In “Worst Best Picture” we search every single Best Picture Oscar winner of all time from 1927 to present to uncover the worst of them all. Conventional wisdom says that 2005’s winner Crash is the worst winner in history. We won’t stop until we’ve tested every last one. Read the the first, our review of Crash, here. Posts will be relatively spoiler free, but there may be some details revealed. Today’s installment is the 2009 winner The Hurt Locker. Is it better than Crash?
The 82nd Academy Awards are especially memorable for me. It was the first year I watched the entire broadcast of the event, and I can tell you right now that is almost always a mistake. The actual 3+ hour event of the Oscars is generally brutal — it was even more brutal before Twitter offered up a much more interesting barrage of dumb jokes about it — but the 82nd one had a twist: Avatar was nominated for a truckload of things.
People ask me if there’s a way anything could be worse than Crash to me. If Avatar had won, this whole damn thing would be about that. Avatar is a horrible, horrible movie.
Just like Crash, the message of Avatar is read through a megaphone. Both movies are insulting and simple; both movies have no regard for subtlety at all. 50 years from now, people will be more embarrassed by Avatar than Crash, in a just future. We’re count on you, future people, to hate a movie where blue cat people tried to save the world from the evils of progress. Progress bad! Trees good! An environmental message does not necessarily tank a movie, but anything that sacrifices character and depth to be sure you aren’t missing The Big Picture has failed at a basic level.
I mention all this because it really felt foregone at the time. The Oscars had returned to a 10-nominee Best Picture category at the time, but most of the movies didn’t feel like they had a shot. An Education is a solid film but no real contender, District 9 is interesting but not the kind of movie people reward like that, and as much as I liked Up in the Air and A Serious Man, they just didn’t feel like movies for the ages.
I’m never any good at judging what will win. Maybe The Hurt Locker was the obvious choice. I jumped up and down in a hotel room when it won, half because it beat Avatar and half because it’s actually very well done. It hits a lot of the typical Oscar high notes: war film, film about a contemporary problem, moral questions. It is everything you’d want out of an Oscar winner, so why does it feel strange on the list?
Mankind is never good at immediate judgement of history, it’s kinda the nature of the beast. The Hurt Locker is about a small group of bomb disposal specialists that have to respond to reports of explosives around Iraq during the Iraq War. We’re not ready to talk about that yet. World War I and World War II certainly have their films on this list — and lots of them came out RIGHT around both conflicts — but this one is different. We want to view people who put their lives at risk for the greater good in a solely positive light, but everyone is complicated. Jeremy Renner’s character can’t figure out if he wants to live or die on the job or to stay in Iraq or go home, and that complication mirrors our difficult understanding of what is going on in the world. We’re not sure if all of this is necessary or a good idea, and the character aren’t either. They get up and go to work because they have to, but they aren’t sure that’s how this all should be.
A war movie that solely glorifies war is a bad war movie, and The Hurt Locker passes the test because it does as much to make you rethink the experience as The Deer Hunter. It’s not a screaming mess of “stop all the fighting and love one another” because it’s realistic. We need to do some soul searching about how we feel about war and the people who fight it. This movie is a good start.
The Best Part: Jeremy Renner is incredible in this. The entire movie is a series of brief, loud moments surrounded by long periods of quiet, but a particular scene where Renner and another soldier have to stake out a position with a long rifle with a scope is particularly tense. The exciting bits are exciting, but they work because they are buffered by enough time to let it all build back up.
The Worst Part: There is a thread of the plot where everyone is concerned that a well-liked Iraqi boy may have died. Jeremy Renner at one point goes into the city to look for him and breaks into an Iraqi professor’s house. There’s definitely a need to show “normal” people in Iraq, but I don’t know how well this scene accomplishes that goal.
Is It Better or Worse than Crash? It is better. Both movies want to lock their current worldview in amber and show generations in the future what their time was like. I’ve said it before, but I just don’t know what Crash adds to the conversation. The Hurt Locker may make you mad in a productive way, and at the very least it will complicate your view of what you think you know. The idea of people doing such a tense job also having to keep their personal relationships with each other up in the middle of a literal war zone? Yikes, yikes, yikes. It won’t be for everyone, but The Hurt Locker could not be said to be uninteresting.
Worst Best Picture Archives: Crash | Terms of Endearment | Forrest Gump | All About Eve | The Apartment | No Country for Old Men | Gentleman’s Agreement | 12 Years a Slave | The Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist | A Man for All Seasons | Platoon | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King | The King’s Speech | Rain Man | The Departed | The Bridge on the River Kwai | Marty | Gigi | It Happened One Night | Driving Miss Daisy | Shakespeare in Love | Wings | Midnight Cowboy | Rocky | Gone with the Wind | Chicago | Gladiator | Cavalcade | The Greatest Show on Earth | You Can’t Take It With You | The Best Years of Our Lives | The Godfather | Casablanca | Grand Hotel | Kramer vs. Kramer | The French Connection | In the Heat of the Night | An American in Paris | Patton | Mrs. Miniver | Amadeus | Crash, Revisited | How Green Was My Valley | American Beauty | West Side Story | The Sting | Tom Jones | Dances with Wolves | Going My Way | The Hurt Locker
Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @alexbad.