By Darren Franich
Updated August 03, 2020 at 07:02 PM EDT

The two front-runners for this year’s Best Director Oscar, James Cameron (Avatar) and Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), used to be married. It sounds like a plot from an old Hepburn-Tracy romantic comedy (or at least an episode of The O.C.), so if you ask me, we haven’t given this situation the proper “Holy Crap!”-level of consideration. That might change. James Cameron recently told Charlie Rose that his “fantasy outcome” for the Academy Awards would be for Kathryn Bigelow to win Best Director, while Avatar wins Best Picture. “I have already got an Oscar. I’ve got a couple of them…. I don’t really need another one.”

As with everything James Cameron says in front of a microphone, it’s possible to interpret this comment as magnanimous (Awww, he wants to share!) or cosmically egotistical (Awww, so very nice of you to give away your Oscar, Mr. Cameron). I tend to think that Cameron gets kind of a bad rap – his “King of the World” is actually utterly charming, right up until the last four seconds. But by actually speaking aloud what many people have been thinking, I’m betting he’s just made a Hurt Locker Director/Picture sweep more likely. (EW’s Oscar guru Dave Karger also thinks Hurt Locker and Bigelow will win.)

Let’s put aside the competition for a second, though, and ponder the yin/yang duality of Bigelow/Cameron. The two are perfect opposites. Avatar is the budget-breaking, billions-grossing romantic adventure about adorable natives battling grouchy invaders in a zero-gravity neon rainforest. The Hurt Locker cost about one dollar, made about $1.50, and follows amoral invaders battling nearly-invisible natives in sweaty, colorless, bombed-out cities.

And it goes deeper than their latest films. He started out as a technician working on Z-grade horror movies; she started out in academia, working as a painter and a teacher before making her first film. He makes big action movies that usually focus on women; she makes tiny action movies with all-male casts. He made a movie about a sinking boat, then spent the 2000s slowly planning his next big event; she made a movie about an imperiled submarine, then spent the ’00s trying to make another freaking movie, already. Also, he’s Canadian, she’s American.

Such a match of true rivals can only lead to an epic David Lean conclusion on Oscar night. I’ve consulted my astrologers and come up with four possible scenarios for how things will play out on March 7:

1. James Cameron wins the Best Director Oscar. The applause is polite but mild. Cameron offers a wonderful tribute to Kathryn Bigelow. Avatar wins Best Picture. Cameron says something embarrassing.

2. Quentin Tarantino wins the Best Director Oscar, sneaking in thanks to a Bigelow-Cameron vote split. The applause sounds confused, if that’s possible to imagine. His speech is a wholly improvised five-minute theory about how the aesthetic battle between Hurt Locker and Avatar can all be explained by a close reading of Nobuhiko Obayashi’s lost Japanese horror classic House. Avatar wins Best Picture. Cameron says something embarrassing.

3. Kathryn Bigelow wins the Best Director Oscar. The applause is deafening. She gives a totally badass speech. Avatar wins Best Picture. James Cameron ascends the stage and just stares at the Oscar for a full minute, until everyone in the theater is silent. Finally, he turns to the microphone and says, “I dedicate this film to the only woman I’ve ever truly loved.” At this point, he runs offstage. Handheld cameras follow him into the press room where Kathryn Bigelow is taking questions. He yells across the room, “I see you!” It is embarrassing.

4. Kathryn Bigelow wins Best Director, The Hurt Locker wins Best Picture, everyone is happy, nothing embarrassing ensues.

What do you think, PopWatchers? Would you prefer to see James Cameron’s proposed Director/Picture split, or do you want to see a Bigelow sweep? Was Cameron just being genteel on Charlie Rose, or is he the most egotistical human being since the Greek heroes walked the earth? And don’t you wish one of your past relationships could reappear in a very public artistic competition?


  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 162 minutes
  • James Cameron