Did we learn anything from the 2011 Oscars?
Perhaps that, if the only reason you think a film won’t win best picture is because it’s British, it’s probably got a good chance of doing just that.
Yes, The King’s Speech took home best picture this past Sunday, despite my predictions that The Social Network or The Fighter might surprise people. Ultimately, the selection shows that the Academy favored a more traditional film, one that appealed to the type of older viewers that in recent years may have become a forgotten audience. It’s no secret that the film industry goes after young demographics because that’s where the money is. Recent winners like Slumdog Millionaire and The Hurt Locker, however adult their content material may have been, contained sensationalist moments that undoubtedly appealed to younger audiences. The King’s Speech represents a more traditional mode of film-making, albeit one that does not lack humor, intensity, nor heart. The point is, The King’s Speech pleased millions of fifty and sixty-year-old baby-boomers, and it also entertained young demographics between 18-35 years old. That’s hard to do, yet the film used proportional doses of comedy, historical significance, and emotional sensitivity in ways that gracefully closed wide generational gaps within its audiences. In the words of NY Times critic, A.O. Scott, the film had the “traditional” advantage by:
“1) being more an actor’s movie than its rival, with an established cast of non-American thespians; 2) being a costume drama set during the rise of Nazism; 3) being the story of someone struggling with a disability; and 4) being a hit with critics and audiences alike. To put it in mathematical if perhaps cynical terms: Hitler + handicap + Shakespeare + $100 million = best picture.”
While The King’s Speech took home top honors for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director, the wealth was otherwise distributed evenly throughout the night with Christian Bale and Melissa Leo winning for The Fighter, and Best Score, Editing, and Original Screenplay going to The Social Network. The only surprise amongst these rivaling films, in my opinion, was the award for Best Director to Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech.
Directing was definitely one of the categories that was up for grabs heading into the evening, with David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky, the Coen Brothers, and David O. Russell all making strong cases to win. Above everyone else, I feel like Fincher must feel most betrayed. If The Social Network wasn’t going to win Best Picture, a nice compensatory award would have been for Fincher’s directing. He’s made Se7en, Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac, and Benjamin Button over the course of many stellar years of directing, and really, Tom Hooper hasn’t done a damn thing besides The King’s Speech (and his Mom found him the story). I’m not saying directors should win on past experience, but I just don’t see where the art of directing was truly one of the strong points of The King’s Speech. The movie was carried by its strong performances and script, as well as the set and costume design. I know directing plays a big role in all of those aspects, but it’s a far less ambitious project to take on, much more manageable than directing the other four nominated films that were more complex in their subject matter. On a personal level, I really hated Hooper’s speech, as he went out of his way to mention the triangle of “man-love” between him, Colin Firth, and Geoffrey Rush that made the film so excellent, completely disregarding Helena Bonham Carter, or how important her role was to the film (I thought she had a good chance of winning Best Supporting Actress). They even showed Helena on the camera at the Oscars after he mentioned the man-love, and she seemed sort of shocked and offended that he could leave her out so obviously like that. The Coen Bros. already have a few Oscars, and David O. Russell may have taken criticism for trying to take on too much with The Fighter, but another guy who really deserves some recognition would have been Darren Aronofksy, who seems to be getting better at his craft each year. After directing Pi, Requiem for A Dream, The Fountain, and The Wrestler, Aronofsky has proven he has the ability to go above and beyond. Hopefully he can find a way to top Black Swan and eventually take home the Oscar in the years to come.
Overall, I enjoy seeing the movie stars each year get all dressed up for their 3-hour close-up with 50 million people. As boring or superficial as it all can be, I think you can learn a lot by taking a close look at what makes these people tick, how Hollywood might be run behind-the-scenes, and ultimately how the Academy decides to cast their votes, and how the nominees and winners react to these decisions. For now, I applaud The King’s Speech as a really great film and am happy that it won, but many years down the line we might still look back at The Social Network and The Fighter as more important and impressive films.