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'Avatar,' animation, Twitter and Jay Leno top AFI's 2009 'Moments of Significance'

December 29, 2009 | 11:58 am

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If quizzed on the most significant moments that impacted media in 2009, would you mention "Avatar?" Most likely. How about the "Balloon Boy" hoax and Octomom? Maybe not. But both have been selected, along with six other events, by the American Film Institute as the year's "Moments of Significance" in film, on television and on the Web. The selections are part of this year's AFI Awards, which will be handed out at a luncheon on Jan. 15.

So who -- and what -- made the cut for media significance in 2009? Well, "Avatar" was cited for its use of CGI and 3-D technologies to advance "the way stories are told" (though some might note that all that tech didn't help the film's dialogue, ahem). Animation, both CGI and traditional, received a nod for the sheer number of quality efforts in this realm, from Disney's hand-drawn "Princess and the Frog" to the computer work in "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" and "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" to the stunning stop-motion of "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and "Coraline." And whatever you thought of the carnival atmosphere that followed in its wake, the death of Michael Jackson in June -- and the subsequent runaway success of the concert film "This is It" -- had a huge impact on the world at large.

AFI makes a good case for the effect of "The Jay Leno Show" on prime-time programming, citing the scorched-earth policy it laid out on the dramatic-television landscape (and the people involved in making it), as well as local news programming. And the organization is also smart to note the boom in movie ticket sales in the face of a global recession -- this year saw the highest grosses at the box office since the mass distribution of motion pictures. And as much as I am loath to admit it, one has to make room for the rise of Twitter, which made everything from base gossip to movie marketing immediate and globally accessible -- no matter how risible the statement.

I am less willing to queue up behind AFI's assessment that 2009 saw the lowering of boundaries and standards on reality television; the balloon boy hoax, Octomom and the couple that crashed the White House are just the latest in a long line of reality show refugees from the carny-geek pit unleashed on basic- cable viewers (though one might argue that "Jersey Shore" does dig a trench a few inches deeper into the bottom of the barrel). And while I agree that the change from analog to digital television broadcast is unquestionably significant, AFI's supplementary examples -- the cancellation of "The Guiding Light" and the paucity of good long-form drama -- are weak (soaps have been dying for years, and solid long-form drama has remained elusive since the '80s).

A complete list of AFI's selections can be found at AFI.com.

-- Paul Gaita

Photo: A scene from "Avatar." Credit: 20th Century Fox.

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