Monday, February 28, 2011

The King's Gambit

If you were reading the live-blog last night, you'd have noticed at about 7:36 PM how confident I was that The Social Network was going to win Best Picture and Best Director. This was because it won Best Editing, traditionally seen as a lead-up prize to Best Picture, and also stole a Best Original Score win away from The King's Speech which, with under-awarded master composer Alexandre Desplat at the helm, should have easily taken the win over the risky, untraditional score of Network. And then Tom Hooper won Best Director for Speech, and I couldn't quite figure out what the hell was going on.

The fact of the matter is that no film with twelve or more nominations has ever won as few Oscars as The King's Speech did last night. The reason I swapped my Best Picture prediction to Network at the last second was because I felt that if Speech was going to win, it was going to win big. Four total wins just seemed too few, particularly if Network and Inception were going to take three (ironically, Inception wound up with four).

But as it happened this year, it seems as though Academy voters really did consider each category on its own merits. They didn't love The King's Speech passionately--they just loved it enough to give it Best Picture.

So this all makes sense, right? Well, in a word, no. Something still doesn't seem right. Why the hell did Tom Hooper win?

Was it the Directors Guild of America win? Is that was pushed him over the top? The fact of the matter is, no one would seriously say that Hooper is a better director than David Fincher, Joel and Ethan Coen, Darren Aronofsky or David O. Russell. And if they would (they should get their heads examined), they should realize that they're not really understanding how weird this is.

A director wins for the overall vision of a film. Easy enough to determine, right? Except last night, Oscar voters made the determination that The King's Speech did not have the best editing, sound mixing, costume direction, original score, art direction, or cinematography. That's a lot of elements to not be the best for the director's vision to still be the best.

"But Kevin," you say, "he's an actor's director." Oh, right. Of course. An actor's director. Because that helped Lee Daniels out last year for Precious. Not only that, but the voters also decided that Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter were not "best" for their respective performances, either. So here's what was best about The King's Speech: the screenplay (something The Social Network also won) and Colin Firth's performance. Neither of those can be fully attributed to Tom Hooper.

I understand why The King's Speech won Best Picture. It's one you love, not one you respect, yada yada yada. All terrible reasons for awarding a movie Best Picture, but it is what it is. But the win for Hooper just baffles me. The only explanation is that voters no longer consider the two prizes any different--what wins for Picture will always win for Director. And that's a shame, because the prizes are different and should be awarded under different criterion.

But hey, nothing was going right last night. Except the actual show, of which I've woken up to realize I was one of only a few fans. More notes on the actual show to come.

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