Saturday, April 20, 2024

The Oscar Prospects For “Avatar: The Way Of Water”

James Cameron and the property of “Avatar” have had an interesting journey. What started as the biggest film of the year turned into a joke; a joke about the simple concept, the font used for its title, and the time it has been taking to see the next installment, “Avatar: The Way Of Water” which finally opened this weekend after a thirteen-year wait to a $134 million opening weekend, Critics Choice and Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture and Best Director.

Throughout the last decade, the “Avatar” sequels were pushed back. Originally, the untitled sequel was supposed to come out in 2014. But then it was changed to 2016, then 2017, 2018, 2020, and 2021, eventually settling on December 2022. With all of these pushbacks and numerous sequels simultaneously being made, film fans and general audience members began questioning whether these “Avatar” sequels were worth the wait.

Well, these people forgot about the genius of James Cameron.

After thirteen years and six pushbacks, Cameron continues to push his winning streak by creating another awe-inspiring, immersive film for the masses. So much so that the people who once laughed about the idea of “Avatar” 2, 3, 4, and 5 are now looking into Oscar prospects for the sequel. At this point in the race, it is unwise and silly to predict “Avatar: The Way Of Water” coming up short with the Academy. But with a strong year overall, especially with blockbusters and “Avatar: The Way Of Water” being a sequel, will it hold up a similar count to its predecessor? Let’s look back and see how the first film performed with the Academy and if “Avatar: The Way Of Water” is on a similar path toward Oscar glory.

Avatar” (2009) was nominated for nine Oscars and won three.

Won: Best Cinematography
This first category is a controversial win. For starters, “Avatar” is primarily digital. Meaning, everything within the world of Pandora is CGI. There is no set, no shadows, light, or colors for the camera to capture. Everything is created on a computer. The idea of cinematography in the film was confusing for general audience members and even Academy members at the time of its release. But the way Cameron and cinematographer Mauro Fiore shot “Avatar” was considered revolutionary. The combination of the technology to expand the world of motion capture performance and the Fusion Camera System made the two worlds of “Avatar” meld together in a way audiences had never seen before in such a convincing manner. It was apparent this was the future of filmmaking, which arguably, led to its win.

Avatar: The Way Of Water” will continue the legacy of pushing the possibilities of filmmaking forward. Cameron, once again, has created technology specifically to capture this film that will, for sure, provide a jumping-off point for the next decade of filmmaking. And the branch appreciates this concept of pushing the boundary of filmmaking, just like another favorite this year, “Top Gun: Maverick.” It would seem that “Avatar: The Way Of Water” will gain another nomination in the category and maybe even repeat history giving “Titanic” Academy Award-winning cinematographer Russell Carpenter another win.

Won: Best Art Direction
This win is also interesting because most of “Avatar” is digital. But this seemed like another way to award the below-the-line teams as the visual effects team could create what the production designers created. It was a beautiful collaboration that deserved the nomination but probably wasn’t the clear frontrunner all year.

At the time of this writing, I would say that “Avatar: The Way Of Water” has a strong shot at being nominated again in the now titled, Best Production Design category. But now that the Academy and film industry is used to (and maybe tired of) digitally enhanced films, it seems likely that they may vote for a more obvious choice like “Babylon” or “Elvis,” which is exploding with set pieces and multiple departments. Especially considering the last few winners being “Dune,” “Mank,” Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” and “Black Panther,” it doesn’t seem like “Avatar: The Way Of Water” may be successful with this trend.

Won: Best Visual Effects
Now, this is a no-brainer. As previously said, Cameron co-created new motion-capture technology for the film to shoot the underwater sequences. This allowed Cameron to pick up on minute facial expressions and turn them into digital animation. The level of detail in the character animation, water effects, and world of Pandora are on another level that far eclipses the first. Motion-capture characters like The Hulk and Thanos and visual designs of the animals found in “Life of Pi” would not have been possible if “Avatar” didn’t exist. The same can be said with motion capture and photorealism, now the go-to technologies in video games like “The Last of Us” and “Horizon Zero Dawn.”

