James Cameron’s ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ won’t win the Oscar for Best Picture, nor should it

Image via 20th Century Studios

With the Academy Awards ceremony just days away, and the subsequent speculation beginning to peak, let’s talk about Avatar: The Way of Water for a moment.

Is Avatar: The Way of Water a good movie? Yes. Is it a shoo-in for Best Visual Effects? That’s a safe bet, yes. Should everyone involved be immensely proud of their accomplishment? Yes, and that can’t be overstated enough.

Is it going to win Best Picture? Against the likes of The Fabelmans? Everything Everywhere All at Once? No, absolutely not. The Way of Water may be an aesthetically-pleasing passion project and a more-than-welcome addition to the world of genre fiction, but critically speaking, the visuals are where its merits end. As far as storytelling and characterization go, it’s maybe a bit better than Black Adam, which isn’t the most flattering statement.

Never mind its abysmal odds as a contender; we need to stop pretending that The Way of Water would have gotten nominated in the first place if it wasn’t James Cameron‘s movie.

It’s no point of contention that Cameron is a talented filmmaker; when you have the likes of Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgment Day under your belt, no one can really take that away from you. On top of that, he’s no stranger to making a splash at the box office, given that he’s the mastermind behind three of the four highest-grossing movies of all-time. Indeed, Cameron’s one of the safest bets in Hollywood.

If we can be moot for just a moment, a film’s ability to bring home the dough is in no way indicative of how good it actually is. Again, The Way of Water is undoubtedly a marked achievement in the visuals department, but one would hope that would be the case for any film that’s given a ballpark of $400 million to work with. Meanwhile, all the money in the world can’t manifest a good story.

In fact, the pronounced focus on the visuals took away from the rest of the experience in many ways; buried underneath the long, self-indulgent shots of Pandora and its many creatures lie the components for a genuinely engaging story about Jake Sully and his family. Unfortunately, the end product was more concerned with making itself look pretty than really digging into any thematic meat or character arcs, and that’s a shame, because the opportunity was absolutely there. And let’s not even start on how this already-thin plot needed to somehow stretch itself over a three-hour runtime; one that may have found itself a tad more chopped if so much time wasn’t spent on Pandora’s sight-seeing segments.

Indeed, when the topic of The Way of Water comes up, no one talks about its merits as a story, commentary, or anything other than being beautiful to look at, so why not just go to an art gallery at that point? If The Way of Water can get nominated for Best Picture on its visual achievements alone, why didn’t Jurassic Park, whose visuals were untouchably groundbreaking at the time, get the same nomination back in 1994? Why didn’t Dawn of the Planet of the Apes? Why didn’t Blade Runner 2049? These are all fantastic movies on a variety of different fronts, and yet hardly had any presence at the Oscars past the technical categories.

Are The Way of Water‘s visuals so many echelons above everything else that it managed to ride that wave to a Best Picture nomination, despite the fact that the aforementioned trio are consistently praised for the exact same thing, with the latter two in particular also having garnered significant love for their storytelling merits?

Or is the Academy just so intent on adding moneymaker James Cameron to their ego-stroking pile that they’re going to pretend The Way of Water can stand on its own without the aid of pure spectacle?

The Way of Water is a perfectly enjoyable film, that much is fair to say, but a Best Picture nominee? When The Woman King is right there? When Till is right there? It may ultimately be a non-threat to the likes of Everything Everywhere All at Once, The Fabelmans, The Banshees of Inisherin, or All Quiet on the Western Front, but perhaps that only exacerbates the point that’s being made here.

We all love a good passion project, but The Way of Water needs to know its place; the Academy certainly doesn’t.

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