I had the opportunity to see James Cameron's "Avatar", and as a visual movie experience, it went right to the top of my "wow" list. I remember how I felt first seeing "Star Wars" so many years ago, and this made "Star Wars" look completely primitive and unexciting. But beyond the visual artistry, and the straight-out good guy vs. bad guy action that most movies have, there was a major bonus -- this movie actually had a meaningful social commentary. It was a nicely presented statement about greed and entitlement, balanced between oblique and direct references -- but never becoming so loud as to distract from the movie and its own story. This level of pith added so much to the overall experience, that it will be hard for a movie to displace this from the top of my list for quite some time.
And it has not escaped notice that by comparison (think Harry Potter, Start Trek, Twilight, Star Wars, Disney movies, etc) the level of commercial merchandising for this movie, released just before Christmas, has been extremely minimal. This is totally in keeping with the message of the movie and further enhances its impact (how seriously could you take a message about greed if everywhere you turn there is another action figure, mug, T-shirt, etc. ? ). Sure, there will be Na'vi action figures, but the overall level of "buy this!!" is pretty tame, considering what it could be at this time of year, and all the buzz the movie has gotten.
What Avatar is to movies, I hope songwriters will aspire to with their music and songs. Having such an amazing platform from which to speak should give us pause to ask ourselves if we have something meaningful to say. My hat is off to James Cameron for providing such a magnificent example.