Award shows are an odd duck by their very nature. The average man, the layperson, doesn’t get anything tangible out of them other than a somewhat twisted sense of pride, the notion that we were ‘right’ for liking a certain film, television show, play, piece of music, etc., and finding commiseration with the opinions of others. We may not have some fancy degree or have spent X years in school studying movies, but dammit, we knew Million Dollar Baby was the best movie released in 2004 (note: it wasn’t), and feel vindicated that the Academy (with a big A, of course) agreed in our assessment. It’s a confirmation of taste. Comfort comes from the knowledge of a job well done.
What we need to keep in perspective, of course, is that everything is entirely arbitrary at day’s end. We’re not only dealing with the subjectivity of individual taste, but we’re also dealing with the herd mentality. This is why what I would have wanted to be nominated for the Oscars is completely different from what I would have predicted to be nominated for the Oscars when the nominations were actually released this morning. As a for instance, I have a serious allergy to so-called ‘Oscar bait’ films. Good examples of these films would include A Beautiful Mind or Cinderella Man or Chocolat or The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Often, they’re not particularly terrible films (unless they’re written by Akiva Goldsman and directed by Ron Howard), but there’s an air about them that permeates their every being. They try to hard. They scream award worthy, but they’re doing the screaming instead of the public. The thing is, the process, the things you do to become award worthy is so well established that one or two of these films every year push it a little too far, and feel like they were bred in a lab to be nominated for Oscars. It doesn’t always work out that way; Pay it Forward seemed like a slam dunk post American Beauty, but everyone had the good sense to realize it was manipulative drivel. Yet, it still happens. All the goddamned time.
This year’s piece of blatant Oscar bait is The King’s Speech. It’s a pseudo period piece (I guess the 1940’s is a ‘period,’ just with less bodices) starring Colin Firth as a monarch with a speech impediment and Geoffrey Rush as his crazy and off beat therapist that uses his wild methods and fish out of water unorthodox attitude to offer the foil George VI needs to overcome his stammer. And he does. To the surprise of no one. It doesn’t matter one iota that this is based on a true story. It’s still a heaping helping of treacle masquerading as feeling. It’s relatively entertaining to watch, but doesn’t impress anything on the viewer in any tangible way. It exists to make people go gaga over Colin Firth’s ability to stutter and Helena Bonham Carter’s ability to not look like she’s on drugs.
Inevitably, The King’s Speech has led the way with 12 Oscar nominations, including for such preposterous things as film editing and sound mixing. My hope is that all will be right in the world, and the following results will happen for the major awards:
Picture: The Social Network
Director: David Fincher (or Aronofsky, really)
Original Screenplay: Inception
Adapted Screenplay: The Social Network
Actor: Jesse Eisenberg
Actress: Natalie Portman
Supporting Actor: Christian Bale
Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo
I know Colin Firth is going to win Best Actor. I also know that he doesn’t deserve it. We care about these things because we care about film as a medium. Do the Oscars actually matter at all? No. But also yes. Let’s say The King’s Speech sets up the major sweep, winning for Picture, Director, Actor, and Screenplay. Literally all this does is convince the Akiva Goldsmans of the world to keep churning out garbage that features some high profile actor playing a role that features some kind of physical or mental defect striving to overcome himself. And the cycle will continue. Mr. Show did a fantastic parody of the whole situation all the way back in 1997, lampooning the idea that actors and actresses would make active choices to play mentally retarded characters to win awards (this was the year after Shine, one of the best examples of the trend). Nothing's changed in 13 years.
Do I think The Social Network is the best film of 2010? Nope. Still siding with Black Swan. Is it more important that Aaron Sorkin, David Fincher, and the producers of The Social Network walk away with their statues? Yes. It’s a positive move for film in general. It shows the studios and the public that the best script is actually what matters the most in the end, especially if you have one of the most talented directors in the business bringing it to life. It’s a move to break the cycle and hopefully discourage films like The King’s Speech from being so entirely lazy. It’s breaking away from the art house lowest common denominator. And it’s actually really damned good. Which helps.
That being said, I can’t help myself from pointing out five specific issues I have with this year’s Academy Award nominations. This is bound to get either a little or a lot ranty, but it’s a necessary bit of catharsis for yours truly.
