THE BEST PICTURE PROJECT – ‘The King’s Speech’ (2010)

In 2011, the 83rd Academy Awards ceremony was held at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. Honouring the films released between January 1, 2010, and December 31, 2010, the awards were held on February 27. For the second year in-a-row, the ceremony was hosted by a pair of actors. This year, it was James Franco and Anne Hathaway. With his nomination this year for Best Actor for his performance in 127 Hours, Franco became the first Oscars host since Paul Hogan (Best Original Screenplay nominee for Crocodile Dundee) in 1987 to also be a nominee that evening. At age 28, Hathaway became the youngest person to host an Oscar ceremony.

The pair were the first male-female duo to co-host the awards show since comedian Jerry Lewis and actress Celeste Holm hosted the 29th ceremony in 1957. Unfortunately, their hosting role was met with widespread criticism. While many applauded Hathaway’s unbridled enthusiasm and unrelenting determination, many felt she was let down by Franco, who appeared disinterested, unenergetic, and flat. Some even pondered whether Franco was perhaps stoned. It was an interesting experiment, but one which proved the hosting gig was better left to more veteran performers.

For the second year in-a-row, an animated film was nominated for Best Picture. This made Toy Story 3 only the third animated film nominated for this category in Oscars history. With its five nominations, the film became the equal-second most-nominated animated film in history, tying with last year’s Best Picture nominee Up.

With Christian Bale’s win for Best Supporting Actor and Melissa Leo’s for Best Supporting Actress, The Fighter became the first film since Hannah and Her Sisters in 1986 to win both supporting acting categories. Despite ten nominations (the second-most this year), True Grit went home empty-handed, making it only the second film in history to lose all ten of its nominations. The first was Gangs of New York in 2002.

Leading the way this year with an incredible 12 nominations was Tom Hooper’s inspiring biopic The King’s Speech. The film may have failed to sweep the awards, but it did take home four of the biggest Academy Awards of the night for Best Picture, Best Director for Hooper, Best Actor for Colin Firth, and Best Original Screenplay.

The nominees:
127 Hours
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids are All Right
The King’s Speech
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter’s Bone

The winner:
The King’s Speech

Based on the true life struggles of King George VI, The King’s Speech is the inspiring tale of an unlikely partnership which helped saved the reputation of a monarch. England’s Prince Albert (Colin Firth) must ascend the throne as King George VI, but he has a speech impediment. Knowing that the country needs her husband to be able to communicate effectively, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) hires Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an Australian actor and speech therapist, to help him overcome his stammer. An extraordinary friendship develops between the two men, as Logue uses unconventional means to teach the monarch how to speak with confidence.

Why did it win?
It had been several years since a true piece of Oscar-bait had taken Best Picture. After the victory of films like The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire, and Crash, many thought the days of traditional winners may be over, and the Academy were entering a new age of decidedly bold and different choices for their top prize. That may be true in the years to come, but they had one last example of falling for a film which ticked all the old-school boxes of what constituted a Best Picture winner. But, at least initially, it looked as though the Oscars were headed for a very different route, with one film standing above all others during the precursor season.

At one point in the Oscars race, The Social Network was beginning to look unstoppable. The film had received glowing reviews, impressive box-office figures, and its director, David Fincher was long overdue for Oscar glory. As awards season began, The Social Network started cleaning up. The film was awarded Best Picture by the National Board of Review, National Society of Film Critics, and both the New York and Los Angeles film critics, making it only the third film in history to sweep these four major critics awards. The film was also awarded Best Film by the critics groups of Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Florida, Houston, London, San Francisco, Toronto, Vancouver, and Washington D.C. The Social Network also swept the Golden Globes, taking four awards from its six nominations including Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Director for Fincher. The race was seemingly already over by early January.

But The Social Network had one major flaw which ultimately led to its unfortunate downfall at the Oscars – its protagonist was extremely unlikeable. Jesse Eisenberg’s performance as Mark Zuckerberg was receiving widespread acclaim, but it was undeniable how damn despicable and offputting the character he had crafted ultimately was. In fact, the entire film was all but devoid of any character to really cheer for. A piece of cinema overloaded with fairly obnoxious, selfish, and ruthless characters made The Social Network a hard-sell for members of the Academy. They generally liked to award a film with a great hero, and The King’s Speech provided the perfect alternative to meet this criterion.

With its crowd-pleasing and uplifting narrative, and a rousing and inspiring performance from its leading man, The King’s Speech was everything the Academy loved. It was a biopic. It was British. Its storyline featured the rise of an underdog, overcoming incredible obstacles to ultimately succeed. And it was a huge hit with audiences around the globe. It stood as a film which left its viewer feeling nothing but good. With Facebook slowly taking over our lives, and Zuckerberg earning more and more money with each passing day, the narrative of The Social Network did not elicit such feelings. Is it any wonder the former came out on top when these two films went head-to-head at the Oscars? The response to The King’s Speech from both the public and critics only pushed the film further ahead in the Oscar race.

On a tiny budget of just $15 million, The King’s Speech became a global box-office smash. The film earned $147 million at the U.S. box-office to end the year as the 18th highest-grossing film of 2010. But internationally, it was a sensation, taking in $275 million from overseas markets to bring its worldwide total to a staggering $414 million, making it the 14th highest-grossing film worldwide of 2010. Thanks to its insanely low budget, The King’s Speech was one of the most profitable films of the year, and ultimately became the most commercially successful independent British film of all time.

