Avatar: The Way of Water surfaces on your 3D and IMAX screens this Friday. It is, of course, James Cameron’s follow-up to 2009’s original which still stands as the biggest worldwide grosser of all time (and third overall domestically). The social media embargo lifted last week and the common refrain was “don’t bet against James Cameron”. I held off on my Oscar speculation until the official review embargo lapsed. That happened today.
Currently at 85% on Rotten Tomatoes (part 1 ended up at 82%), many critics are claiming this is an improvement over the first. Some of the same gripes remain including that it is overlong (3 hours and 12 minutes) and underdeveloped in its screenplay. Praise for its technical work is more universal.
In 2009, Avatar made an Oscar splash with nine nominations: Picture, Director, Art Direction (now Production Design), Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing (the Sound races are now combined), and Visual Effects. It won 3 – Art Direction, Cinematography, and Visual Effects.
Water has a chance of receiving the same number of nods. On Monday, the Golden Globes put it in their five for Picture (Drama) and Director. I already believe the Academy will make room for this in BP. It should be the second massive international blockbuster (alongside Top Gun: Maverick) in the mix. Cameron showing up in the directing quintet is not as automatic.
Let’s dispense with the easiest items. This is going to win Visual Effects just like its predecessor. That’s one of the slam dunk categories you can cross off already. Production Design and Cinematography and Sound are all probable inclusions. I’m less certain about the score and editing. Then there’s the Weeknd, who contributed the song “Nothing Is Lost (You Give Me Strength)”. I’m not so sure about its strength in that competition. He needs to overcome other superstars such as Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, and Billie Eilish and that could be a tall order.
You’ll notice I haven’t discussed the performances or the screenplay. While there’s kudos for returnees like Zoe Saldana and Sigourney Weaver (in a different role than in 2009), don’t expect the acting to capture the attention of voters. Given that the writing is the most faulted aspect, don’t hold your breath expecting Cameron and cowriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver to contend.
Bottom line: Avatar: The Way of Water looks to be Cameron’s third movie in a row (after Titanic and Avatar) to be in the BP race. Look for its nomination total to be at least 4-5 and maybe more. In other words, to borrow a phrase from most of Twitter last week, don’t bet against James Cameron. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…