2011 Oscars Reactions

The irony that permeates the night after the 83rd Academy Awards marked the official end of the 2010 movie season is the way that Anne Hathaway and James Franco, the two young, hip movie stars tapped to host the show and inject some youth and excitement into the proceedings, had to preside over The King’s Speech winning every major award. Many of us talk and threaten and bluster over boycotting the Oscars when things like this happen, when Crash defeated Brokeback Mountain or Shakespeare in Love won over Saving Private Ryan, but I feel betrayed this year in a way that I haven’t felt in the past.

I think it’s because I invested so much in the pictures this year. From October on, when The Social Network and Let Me In opened on October 1, I was a filmic madman, seeing just about every major contender for the Oscars by the first week of January. I only really missed out on Biutiful, Another Year, and most of the documentaries in terms of important films for Oscar night. In many ways, 2010 represented a passing of the torch, where the cutting edge directors that emerged on the scene with edgy independent work about fifteen or so years ago were really starting to break through into the spotlight with major films, major nominations, and major awards. The best example of this was what I like to call ‘the big four,’ four of my favorite directors who all managed to make successful and critically acclaimed films in 2010.

David O. Russell’s been around since Spanking the Monkey in 1994, but first started making major waves in 1999 with Three Kings, both for being a pretty damned excellent film and for the various controversies that occurred over the scripting and working with George Clooney during the shoot. I’m especially fond of his comedies, Flirting with Disaster and I Heart Huckabees. The man has a gift for farce, which worked to his benefit in many of the family scenes in his Oscar film The Fighter. Chris Nolan may have made a billion dollar movie in 2008’s The Dark Knight and had been a hot Hollywood director with Memento from the beginning of the century, but Inception was his chance to get the recognition for all of his hard work and devotion without the Academy having to vote for a superhero movie. Darren Aronofsky impressed the art world with Pi in 1998 and Requiem for a Dream in 2000, and Black Swan not only gave Natalie Portman the perfect opportunity to win a statue, but also represented a surprising crowd pleaser and box office success. David Fincher had basically already begun breaking out of his gritty late 90’s past of Seven and Fight Club with 2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but The Social Network was poised to be his coronation. It was the perfect Hollywood film for a new generation, full of whip smart dialogue, a fantastic moody score, and wonderful acting performances. The new blood was taking over.

Then the Golden Globes happened and everything was seemingly as it should be. The Fighter was honored for its supporting roles, Black Swan for Natalie Portman, and The Social Network for screenplay, directing, and drama. Sure, Colin Firth beat out three actors far more deserving of his prize, but I had already resigned myself to allowing The King’s Speech to snipe one category and ONE CATEGORY ONLY in order to give Firth some love. He’s a good actor, and while I could see this being Jesse Eisenberg’s only shot at one of the most awkward award acceptance speeches in the history of history, sometimes you just let things slide.

Then The King’s Speech swept the BAFTA’s. That’s fine. A bunch of stuffy British folks voted for a stuffy British movie about their king. Seems reasonable. Doesn’t necessarily mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. The worry set in when it started winning everywhere else. The three major guilds (Screen Actors, Producers, Directors) all tapped The King’s Speech as their best picture of the year, and suddenly all the momentum from the Globes and the legions of critics awards (and I mean legions. It basically won just about all of them) was gone and The Social Network was fading fast. The Oscar nominees were released and Andrew Garfield wasn’t on the list for Supporting Actor. Sure, there were some slam dunks; there was basically no way Sorkin was going to lose for Adapted Screenplay, and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score seemed well positioned to allow for the surreal moment of seeing the man who is Nine Inch Nails accepting an Oscar in a tuxedo. Directing and Picture should have been slam dunks too. But that all changed.

