`Avatar` poised to earn several Oscar noms
Commentary: Film should benefit from wider best picture race
by Gregg Kilday
But just when it appeared that a whole host of smaller, specialty films were lining up to fill the available slots — in the process, undermining the Academy`s attempt to reach out to a wider audience — Fox`s "Avatar," with a veritable flourish of trumpets, has ridden to the rescue.
There were plenty of skeptics awaiting the years-in-the-making film with a show-me attitude. But once it began screening two weeks ago, and in the wake of its opening Friday, James Cameron`s space odyssey has redefined the awards-season contests.
Critically, the movie`s collective reviews stand at 83 out of 100 on the Metacritic Web site. At RottenTomatoes.com, 83% of the movie`s notices were positive, and among the site`s sampling of top critics, the approval rate rose to 94%. Even the Los Angeles Times` Kenneth Turan, one of the loudest voices torpedoing Cameron`s "Titanic" in 1997, hailed the filmmaker`s new movie, praising it for restoring "a sense of wonder to the moviegoing experience" and testifying "the film`s romantic protagonists paradoxically end up feeling like creatures whose fates we care more about than we did Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet`s on the boat."
Commercially, "Avatar" appears on track as well. Its first-weekend domestic gross clocked in at $77 million, which was several million dollars higher than the studio`s Sunday estimate. It remains to be seen whether it will attract the repeat business that floated "Titanic`s" boat week to week. It`s worth noting, though, that moviegoers showed a preference for seeing the movie in 3D — 72% of the opening-weekend take came from 3D screens, 13% from Imax 3D screens. Since there`s still a relatively limited number of 3D and Imax screens in play, that suggests the movie will play like an old-fashioned, leggy blockbuster, rather than the one- or two-weekend wonders of the standard superwide release, with moviegoers lining up for the available screens.
All of which brings us back to the Academy, where the movie officially screened at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater on Sunday evening. The audience was packed, and the response was huge, with waves of applause greeting individual names during the end credits.
Hollywood insiders, recognizing the technical leaps involved, already have begun applauding. None other than Steven Spielberg has called "Avatar" "the most evocative and amazing science-fiction movie since `Star Wars.` "
But it`s not just about technique. Thematically, the movie also might strike a nerve with the Academy.
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