Monday, January 31, 2011

Why The King's Speech Should Not Win Best Picture

I've been growing increasingly irritated this week, from the Producers Guild of America giving The King's Speech their top prize the weekend before last to Speech garnering 12 Oscar nominations on Tuesday to director Tom Hooper winning the Directors Guild of America prize on Saturday night to Sunday night's final triumph: the Best Ensemble award from the Screen Actors Guild. And when that ensemble won, the audience roared with approval.

That applause meant more than any of the critical prizes, the Golden Globes, the PGA, the DGA, or the SAG itself. That applause meant that the industry at large is in full-fledged support of The King's Speech. That applause meant that The King's Speech is going to win Best Picture at the Oscars come February 27th.

But it shouldn't.

Oscarologists are losing themselves over this. Nathaniel Rogers compared Speech's dominance at the SAG Awards last night to extreme and insistent dental pain, while Sasha Stone is convinced that everything she thought she knew about the Oscars is dead and she knows nothing. Reading the Oscar blogs these days is a little reminiscent of going to a series of funerals, each blog lamenting the death of its favorite film. (Luckily, I never had any delusions that Black Swan would win Best Picture beyond a wild chance, so I'm not hurting too hard about its chances dying.)

However, it's difficult to remember that The King's Speech is not, in and of itself, a bad film. Rogers puts it quite well in his live blog of the SAG Awards:
"I have to keep reminding myself through the stabs of pain that The King's Speech is enjoyable and while I was watching it I did not hate it..."
Just because The King's Speech is not the best film of the year does not make it less of a film. As I wrote in my first review of the film, Speech's "writing was lively and the performances wonderful." (I also said that "the direction could be a little too television miniseries-esque at times, probably due to director Tom Hooper's background in the genre," but apparently the DGA voters no longer give a crap about that.)

In that same review, I wrote that if The King's Speech would win Best Picture, I would have no complaints. I was misjudging myself and my love of the other films this year.

The Social Network is not my pick for the Best Picture of the year, but it might be the most deserving winner thanks to its place in the zeitgeist and its truly impressive direction, cast, and of course, the masterful screenplay. It was an idea that shouldn't have worked and yet it worked beautifully.

Black Swan, which is my pick for Best Picture, is a fearless, daring, risky, breathtaking work of art. It is complex, it is challenging, and it boasts some of the most fascinating performances of the year. It is director Darren Aronofsky's masterpiece and the performance of Natalie Portman's career.

Toy Story 3 is a film with a boldly-beating heart, the rare threequel that completely delivers. It is the largest-grossing Pixar film of all time and is among the most critically acclaimed films of the year. It is a heartwrenching film, incredibly well-made and a triumph not only of animated cinema, but cinema on the whole.

Inception is the most directed film of the year, truly the genius vision of our true auteur, Christopher Nolan. It was the blockbuster that challenged its audience--the bigger cousin of Swan. It features one of the finest film performances of the year (Marion Cotillard, edgy and sensual as Mal) and boasts the finest direction since last year's The Hurt Locker. It is the poster child of daring cinema.

Four films, each taking a real risk: who would watch a movie about the invention of Facebook? About batshit ballerinas? A threequel that tries to be more than a popcorn film? A daring blockbuster about dreams? These are among the films nominated for Best Picture that try the hardest, that make the biggest statement.

I truly cannot find a statement in The King's Speech. It is among the most enjoyable films of the year, yes, but it is not even in the top tier among the best. What is its statement: that you should find your voice? Chip Skylark had that one figured out a while ago. Triumph over adversity? Certainly unoriginal. British are delightful? Give me The Queen instead any day of the week.

Speech boasts great performances and an excellent screenplay. So what? So does Inception. And Black Swan. And Blue Valentine. And Easy A. And The Social Network. It's heartwarming. So what? So is Toy Story 3. And How to Train Your Dragon. And True Grit. There is nothing The King's Speech does better than another film this year. It is an argument that cannot be refuted when feelings are pushed aside and true film criticism becomes the topic of conversation.

Unfortunately, that won't happen. The King's Speech is the favorite film of the year, which means it will win the Best Picture prize come February 27th.

But it shouldn't.


joe burns said...

It's not a sure thing, but the race is close...

I think The King's Speech is a worthy winner, much better then The Social Network, but I do see your point that the Academy isn't honoring a "New Artistic film" and going back to honoring movies like Amadeus....

But look at the Best Picture winners for the last three years:

The Hurt Locker was modern, or so I've heard, and artistic.

Slumdog Millionaire may have been a familiar story, but the way it was filmed was wonderful and dazzling..

No Country For Old Men was just okay to me, but it was well directed and artistic enough...,

Even The Departed was a somewhat different, though a lot less so..

My point is that the Academy makes steps up every year (Kathyrn Bigelow, Halle Berry) and steps down (Sandra Bullock, A Beautiful Mind for Best Picture)

Note: Some of these examples I reserve judgment to go back on, I'm really just going with what MOST people think.

Simon said...

Dude. Yes. That's what I've been trying to say...though, to be fair, my argument has no real weight since I've seen all five major nominees except the King's Speech.

Kevin said...

Joe--I just don't understand why the backsliding. It's like they just decided to forgo everything they've worked towards the past five years (I include Crash as an innovative choice--choosing a modern, zeitgeisty film is far more in line with their recent choices than choosing a period love story like Brokeback Mountain would have been) and thrown it in the trash. They didn't choose Atonement. They didn't choose An Education. They didn't choose The Queen. It just doesn't make any sense.

joe burns said...

I don't think it's smart to say that the Academy has to always honor new modern movies, they can honor a movie lke The King's Speech. In my opinion, it's much better then all three of those movies.

And the Academy has the right to like a movie like that. In fact it's been 12 years (Shakespeare in Love) since a period piece, british movie won Best Picture. It's refreshing to see them win again, in my opinion.

Robert said...

I too feel like at first I thought "The King's Speech" would have been a fine Best Picture winner, but the more and more it wins the more and more I mourn for "Social Network" and even "Black Swan". I'm just hoping that perhaps all is not lost for the Oscars.

Wicked Tickets Broadway said...

The King's Speech brings a country's amorphous fear of war and a sudden king's dread of his hesitant supremacy into perfect, uncommon focus.