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Somebody From The Hurt Locker Probably Should Have Thanked Critics at the Oscars

The irony of Variety firing its chief film critic, Todd McCarthy (and announcing that they’re doing away with staff film reviews altogether), less than 24 hours after The Hurt Locker’s big night of Oscar glory was sadly lost on most people. You don’t need to have been paying much attention this past year to see that film critics have been taking hits left and right, and McCarthy’s dismissal is clearly just the latest chapter. (That nonsensical Armond White–Greenberg kerfuffle, however, isn’t.) And they were probably not on the minds of The Hurt Locker’s team, who thanked everybody in their Oscar speeches except for, amazingly, the one group that proved key in their awards-season success.

Of course, thanking critics would be perverse in Hollywood. Because critics don’t matter. Nobody reads critics. Movies that critics like don’t make any money. That last part may be true, of course, since The Hurt Locker didn’t make any money either. Apparently, the lowest-grossing film in Oscar history to win Best Picture, the one with no studio behind it, the one sporting one of the most disastrous releases ever, and the one made by a filmmaker whose previous height of awards glory was a Silver Raven at the Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film in 1988, somehow managed to become an awards-season juggernaut because of … well, what? Magic? Sheer pluck and steely-eyed determination? The messianic hosannas of Jeffrey Wells? Some have credited word-of-mouth, but usually word-of-mouth translates to some kind of box office.

To be fair, movies that sweep critics’ awards don’t always win Best Picture. (We speculated on that ourselves at one point.) That is, perhaps, the one area where the critics couldn’t help The Hurt Locker out. And in this year of relentless critic-bashing, it may have been tempting to think that the Academy would deal them another blow by picking the box-office-busting Avatar over the Little Movie That the Critics Like. So maybe there are two unspoken thank-yous in order now: the Hurt Locker team should be thanking the critics, and the critics should be thanking the Academy.

What was different this year was that the accolades kept coming: Roger Ebert had already deemed it a “leading contender for Academy Awards,” and by mid-December, the Boston Society of Film Critics, the New York Film Critics Circle, and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association had all bestowed all their awards on Locker and Bigelow, along with scores of other organizations. Meanwhile, the film’s box office continued to disappear (it was gone from most cities by that point) and numerous other major, much-better-funded Oscar campaigns (Nine, Avatar, Inglourious Basterds, etc.) began to gear up. By that point, of course, The Hurt Locker was already lapping the other films … on the critics’ top-ten lists.

To be fair, movies that sweep critics’ awards don’t always win Best Picture. (We speculated on that ourselves at one point.) That is, perhaps, the one area where the critics couldn’t help The Hurt Locker out. And in this year of relentless critic-bashing, it may have been tempting to think that the Academy would deal them another blow by picking the box-office-busting Avatar over the Little Movie That the Critics Like. So maybe there are two unspoken thank-yous in order now: the Hurt Locker team should be thanking the critics, and the critics should be thanking the Academy.

Photo: Getty Images