A crack appeared in Avatar's shiny blue armor last night, when Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker won the big prize at the 21st annual Producers Guild Awards, a reliable (but not infallible) bellwether for the Best Picture Oscar winner.
Buoyed by the revenues earned from higher-than-usual IMAX ticket prices, Avatar has grossed an astounding $552 million and is poised to surpass the current all-time champ Titanic by the end of this week. Even though Avatar remains far behind Titanic in terms of actual admissions, Avatar will also eke past the former champ's $1.8 billion international haul sometime this week (although if you adjust the grosses for inflation, Avatar is only 26th on the all-time list.)
Obviously, I was more than a little wrong when I wrote "there's just no way this movie is going to come close to Titanic's grosses." Movie critics have no business trying to be box office prognosticators. I am genuinely baffled by the film's amazing success - I knew it would be big, but not this big - and I have tried to go back and see Avatar again, to see what it is about the film that has connected with so many people.
But although I saw Titanic three times in the theater, I haven't been able to muster up the energy to sit through Avatar again. I feel like there is nothing to be gained from a second viewing: The thin plot is certainly not going to reveal any new shadings, the 3D annoyed more than anything else, and my emotional engagement with the film was too remote to lure me back for seconds. I liked Avatar better the first time I saw it, when it was called Aliens.
Still, the film's phenomenal popularity seemed destined to be coronated by a Best Picture Oscar in March - at least until last night, when the PGA declared "We don't all love Avatar, either." I don't think James Cameron stands a chance of besting his ex-wife Bigelow for the Best Director prize, and suddenly Avatar is no longer a lock for Best Picture. The movie is still the front-runner, but it is not unbeatable.
This all helps make this year's Oscars a little more interesting, which is good, because the race is pretty boring. Even though the nominations won't be announced until Feb. 2, most of the major categories have already been decided (Jeff Bridges, Mo'Nique, Christoph Waltz, etc.) The only real question, other than Best Picture, is whether the Academy will finally give Meryl Streep another Oscar or allow Sandra Bullock into the winners' circle.