Oscars Recap

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.


One thought on “Oscars Recap

  1. I strongly disagree with your argument that THE KING’S SPEECH wasn’t deserving, nor even essentially as impressive as THE FIGHTER or THE SOCIAL NETWORK.

    Take a look at The King’s Speech again — every shot is striking, visually engaging. Filmed in these tiny spaces (with such distinctive production design) characters are still given a vast amount of space on screen. The King faces a sort of bizarre conjunction of being trapped in a claustrophobic setting while also isolated in vast visual space from everyone else around him (minus his wife). Though in the end, Rush and Firth are married in this tiny canopy of fabric, partnership realized and succeeded. Yada yada yada

    Tom Hooper made a movie about a potential king with a stammer. The climax was a speech. Nazism really had very little to do with the film, though it’s always a nice backdrop and climax-enhancer. The story was obviously more a film about classic tropes like family, friendship, overcoming obstacles, etc. Sounds like THE FIGHTER. There was never a lag in The King’s Speech, was paced perfectly, and the visuals were mostly spectacular. The shots in the morning English fog, when we can finally see the characters outside (but naturally the King is obscured from his compatriots/subjects) are stunning. The Fighter? We’ve seen everything in that film before, minus the spectacular acting from Bale (and I suppose Leo). We’ve seen that story before, done far better in other films in the past. I suppose this movie is targeted more to “younger audiences” because there is more sex, more violence, and more curse words. And because it is American perhaps, and it duplicates what we’ve seen countless times before — the character who has to overcome a drug problem, the character who has to overcome an overbearing family, the pitting of lover versus family, the character who has to climb a mountain to reach the top. And really, Micky Ward’s portrayal of his climb occurred in like ten minutes. He starts “refocusing on his boxing,” gets a new trainer (a cop) and a new business manager (an owner of a cab driver), and ten minutes later he’s competing for the World Championship? Just like that? Really? Ok.

    The Social Network was absolutely superb for what it was. A story about the creation of a website, one that engineered a new wave of interaction and socialization. A brilliantly structured screenplay, the variance in quality of character in the films The King’s Speech and The Social Network are vast. “I’m 6’5, 225 pounds and there’s two of me!” Read like a man who has little-to-no concept of what the Harvard boaters were like, but who’s read their Wikipedia profiles.

    And I have to add, re: Tom Hooper: one of the most integral requirements for a director is to bring out the best in his actors. A top director can make a good actor look great, or a mediocre actor look good. And the reverse is absolutely true. Pair PT Anderson and DD Lewis and you’ve got one of the great acting performances in cinematic history. Pair a great director like John Huston with his father, a pretty decent character actor, and he’ll earn him an Academy Award. Russel got exceptional performances out of his actors, as did Hooper, but only Eisenberg shone on screen (while Timberlake played a caricature of himself in many respects). Fincher deserves great credit for his absorbing depiction of the creation of a website (a website!), as well as his distinct body of highly impressive work — but the Best Director award isn’t an achievement award.

    Though Aronovsky has great reason to be peeved that he didn’t win. I imagine the dark subject matter must’ve played a role, but who knows for sure. The voting results should be released to the public — if not now, then why not a year from now?

    Also, you should really check out The Damned United, Tom Hooper’s last movie. It’s about great English soccer manager Brian Clough’s very brief spell in charge of Leeds United back in the 70s. It’s the best soccer movie ever made, and I would argue that it is at least in the conversation for best sports movie ever made. Hell, it was even seen in America, that’s how good it was. Stars Martin Sheen, maybe the most charismatic English actor (starred as Frost in Frost/Nixon), as well as Timothy Spall (played Churchil in King’s Speech).

    Also, in terms of long-term “importance” — I think we may see in a few years Hollywood take more chances with the enormous success of the King’s Speech. Budgeted at a paltry £10,000,000, it made buttloads in this country with not much more than word-of-mouth and critical praise. The Social Network, the Fighter, Black Swan and True Grit all also made heaps of money, none of them typical “Hollywood” movies. (though they did also benefit from tremendous marketing efforts). But given that the King’s Speech — with no “stars,” being British, and a costume period piece — can win Best Picture and make more than $270,000,000, we may see more risks being taken with strong actors rather than stars, more original screenplays and more “untested” directors. Hopefully Hollywood will realize that it would be more beneficial to make ten $10 million films than one $100 million films.

    I’m finished.

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