If there was any reason for the “Avatar” sequels to be pushed back, it is for the impressive leap in visual effects. Cameron would release the film when he had the technology to make it look great and show the audience something they’d never seen before. In “Avatar: The Way Of Water,” Cameron captured his actors underwater and perfected the art of creating water digitally, a knowingly tricky task in the visual effects world. Much like its predecessor, “Avatar: The Way Of Water” provides an immersive experience and propels filmmaking into the future. If there is anything certain about this year’s Oscar race, it is “Avatar: The Way Of Water” winning the Best Visual Effects Oscar.

Nominated: Best Sound Mixing and Editing
When there were two sound categories, it was obvious that “Avatar” would score both nominations. But it is still interesting to note the film lost both, particularly sound editing, since the sound designers had to initially create all of the sounds in the movie due to the film not having a lot of organic sounds (remember: mostly shot digitally!) to record from its sound stages. But these two losses can correlate to the eventual Best Picture win for “The Hurt Locker” as it was not uncommon for both of these categories to go to the same film.

But now that there is one sound category, it has become more competitive than ever, especially since this year is the year of blockbusters. Other films looking to gain a spot in this category are “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Babylon,” “Everything Everywhere all at Once,” “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “The Batman,” “Elvis,” “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” and more. Yet, it will still be unwise to count out “Avatar: The Way Of Water” scoring a nomination in this category and a possible win for its stunning climatic third act.

Nominated: Best Original Score
James Horner was arguably one of the best composers in modern cinema. He was behind the music of films such as “Aliens,” “Apollo 13,” “Braveheart,” “Titanic,” “A Beautiful Mind,” and more. In 2009, he was already a two-time winner and scored eight other nominations across the Best Original Score and Best Original Song categories. The long-time James Cameron collaborator was a familiar name with the Academy. Horner, known for his use of integration of choral, vocals, and strings with heavy influences from Celtic music, was able to create a score for a world that didn’t exist. He brought Pandora to life while also honoring other Indigenous communities worldwide, which resulted in the score we know and love today.

Unfortunately, Horner passed away in 2015, long before production on “Avatar: The Way Of Water” was completed. And while Simon Franglen, who worked in the music department on “Avatar” and “Titanic” and was the composer of “The Magnificent Seven” alongside Horder, will continue to pay tribute to Horner’s original work while also expanding on it, there may be too much reliance on the overall original score to earn a nomination from the Academy. The Academy doesn’t tend to nominate squeals in this category unless you’re John Williams working on a “Star Wars” film, especially considering other music-heavy films like “Babylon,” “Women Talking,” “The Batman,” and even “The Banshees of Inisherin,” are all fighting for a nomination. This possible repeat nomination seems like the hardest to replicate at the moment.

Nominated: Best Film Editing
Much like the rest of “Avatar’s” below-the-line nominations, Best Film Editing has the same theme: the artists were doing something that had never been attempted before. Unlike most editing jobs, the editing for “Avatar” was ongoing during production. Instead of dailies, Cameron reviewed every shot on-site so the editors, Stephen E. Rivkin, John Refoua, and Cameron himself, could put scenes together on the spot.

In usual Oscar races, Best Film Editing is usually a good tracker to see which film will win Best Picture, as the winning film is generally nominated in the craft category. So, due to the size, scale, and magnitude that “Avatar: The Way Of Water” currently possesses, it seems like it will easily achieve one of those five spots, especially with the amount of cross-cutting taking place in the film’s third act. Plus, the editing branch now understands this technique and is more familiar with it, which may give it an advantage over the original film regarding potentially winning. However, one drawback may be the film’s lengthy runtime. At two minutes shy of “Titanic” and a full half an hour longer than the original “Avatar,” some editors in the Academy may feel Cameron indulged a bit too much with this one.

