Amusing Awards Season

Nicolas Chartier Accepts His Oscar

Producer Nicolas Chartier should have been on stage at the Kodak Theatre on Sunday night for producing The Hurt Locker, but had to make other arrangements after being banned from the Oscars.

As the race for Best Picture heated up Chartier broke Academy rules by sending out a mass email urging members to vote for his film over a certain sci-fi epic with blue aliens, saying:

“If everyone tells one or two of their friends, we will win and not a $500M film.”

Once AMPAS caught on they flipped out and demanded he send an apology to the entire Academy, which he duly did, before also banning him from the ceremony.

So as his fellow producers Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal and Greg Shapiro walked up to collect their Oscars for Best Picture, what was Chartier doing?

It turns out he was at a viewing party in Malibu which was organised by producers Lynette Howell, Mike Fleiss and WME Global chief Graham Taylor.

They even had a poster of the producer with the word ‘banned’ designed in the colours of the French flag.

When Tom Hanks announced on the Oscar stage that The Hurt Locker had won Best Picture the place erupted and Chartier was given a replica Oscar, before making an alternative acceptance speech.

Someone was smart enough to film it and post the footage online:

According to Howell, it was longer than he would have been permitted at the Kodak and after that he headed off into Hollywood to all the post Oscar parties to celebrate even further.

Amusing Awards Season Images

The Oscars in one image


If there is one image that sums up this year’s Oscar race, it is this hilarious shot of Avatar director James Cameron and The Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow from last night’s ceremony.

They were once married, but contrary to a lot of lazy media coverage in the build up to the awards, remain friends and even consult each other on their respective film projects.

Cameron urged his ex-wife to do The Hurt Locker after reading the script and even screened Avatar for Bigelow several times in post production to solicit her opinion on the sci-fi blockbuster.

Also, both films were – in their different ways – about the Iraq War as Cameron pointed out in an interview with CBS recently.

Someone has also done a nice Muckety map of the connections between the two directors.

In a way, it all worked out nicely as Avatar scooped the technical awards it deserved, as well as becoming the biggest grossing film of all time.

Meanwhile The Hurt Locker went from a film that almost no major studio wanted to make or release to a  Best Picture winner that also made Bigelow the first woman to get a Best Director Oscar.

Awards Season Thoughts

Why The Hurt Locker will win (even if it loses)

Tonight could see the Iraq war drama The Hurt Locker win the Oscar for Best Picture, but even if it goes to Avatar, the real winner is a film which has gradually found widespread acclaim and recognition.

After it first premiered at the Venice film festival back in September 2008, the idea that it would have ended up as a heavyweight Oscar contender in 2010 would have seemed highly unlikely.

The climate for Iraq themed films back then was not a good one. Films such as Redacted, In the Valley of Elah and Body of Lies had underperformed at the box office.

An independently-financed drama about a bomb squad in Baghdad during 2004 might have seemed to many observers as one that would struggle to find an audience. The fact that several studios had turned down the script suggested what they thought of its potential.

Despite that it was acquired at the Toronto film festival soon after its Venice premiere by the newly formed mini-studio Summit and by this point was attracting some serious critical acclaim from those who had seen it on the festival circuit.

Summit made the decision to release it the following summer – effectively taking it out of the 2008-09 Oscar race which was dominated by Slumdog Millionaire – and to some this looked like they were effectively dumping the film.

After all, when you actually see it, this isn’t some hand-wringing polemic about US troops in the Middle East, but a visceral drama which takes you inside the tension of what certain troops have to go through.

Seeing last summer I felt strongly that it had genuine mainstream potential and was disappointed that Summit went for an unusual platform release.

After opening in major cities like New York and LA, where it achieved terrific per-screen grosses, the studio went for a curious ‘rolling’ distribution where it went around the country gradually.

Perhaps as a smaller outfit, without the marketing dollars of a major like Warner Bros or Paramount, they felt this was a way of building on the huge critical acclaim and igniting word of mouth.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work (in the short term at least) and a talking point amongst film sites last summer was why something as good as The Hurt Locker could perform so badly whilst something as bad as Transformers 2 could be such a hit.

At this point, it also seemed odd that Summit’s release strategy wasn’t more attuned to delaying  it closer for the awards season.

Most of the films contending for the Oscars open in the final three months of the year, before the late December deadline, so that they are fresh in voters minds although there have been exceptions like The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Gladiator (2000).

