And it didn't just win Best Picture, it virtually swept the show, winning six of the nine awards for which it was nominated -- including one for its director, shattering an 81-year-old shutout of women -- and in their six head-to-head matchups, 'The Hurt Locker' beat 'Avatar' 5-1. The moral of last night's Oscars may be that when there is a clear choice among the pictures nominated, the Academy will likely honor it no matter what. Kathryn Bigelow's 'The Hurt Locker' was so clearly the best movie on the Best Picture ballot that it won despite its dismal box office performance, a dunderheaded e-mail from one of its producers pitching it to Academy members and a week's worth of bad press during the voting period.
And it didn't just win Best Picture, it virtually swept the show, winning six of the nine awards for which it was nominated -- including one for its director, shattering an 81-year-old shutout of women -- and in their six head-to-head matchups, 'The Hurt Locker' beat 'Avatar' 5-1.
What a night for independent film. 'The Hurt Locker' cost an estimated $13 million to make, with a cast that didn't have a star in it (but does now in Jeremy Renner), and it lurched onto the 2008 festival circuit without a distributor in sight. Finally, small Summit Entertainment took a chance on it, and though the studio botched its release, it shares in the Oscar glory, having had its little picture pound Fox's $230 million 'Avatar' into the ground.
'Avatar' won where it should have won, for art direction, cinematography and visual effects. It is, as everyone has agreed since the day of its release, an amazing -- if not screen history's most amazing -- visual experience. James Cameron can no longer claim to be King of the World, but he is certainly the Master of the Universe of New Technology.
What I said about the Academy going with the clear choice for Best Picture applies to three of the four acting awards, as well. Christoph Waltz and Mo'Nique, the supporting actor winners from 'Inglourious Basterds' and 'Precious,' gave two of the best performances of the last decade and stood out so much on their ballots that their awards were foregone conclusions months ago. Same for Jeff Bridges, whose career performance in 'Crazy Heart' was crowned with an Oscar.
The best actress race remains a curiosity to me. I have learned to like Sandra Bullock because of her humor and her humility throughout the Oscar season, but 'The Blind Side' is a very ordinary movie and her performance in it only stands out because of the cutesy nonsense she had done before. But her peers have obviously liked her for long enough to give her a standing ovation. I hope the award is the turning point that she has alluded to in earlier acceptance speeches and that an actress, rather than a star, has been born.
What struck me most about the show was the amount of emotion displayed, not just by winners but by the audience in Kodak Theatre. There was a deep undercurrent of support for 'The Hurt Locker' and 'Precious,' which pulled off one of the night's few surprises in winning the adapted screenplay Oscar. And the lovely 'Up' won for both Best Animated Feature and Original Score.
Meanwhile, there was no love for Jason Reitman's one-time Oscar front-runner 'Up in the Air,' which was shut out; and very little for Quentin Tarantino's 'Inglourious Basterds,' which got just the one for Waltz.
It's hard to say what these Oscars will mean for the winners financially. Except for 'Avatar,' which has already been seen by everyone this side of Pandora, and 'Crazy Heart,' which is still in semi-limited release, the big winners are all played out and available on DVD. 'The Hurt Locker' should get a major bump in DVD and On Demand sales. But its distinction of having the lowest box office numbers of any Oscar winner in modern times is set.
It will have to settle for merely having been acknowledged for what it is, the best movie released in 2009.