curtis cop thriller “Blue Steel” which was a surprise performer at the box office. Her next studio flick was “Point Break” with Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze which initially received tepid reviews and was considered a financial disappointment considering Swayze was coming off the massive hit “Ghost” (as the years have passed “Break’s” reputation has steadily improved). Bigelow then suffered another fall with the 1995 Sci-Fi thriller “Strange Days.” The film was about 5-years ahead of its time (it was an internet-era film before anyone was using the web) and distributor 20th Century Fox clearly had no idea how to market it. The expensive picture was basically dumped and became another Bigelow film that found its followers years down the road. Unfortunately, that put her in dreaded “movie jail” where Hollywood shuts almost every door in your face until you force them to pry it open again. Things didn’t get any better after the French-funded “The Weight of Water” was barely released in the United States in 2000. Her “comeback” was supposed to occur alongside Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson in 2002’s submarine thriller “K-19: The Widowmaker,” but Paramount Pictures torpedoed any chance of that happening by trying to release it during the competitive summer months. That bomb would force Bigelow to wait almost five years to make her next feature, but it seems to have been worth the wait.
Independently financed, Bigelow scraped together the funds for “Locker” with screenwriter/producer Mark Boal and Chartier to get the film off the ground. The picture made a splash when it debuted at the Toronto Film Festival in Sept. of 2008, but not many thought the Iraq-set picture with a no-name cast could truly break out at the multiplex. And to be fair, they were right. Released last summer, “Locker” only grossed $12 million, but was immediately a critic’s favorite with Bigelow’s direction getting a majority of the kudos. As the end of the year grew nearer, many thought it had a chance to get into the Oscar race, but few anticipated it would dominate the 2009 top ten lists and sweep almost every critic’s group accolade. And among those honors, Bigelow herself started to be a regular winner (this has also helped “Locker” do a fairly brisk business on DVD and Blu-ray).
Even with the massive success of “Avatar,” helmed by Bigelow’s ex-husband and now good friend James Cameron, Bigelow continued to win directing awards including the crucial Director’s Guild of America award. Bigelow became the first woman ever to win that recognition from her peers and would also accomplish the same feat if she wins the Oscar. Now, no one is denying that there has been a certain drumbeat among the Academy that “it’s time” for a woman of Bigelow’s caliber to finally win Best Director, but as the weeks have passed many voters have come to the realization that Bigelow may have just accomplished the most with the fewest tools or gadgets at her disposal. The fact that she’s a woman has increasingly had nothing to do with it (isn’t that a relief).
Now, Bigelow is definitely not a lock as the competition this year is impressive. Besides Cameron, you could argue that Lee Daniels (“Precious”), Quentin Tarantino (“Inglourious Basterds”) and Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”) are also deserving of the big prize. Still, it would be a major surprise for Bigelow to get upset on Sunday night. It’s simply, her “time.”
BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN DIRECTING
Kathryn Bigelow, “The Hurt Locker”
James Cameron, “Avatar”
Lee Daniels, “Precious: Based on ‘Push’ a novel by Sapphire”
Jason Reitman, “Up in the Air”
Quentin Tarantino, “Inglourious Basterds”
Who Will Win: Bigelow for “Hurt Locker”
Who Should Win: Any of the nominees are deserving.
Upset Contender: If “Lockergate” has really upset the Academy, Cameron would be the most logical choice to sneak in here. However, the fact he’s publicly said his preference is for Bigelow to win makes it extremely unlikely.
Look for more stone cold lock Academy Award predictions as the Academy Awards draw near. [Please note the updated rundown below.]
Best Original Score, Best Original Song
Animated Film, Documentary, Foreign Language Film
Tuesday, March 2
Live Action, Animated and Documentary Shorts
Tuesday, March 2
Cinematography, Production Design, Costumes and Make Up
Wednesday, March 3
Thursday, March 4
Thursday, March 4
Friday, March 5