Adding to the film’s astonishing box-office figures, The King’s Speech received rave reviews from critics, with many calling it one of the finest British films of all time. Entertainment Weekly called the film “simultaneously cozy and majestic,” Rolling Stone hailed the film as “a crowning achievement powered by a dream cast,” and one which “digs vibrant human drama out of the dry dust of history,” and Variety heralded the film as a “stirring, handsomely mounted tale of unlikely friendship.”

It also didn’t hurt that The King’s Speech had the might of The Weinstein Company behind it, and the full force of a Harvey Weinstein Oscar campaign. After leaving Miramax in 2005, Weinstein and his brother, Bob had started their new venture but were still yet to achieve any major success at the Academy Awards. After The Reader and Inglourious Basterds both failed to take home Best Picture, The Weinstein Company finally had a real contender on its hand with The King’s Speech, and Harvey wasn’t about to lose again. Spending around $15 million (the same figure as the campaign of Shakespeare in Love) on another exhaustive and excessive campaign, The Weinstein Company threw lavish parties, screenings, and events to push The King’s Speech as hard as possible. Once again, the power of campaigning worked, and, from seemingly nowhere, the tide began to turn.

It was no surprise to see The King’s Speech sweep the BAFTA nominations, where it received an incredible 14 nominations – the second-most in history. However, when the film won the PGA over The Social Network, many awards pundits were left genuinely stunned. No one had foreseen such a bafflingly different choice, and many thought it may have just been an anomaly. Nope. It only got more shocking from there. The King’s Speech went on to all-but sweep the remaining guild awards (it was ineligible at WGA), taking home both the DGA and SAG Ensemble prizes. When it won seven BAFTAs, the race was all but over. In one of the most unbelievable tidal shifts in recent memory, The King’s Speech became the unstoppable frontrunner, despite its total lack of precursor awards success. It still remains an astonishing awards season decision reversal, where the out-right leader fell over in the final leg of the race, and the Oscar-bait, crowd-pleaser was the eventual winner.

Did it deserve to win?
It’s hard to dislike The King’s Speech. It really is. It’s a gorgeous film, elevated further by the impeccable performance of Colin Firth, and the brilliant supporting turns by Geoffrey Rush and Helena Botham Carter. It’s warm, inspiring, moving, and downright entertaining. However, it had no place winning Best Picture. In another case of Oscar-bait beating artistic merit, The King’s Speech stands as an example of emotion over achievement. Few can deny this film mostly won on sentiment. Perhaps in other years, that’s not so shameful. But in 2010, it’s downright ridiculous.

The King’s Speech is saddled with unfortunate timing and finding itself harshly judged by comparison to the films it defeated. It’s highly likely if the film had won in a different year, it wouldn’t face the kind of backlash it still receives to this day. It could have been a more deserving winner over Slumdog Millionaire, and it likely would have easily toppled The Artist next year. But that’s not what we’re faced with. We’re faced with the frustrating situation of a truly masterful film like The Social Network losing to something as generic as The King’s Speech. And you can call me harsh for labelling the film as such, but there’s nothing groundbreaking or original about this film. It’s a terribly-cliché narrative with a completely expected outcome. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but there is something wrong with declaring such a cookie-cutter piece of cinema as the best of the year.

The best of the year was easily The Social Network. Many (including myself) initially scoffed at the notion of a “Facebook movie,” but our scepticism was silenced when David Fincher unveiled his latest masterpiece. With an ingenious structure, a brilliant screenplay from Aaron Sorkin (one which I still consider the greatest of this century), sensational editing, a terrific and iconic score, and sublime performances from its ensemble cast, it still stands as one of the finest films of this decade. Or any decade. Perhaps it’s a bold statement, but The Social Network is, in my opinion, one of the greatest films of all time. It’s a masterpiece. There’s no other word for it. Its loss still upsets me, to this day. Maybe even more so than Brokeback Mountain.

The only explanation for its loss is a case of overexposure. Sometimes, when a film sweeps the precursor season, the film industry simply gets tired of the same film winning again and again. They don’t like “being told what to do,” and so they rebel, and look to something else. We’ve seen this before, and we’ll see it again. Becoming the frontrunner too early can be a death sentence for your Best Picture campaign, particularly when a much-loved and highly successful film is waiting in the wings to steal the race. And that’s ultimately what The King’s Speech came to represent. It was too damn lovable. It was too damn popular. And it was too hard to ignore.

As much as it pains me to admit, there is a hell of a lot to admire about The King’s Speech. Firth’s performance was a genuine triumph, and he deservedly walked away with the prize for Best Actor. His chemistry with Rush is glorious, as is Rush’s performance as the supportive and charming speech therapist who helped a king find his voice. Botham Carter is a delight, as the desperate and devoted wife of a man in the grips of such turmoil. With gorgeous production and costume design, and wonderful cinematography, the film is truly beautiful to behold. What I do take exception with is the adoration of Hooper’s direction, particularly over the work of Fincher. It’s a solid piece of directing, but it’s far from masterful. Unfortunately, the Academy were still foolishly connecting Picture and Director together, and couldn’t see the merit in rightfully splitting the awards.

The King’s Speech is a perfectly fine film, but there were better and more deserving films in 2010. The Social Network was the stand-out, but even Inception would have been a far bolder choice by the Academy, if they didn’t have such a bizarre aversion to Christopher Nolan. One could even argue Toy Story 3 would have made a better Best Picture winner, but we all know an animated film is never taking home the top prize. But, unfortunately, sometimes you just can’t beat that likability factor, and the Academy went with the film that made them feel good. It’s not exactly surprising, but it’s no less frustrating.