Last night’s Oscars will be remembered for several reasons. ¬†The first, there has never been a film that won the NBR, the NYFCC, the LAFCA and the Globe (Picture, Director and Screenplay) and not won the DGA and then the Oscar for Best Picture. ¬†Moreover, until last night, no film with as few awards heading into the guilds had ever won. ¬†The result? ¬†Three paltry Oscars for The Social Network and an even more paltry take for The King’s Speech — four Oscars, making it the Best Picture that now holds the record for ¬†lowest wins from twelve nominations. ¬†That isn’t so much an insult when consider that The Godfather won only three with eleven nominations. ¬†It was surprising to see it take home so few, that’s the truth. It was not surprising to see it take home Picture, Director and Screenplay. ¬†That part was, at the very least, predictable.
But I’m choosing to look at this last year differently than I have in previous years. ¬†To me, the Oscar trophy, and the DGA award that went with it — the only two major award bodies to prefer Hooper to Fincher (even the BAFTA gave it to Fincher, for godssakes) — were not the only game in town. ¬†In fact, their choice looks odd today. ¬†And it will look odder still in the years to come. ¬†This is no diss on Hooper (poor Tom Hooper, the fall guy) – it’s just the way of the thing. ¬†Look over Oscar and film awards history and you will never see anyone snubbed, not even Martin Scorsese, to the degree Fincher was.
The truth is that there were two best picture winners this year. One best picture winner was awarded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the BAFTA, the Producers Guild, the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild. The other was awarded by the critics, the National Board of Review, the Los Angeles and New York Film critics, the National Society of Film Critics, the Southeastern Film critics, Boston, Chicago, The Golden Globes, the Critics Choice – the list goes on and on. Both films are winners this year in my book. Even though I run an Oscars site, this year, I‚Äôm counting the Oscars as equal to the critics. Why? Because I can.
Graphic from the FilmSite.org
The Academy may lay claim to the title, Best Picture of the Year – but I have to take issue with that. The other awards count just as much, maybe even more – especially this year. Why? ¬†Because they picked the best film of the year not based on anything other than the film’s excellence. ¬†Take out The Social Network and maybe the King’s Speech still wins, but one can’t help but see this race as one-against-the-other type of thing – old vs. young, new vs. old, emotional ambiguity vs. emotional clarity, feelgoodism vs. thoughtful reflection. ¬†Two movies, two wildly different reactions to them — two Best Picture winners. ¬†Sorry Academy, you don’t get the final word this time.
The industry chose The King‚Äôs Speech. To them it is like the car industry awarding Toyota for another year in a row for turning out a highly economical, reliable car that lots of people like. It turns on and it goes. It makes you cry for a King and it makes you root for him when he can finally give his speech. It was made for very little money in the UK, but it came here and turned a hefty profit. It is still making money now. Good for it. The industry is saying: this is the kind of movie we like. It‚Äôs the kind of movie we want to make. And it‚Äôs the kind of movie we like to give awards to. ¬†We’re saving the UK film industry! We’re saving the British royalty! We’re saving Harvey Weinstein’s Oscar machine!
The critics chose The Social Network, inexplicably. ¬†In a year that brought so many great films like Inception, Black Swan, True Grit, Winter’s Bone, Shutter Island, The Ghost Writer – The Social Network stood apart from them because it was and is perfect. ¬†No, it doesn’t make you care about its characters, particularly. ¬†It doesn’t spit you back out on the street seeing humanity as good and great and able to conquer speech and Nazis with the help of a wily speech therapist, but my god – what a movie. ¬†All of these – great great films wildly, bravely, courageously directed — directed with hard core balls dangling between them legs — kicking down the door of convention, story above all else. ¬†The critics chose the best picture. ¬†So they get credit for that.
I can understand rewarding the general audience film, the period piece, the “little movie that could.” ¬†I can understand rewarding Harvey Weinstein for getting that Oscar formula just right. ¬†He helped get the movie make, they sold it to the right people and audiences ate it up. ¬†The critics gave it great reviews too. ¬†It is a movie everyone loves. ¬†The industry chose the right best picture. For them.
And in between all of that is the ego clusterfuck of the Oscar pundits and bloggers, a species to which I unfortunately belong. In that group, is the lowest possible level of importance – these are people who seek only to BE right. Digging into the films themselves, drawing out what is great about them — that‚Äôs not their job. They just want to call the race. And many of them are riding high this evening. For people like me, who care much more about a great film winning than being right, it couldn‚Äôt be a more disappointing outcome. If all I wanted to do was be right I could do it. On the Awards Daily most likely I picked 18 out of 24 correct. One less than the pundit winner, Pete Hammond. On my personal predictions, my score was much lower because I wanted to do it more on what I wanted to win, or thought should win or hoped might win – anything to break up the boredom of choosing how a mass of people might vote — what about the Oscar race is more boring than that? ¬†You just lower your expectations, take your emotions out of it and go for it.
If I had to spend an entire year thinking that way I would blow my brains out. I would much rather clean toilets for a living. ¬†The plain truth is: Oscar voters just aren‚Äôt that interesting – no more interesting than one’s parents’ choices for Best Picture. ¬†You smile and say, “oh really?” and you are happy they are happy. ¬†But you retreat to your own world, flip through your collection of films and pull out something great, something they would hate. ¬†The heartbreak only comes in when you expect more from them, or hope for them to be different. Why does it matter what they think? ¬†Why indeed.
It is, frankly, a miracle that the Academy gave out their prizes to The Departed, No Country for Old Men and The Hurt Locker – these were strange breaks with tradition that really have no business being part of Oscar history. And in fact, those who did well this year disregarded those years as having not existed at all. How many times did we hear ‚Äúcritics don‚Äôt vote for the Oscars‚Äù?
Did the best film win last night? ¬†One of them did. ¬†It had friends in high places – a lot of powerful people standing behind it and pushing it. ¬†Still, if the Academy had loved it that much, it would have won more than 4 Oscars. Did a very good film still win? Yes, one did. The King‚Äôs Speech is not Crash (which isn‚Äôt a bad film, particularly, either – it just isn‚Äôt as good as Brokeback Mountain). The King‚Äôs Speech is a film people love — they love it right now. So it stamps our time as a moment when the industry wanted so desperately to move forward but found they had to retreat to what was comforting and familiar.
So here‚Äôs to accepting their weaknesses, celebrating their strengths and trying to find a way to live sanely through it all. And mostly, here’s to the TWO Best Picture winners for 2010. ¬†History will have to decide the rest.