AFI hails 'Avatar' as one of year's top moments

James Cameron pic did not make the institute's film list

The American Film Institute hailed James Cameron's "Avatar" as one of the eight noteworthy events in the world of the moving image in 2009 as it released its list of the past year's "Moments of Significance" on Monday.

The list is a companion piece to the AFI Movies of the Year and the AFI Television Programs of the Year, which were announced earlier in December. Ironically, "Avatar" failed to make the AFI's movies list.

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However, in surveying the past year, the AFI described "Avatar" as a pioneering effort to unleash the human imagination, "... a film that firmly established itself as a landmark in the way stories are told." The AFI added that Cameron's advances in CGI and 3D are "an achievement that will have profound effects on the future of the art form."

According to the AFI, other film trends of note were "a dazzling explosion of noteworthy" animation and rising ticket grosses, which it said, demonstrated that "movies again prove a tonic for economic ails."

Reviewing the TV scene, the AFI pointed to "The Jay Leno Show" at 10 p.m., which resulted in the loss of "five hours traditionally reserved for episodic drama"; it said that "reality television crossed a line in 2009 as the cultural craving for celebrity moved in a dangerous new direction," as exemplified by the tales of the "Balloon Boy" and the "Octomom"; and it also noted that the end of analog TV symbolically represented the changing TV landscape.

Rounding out the survey, the AFI remembered the death of Michael Jackson, saying that the subsequent documentary "This Is It," "proved an unprecedented global eulogy for fans and friends of the 'King of Pop.'" And it also cited Twitter for creating "new and direct channels of communication for artists to speak directly to their fan base."

The AFI will honor the creative ensembles behind each of its 10 movie and TV choices at a luncheon at the Four Seasons Hotel on Jan. 15.