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Top 25 Films of the 2000s – Honorable Mention

December 30, 2009

Avatar (2009)

There are a number of movies that arguably deserve a place in my Top 25, fine movies including Up, Thank You For Smoking, Juno, and a number I haven’t gotten around to seeing (Children of Men, 500 Days of Summer, Adventureland…), but honorable mention has to go to Avatar, which would have made the top 25, had it just come out earlier.

Thing is, by the time Avatar came out, I’d already written more than half the posts associated with this undertaking. And since I didn’t want to go back and edit a whole bunch of posts and displace a bunch of movies, I made the mental justification that Avatar is a tad too fresh in my mind, and that ranking it now would perhaps afford it favored status. But basically, I’m just being lazy.

The reality is, Avatar deserves a place in this list. The story may play off established archetypes (a nicer way of saying cliched), but its individual beats, the environment, the effects, and the direction all work together to suck you in. And where previous CG environments have come across as either too sterile (Star Wars prequels) or highly stylized (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, 300), the world of Pandora feels immersive and, well, real. It has weight and depth.

The true leap forward, though, comes from the character work. With the exception of Gollum and maybe one or two other creations, most CG beings fail to cross the uncanny valley. No matter how detailed, there’s something…dead eyes, stiff movements, whatever…that makes them more creepy than real. With Avatar, Cameron has made the most significant advance in CG animation and expression since the aforementioned Gollum. After a while, you stop even thinking of the Na’vi (or anything around them, for that matter) as effects. And when you stop and think that they ARE effects, as is everything around them…it blows your mind.

Avatar also deserves mention for it’s masterfully staged action sequences. After a decade of close cuts and hyper edits intercut with Matrix-style slo-mo and random shaky-cam shots, it’s so refreshing to behold an action sequence you can follow. Even with the climactic final battle, there’s a sense of geography about the whole thing. It’s not just blue people versus pink people. The geography, the movement of forces, it not only builds the tension, it also lets you see strategy unfolding. And it’s so masterful it makes those other “masters” of action look ridiculous. Someone should make this movie required viewing for the likes of Michael Bay and Paul Greengrass.

All in all, I think Avatar represents the return of a master, as well as the most technically revolutionary film since the Lord of the Rings trilogy. And it’s a movie I will be buying the day it hits Blu-ray.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 30, 2009 10:06 am

    I’d say that Avatar is more closely related to the leap in technology that happened with Star Wars than the one that happened with Lord of the Rings, I mean this is a huge jump forward much like Star Wars was back in the 70’s.

  2. December 30, 2009 10:10 am

    Saw Avatar last night, without a lot of preconceived notions. I hadn’t read anything, I avoided the preview whenever I could. I’d heard people say it was “Avatarted” and it made them “Avatired” as well as friend who said it was literally the most amazing thing they’d ever seen. So I knew I had to make my own call.

    It was seriously awe-inspiring. So many movies these days are based on previous works, whether it’s a novel, comic book, fairtale or TV show—Avatar was a completely original thing (with heavy iconography swiped from Aliens). But everything about the planet feel refreshingly new, exciting and very engaging. Though I hadn’t been a fan of the character design based on what I’d seen in the previews, upon seeing the Na’vi in their element… it all worked really well. I just wish that sometime during the years and years of research and millions and millions spent that someone would have just told James Cameron that Papyrus is the worst font ever created.

  3. Matt permalink*
    December 30, 2009 12:58 pm

    Thanks for the comments, guys!

    I don’t know if I’m quite prepared to crown Avatar the greatest tech leap forward since Star Wars. It’s certainly possible, but I think the movie has to breathe a bit first, and that we have to see what comes along to build on what Cameron has done.

    If anything, I think Avatar is the realization of what Lucas was trying to achieve with the Star Wars prequels…the creation of a new world via CGI. And it certainly represents the next step in CG character animation, particularly with regard to capturing facial expressions.

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