I knew it was all over after the winner for Original Screenplay was announced. Indeed, of all the various injustices (well, four injustices) The King’s Speech levied upon us thanks to the Academy last night, Original Screenplay was arguably the most egregious. Christopher Nolan was already stabbed in the back once for being denied a Best Director nomination (remember when he was a shoe-in for the nomination? That it would be the Academy’s opportunity to get things right after missing on The Dark Knight? Yeah. That worked out grandly), but we at least had the rightful assumption that he would take away the screenplay prize. Inception’s screenplay is a thing of utter beauty. It sets up the dream world, establishes its rules using expository tactics that do not bore the viewer, and constantly keeps you on your toes. It then explodes into a third act that might feature the most complex and intricate heist in the history of cinema, aided of course by taking place on four to five places of existence. With all of the timelines operating at different speeds. I should mention again at this time THAT THIS FILM WAS NOT NOMINATED FOR EDITING. In some ways, it represents one of the great scripts of our time, the way it manages to take a Hollywood blockbuster and make it mean something. It’s how it’s astoundingly clever and rewards those who pay attention without being overly mystifying. And the best thing? It’s one hell of an original screenplay. I mean, honestly, this is one of the more original ideas to come out of Hollywood in a while.

And it lost. To a British king with a stutter whose only focus in a world about to face down the Nazi menace is making a goddamned speech without tripping over his words. A first world problem, indeed. Apparently, if he stuttered during the speech, the Nazis would have won. Food for thought.

I’m just going to repost what I wrote yesterday here and now:

“I think The King’s Speech winning this one would probably be the worst injustice the film would commit against the ceremony this year. The screenplay for Inception is difficult to argue against; it’s a fiendishly complex and legitimately interesting fresh idea that was executed about perfectly on a script level. If it’s beaten by the adaptation of a real life event with little to no innovation, that’s actively upsetting.”

And that’s the real kicker. Original screenplay. It’s basically a biopic based on the real life events of real life people. Original screenplay, my ass. Of course, if the Academy took the ‘based on true events’ angle and used that as a barrier for entry into the Original Screenplay category (and the very well should, considering the stance they take on the Original Score category), they would probably have legitimate difficulty fielding five worthy nominees each year.

The depressing thing about this is the fact that Hollywood is pretty much out of ideas and has been out of ideas for a while. Biopics, war stories, adaptations of books, plays, musicals, various ‘based on a true story’ feel goods, this is what film has become in the 21st century. We finally had the opportunity to get things right and award actual legitimate artistry (and yes, I’m aware that The Social Network is a biopic based on true events. Aaron Sorkin breaks serve and makes it his own. It’s different), and the Academy got scared and opted to go with the one film in the ten nominated that was blatant Oscar bait from the Miramax machine. They could have broken the serve. They could have made a statement about how this has become a young man’s game (Tom Hooper might be in his 30’s, but he was probably the youngest guy on set each day) and the torch needed to be passed to a new generation of ideas. But they steadfastly refused to give in to the reality.

I’m more disenchanted than I’ve ever been about the Oscars. There’s a legitimate chance I won’t watch them next year, especially considering the arid wasteland of film that appears to be 2011. You can only get fooled into thinking it matters for so long. Yes, awards and ceremonies are more pomp than consequence, but there’s something undeniably psychologically satisfying about the right thing winning. In the long run, everyone is going to realize that The Social Network was the better film. Spielberg made the point perfectly talking about the ones that got away, the Citizen Kanes and Raging Bulls and Saving Private Ryans of the world that didn’t win the big one. That doesn’t make this one sting any less, especially with what it represents. It represents laziness and safety in the face of daring. It represents a group out of step and out of time with its culture. It represents the refusal to award innovation and chance. The Academy will never reward films like The Dark Knight regardless of their quality. I thought that The Social Network was safe enough. I thought that David Fincher would be given the respect he deserves for simply filming a perfect script flawlessly. I thought the ten years it took Christopher Nolan to perfect Inception would count for something. And it does count for something to me. That is all that matters in the end, but you want to see these directors, these actors, these screenwriters given the respect they rightly deserve in front of and among their peers. It bothers me that Nolan was snubbed from Director and Lee Smith was snubbed from Editor because these people worked their asses off and deserve praise.

It’s going to take a lot for me to come back next year. My devotion to the medium is everlasting, but my faith in the Academy not wasting my time might have reached its breaking point.

Though, if Steve Martin’s hosting again, I’ll probably just watch it for the hell of it.