Nominated: Best Director
The 2009 Best Director race was, honestly, pretty great. You had James Cameron, Quentin Tarantino for “Inglorious Bastards,” Lee Daniels for “Precious,” and Jason Reitman for “Up in the Air, with Kathryn Bigelow winning as the first female winner in the category for “The Hurt Locker.” And even though Cameron lost, “Avatar” was the highest-grossing film of all time and earned three Oscars at this point, plus he already had three Oscars, one of which was for Best Director for “Titanic.” It was Bigelow’s time, and he and everyone else knew it. While it was interesting to see two directors with movies on the opposite ends of the spectrum, one made on a small budget with a traditional filmmaking approach and the other with an unlimited budget with advanced filmmaking technologies, duke it out, this ultimately went down as it should’ve.

But today, some Oscar pundits are currently not predicting Cameron as one of the five nominees this year for Best Director. I understand Denis Villeneuve didn’t get nominated for “Dune” last year, and neither did Christopher Nolan for “Inception” in 2010, but this still doesn’t make sense. Yes, 2022 has been a very strong year for giant films, and the director category is competitive. We have Steven Spielberg for “The Fabelmans,” Damien Chazelle for “Babylon,” Sarah Polley for “Women Talking,” Martin McDonagh for “The Banshees of Inisherin,” Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert for “Everything Everywhere all at Once,” Todd Field for “TÁR,” and more. The best director nomination may seem tough on paper, but people forget that we are talking about James Cameron; a director who has created original all-time box office hits for an industry hell-bent on adapting pre-existing properties for box office success. He has once again brought 3D back into cinemas after audiences were mainly done with it five years ago. He changes the way people engage with film, pushing theatrical exhibition forward at a time when streaming is dominating the industry. So counting Cameron out of the Best Director lineup is more than unwise; it is crazy. And even though Cameron already has three Oscars, that does seem like a low number for an artist of his magnitude, and he deserves to have an Oscar for “Avatar,” one way or another, whether it’s for this one or one of the inevitable upcoming sequels.

Nominated: Best Picture
If there is anything to sum up the year 2022 in film, it’s simply “the year of the blockbuster.” In a year of ten Best Picture nominees, blockbusters are what brought people back to the cinema and will likely be honored the most at this year’s ceremony as the industry desperately tries to cling to the old way of moviemaking and theatrical exhibition while streaming and at-home viewing habits continue to choke out box office returns. Of course, smaller films will make their way into the lineup, but there will probably be more major studio films nominated compared to the last few years, and “Avatar: The Way Of Water” will be one of them.

Sure, “Avatar: The Way Of Water” is a sequel, and sure, the film may be simple in its story-telling narrative, which may make people hesitate to put the movie in the top 10. But the simplicity of a James Cameron picture allows every audience member to connect to his films emotionally. At the end of the day, his stories are always about our innate ability to love and connect, allowing him to showcase how far one will go to protect what one loves. Out of his eight narrative feature films, six have received Oscar nominations, five of which took home at least one Oscar. “Avatar: The Way Of Water” will undoubtedly be nominated for anywhere between four and seven Academy Awards. The question is, which ones?

When all is said and done, and the awards chatter dies, one fact remains: James Cameron makes great movies. They are almost perfect movies. It is an epic filmography and a near-perfect track record of pushing boundaries, entertaining audiences, and revolutionizing the industry. “Avatar: The Way Of Water” is no different. As the saying goes, “Don’t bet against James Cameron” because you will lose.

Have you seen “Avatar: The Way Of Water” yet? If so, what did you think? Which Oscars do you think the film will be nominated for and which ones do you think it will win? Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account. You can see the Next Best Picture team’s latest Oscar predictions here.

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Lauren LaMagna
Lauren LaMagna
Assistant arts editor at Daily Collegian. Film & TV copy editor.

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