When I walked in to a studio to interview director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal about The Hurt Locker on its UK release last August, the Oscars seemed far away.

At the time, it seemed like a genuinely important film was going to be painted as an acclaimed box office failure.

But in the autumn something remarkable happened. The Hurt Locker started to pick up a slew of critics and guild awards and when the Academy announced that it was expanding the Best Picture slots to 10 films it seemed a given that it would find a place.

What surprised me was how it slowly began to become the front runner as early contenders like Up in the Air began to fizzle slightly.

By the time Avatar arrived at Christmas and quickly smashed box office records, it quickly established itself as the rival for Best Picture whilst Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart) and Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side) became the frontrunners in the acting categories.

The battle tonight between Kathryn Bigelow’s war drama and James Cameron’s sci-fi epic is interesting.

One is gritty, contemporary and earned just over $21 million dollars worldwide; the other is a futuristic fantasy that has grossed over $2.5 billion worldwide to become the most successful film of all time.

Despite their differences, thematically they both speak in different ways to the present conflicts in the world. Intriguingly, Cameron and Bigelow – who were once married – remain friends and even solicited opinions from each other on their respective films.

Personally, I think The Hurt Locker will win Best Picture tonight as it has the momentum of winning so many awards this season (the Golden Globes can be discounted as the votes of 90 celebrity-obsessed journalists based in LA).

Strangely, Summit’s release strategy – criticised by some – will ultimately be vindicated if it wins one of the major categories tonight.

Even if Avatar scoops Best Picture, it is The Hurt Locker which has benefited most from this awards season.

As a film that finally found wider acknowledgement in the awards season, it is a potent sign of how the Oscars can remind Hollywood and audiences around the world that quality still matters.

Awards Season News

Kathryn Bigelow wins the DGA Award


Kathryn Bigelow won the DGA award last night for directing The Hurt Locker and became the first woman ever to scoop the honour.

Bigelow beat out fellow nominees Lee Daniels (Precious), Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds) and James Cameron (Avatar).

Some pundits favoured Cameron after his win at the Golden Globes and Avatar’s extraordinary box office success, which recently passed Titanic to become the highest grossing film of all time.

However, The Hurt Locker has been the most acclaimed film of the awards season, winning most of the critics and guild awards that pave the way to the Oscars next month.

Bigelow’s victory is her 15th award for her work on the film which examines the experiences of a bomb disposal unit in the Iraq War.

She is now the frontrunner for the Best Director Oscar, which the DGA has correctly predicted for 56 of its 62-year history.

We should also mention that her directorial team were:

  • Unit Production Manager: Tony Mark
  • First Assistant Director: David Ticotin
  • First Assistant Director (Canadian Unit): Lee Cleary

* Have a listen to our interview with Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal about The Hurt Locker *


blu-ray DVD & Blu-ray

UK DVD & Blu-ray: The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker succeeds brilliantly where many films about the Iraq War have failed by examining the tense details of life in a bomb disposal unit.

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow from a script by journalist Mark Boal (based on his experiences as a reporter embedded with troops), it portrays a group of soldiers who have to disarm IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in the heat of combat.

The story begins with a new sergeant (Jeremy Renner) taking over a highly trained disposal team and the tension that arises with his two subordinates, Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) as they fear his fearless attitude is endangering their lives.

Unlike the half-hearted hand-wringing that has characterised some of the films dealing with the war on terror, this plunges us deep into the anxiety and chaos of warfare.

But the clever twist of The Hurt Locker is that it steers clear of war movie clichés: the enemy is often hidden and faceless; sequences are agonisingly teased out; death is lurking everywhere; combat is a powerful drug that affects soldiers in different ways.

Bigelow wisely recruited cinematographer Barry Ackroyd to give the film a captivating, hand-held look which is reminiscent of his work on Paul Greengrass’ United 93.

As a director it is a welcome return to form and combines the energy and thrills of her best work with an attention to detail that pays of handsomely in several memorable sequences.

Since premièring at the Venice film festival back in 2008 it has deservedly reaped rave reviews and will be a leading contender at the upcoming Oscars.

The DVD and Blu-ray Disc come with the following extras:

  • Behind the Scenes (12mins)
  • Interviews with cast and crew (12mins)
  • BD Exclusive: Photo Gallery
  • BD Exclusive: Backstage (13mins)

> Buy The Hurt Locker on DVD or Blu-ray from Amazon
> Listen to my interview with Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal about the film