1. Hailee Steinfeld nominated for Supporting Actress
Okay, I am aware that the studios pushed for this nomination specifically for Supporting Actress because they wanted to give her a chance to actually win instead of just getting streamrolled by Portman or Bening. But here’s the problem: SHE’S IN EVERY SCENE OF THE FUCKING MOVIE. She narrates the goddamned thing. Jeff Bridges, who is nominated for Best Actor, is in True Grit a lot less than Steinfeld is. This is exactly as ludicrous as supporting actors or actresses nominated for 5 minutes or less of screen time. The entire category is far too nebulous, and is fast becoming a joke. Even if the studios pushed Steinfeld for this category, voters should have been able to notice that she’s the lead character of the entire movie and only considered her for Best Actress. It’s more than a little mystifying.
2. Inception not nominated for Best Film Editing
There’s been a lot of uproar about Christopher Nolan being left out of the Best Director race. And the uproar is just. I have said before about how cool it was that four of my favorite directors (Nolan, Fincher, Aronofsky, and David O. Russell) would probably be nominated for Best Director. Didn’t expect O. Russell to make the cut and Nolan not to make the cut. But the actual travesty that has been generally lost in the shuffle is Inception losing out on a Film Editing nomination, which is actively egregious. The third act of Inception is incredibly complex. It features a constantly shifting focus between multiple instances of multiple actors in multiple settings moving at multiple speeds. Almost the entire third act takes place within the course of time it takes for a van to plunge into the water below a bridge. And the editing is completely flawless. Nothing is confusing. The scenes are spliced together and juxtaposed perfectly. It’s probably the most ambitious piece of editing we’ve seen in any major Oscar contender this year, and yet it was denied by a bunch of British people standing around and talking during The King’s Speech. Oh, but there was a montage, so you know. I think this is what actively pisses me off the most about this year’s nominations.
3. Ryan Gosling not nominated for Best Actor
In general, Blue Valentine got shafted in a pretty intense way, garnering a single nomination for Michelle Williams’ performance and nothing else. I expected a nom for Gosling, possibly screenplay, and perhaps even Picture (taking the Winter’s Bone slot). Ryan Gosling’s work in Blue Valentine is one of the best two performances of the year. I talked about it a lot in my review. In fact, I didn’t even consider for a second that he wouldn’t be nominated. It’s especially odd that Michelle Williams was nominated when he wasn’t, considering how playing off his incredibly strong performance is a big part of what made her so good. Both should have been nominated. Jeff Bridges probably shouldn’t have (well, Firth shouldn’t either, but I knew that was a losing battle from go). He’s fine in True Grit, but his work isn’t even close to the level of Gosling, who acted circles around his peers.
4. Toy Story 3 nominated for Adapted Screenplay
This is a case of confusion more than anything, the confusion boiling down to essentially ‘what the fuck was Toy Story 3 adapted from?’ Apparently, there may be some kind of archaic rule that sequels must be considered only for the Adapted category even if the story is entirely original, presumably due to the characters preexisting or something. Which is stupid. It’s cool that Toy Story 3 was nominated, as the screenplay is exceedingly clever, but this is simply the wrong category, much like what’s happening with Ms. Steinfeld.
5. Mark Ruffalo nominated for Best Supporting Actor
Here’s the thing. The Kids Are Alright isn’t very good. In some ways (a lot of ways), it’s actually offensive. It’s being championed as this great depiction of a functional lesbian relationship, which is COMPLETE AND TOTAL GARBAGE. I can continue to rant about how the entire film is actually an insult to its supposed demographic, but I’ll instead focus on Ruffalo. He’s…fine. His character isn’t given a whole lot to do other than try and bond with his new found kids while having sex with Julianne Moore. Nothing he does is particularly noteworthy. He disappears entirely during the final moments of the film. He’s a good actor, and has done good things in the past, but this is not a role that is worthy of kicking Andrew Garfield off the ballot. I don’t care whether it’s for Never Let Me Go or The Social Network, putting Ruffalo on there in lieu of Garfield is infuriating.
And there we have it.
I would say overall and in general, things basically shook out as expected. I can also say that this is by far the most prepared I’ve ever been for an Academy Awards telecast, and as such I am more opinionated than usual with regards to the nominations and eventual results. I know a lot of folks were down on film in general in 2010, but despite the first half of the year being a generally arid wasteland of disappointment, this has been one of the most entertaining Oscar seasons I’ve experienced in a while. Should be good times.