Oscar had a chance last night, and the naked gold statue blew it. Blew it big time. It had a chance to redeem itself, to stop playing final flaccid groan-inducer to an entire month of preprogrammed “excitement”. Whenever anyone questions why the Academy Awards are more or less irrelevant to the entire nu-media film process, the one salient sad fact is never mentioned: like every election, the polling (i.e., the various other award shows) and the prognosticating (even some ten-year-old swat on FOX News had an opinion on the winners) makes the actually process pointless. It’s the viewer version of voter apathy.
Would we have been reeling had something like 127 Hours had walked away with the Best Picture award? Absolutely - but it’s the reason ‘why’ that’s more important. The choice would have been fine (it’s a damn good movie), but when the tide has been rolling one way for six weeks, watching it suddenly shift consensus current in that way would be a wonder to behold. Of course, when it does happen, the results can be even more ridiculous than before—right, Saving Private Ryan?
Of course, last night’s lamentable excuse for a year-end celebration wasn’t about to make us curious… or care. They weren’t about to piss off the various Guilds, anger the gods of greedy studios, or attempt anything real or relevant. A few days back we predicted who we thought would win, and in every single category we discussed, we were 100% right. Melissa Leo and Christian Bale made The Fighter the film to see for its supporting performances, while Colin Firth and Natalie Portman played King and Black Swan at their own Hollywood homecoming. Tom Hooper bested a group of directors who have, together, made some of the greatest films of the post-modern era, and Toy Story 3, In a Better World, and Inside Job sent The Illusionist, Biutiful, and Exit Through the Gift Shop packing. The only real shocker was Inception‘s Wally Pfister beating out True Grit‘s Roger Deakins. At least the latter can look back at 2011 as the year he officially became the Erica Kane of cinematographers.
There were no surprises this time around. No stunning upsets meant to send a message to those outside the industry. The King’s Speech capped off its continued clobbering of The Social Network, Aaron Sorkin can finally stop being so unconvincingly humble, and David Seidler can retire to his twee little English estate and contemplate more regal flaws. On the bright side, Trent Reznor joins a select group of rockers who’ve got Oscar gold sitting on their shelves, and Christopher Nolan’s multilayered dreamscape thriller walked away with many of the technical awards.
Overall, Tinseltown continued its telling trend towards ‘spreading the wealth’, treating convention like a favored visitor in their plush guest house. In a year which saw a good deal of awful filmmaking, 2010 redeemed itself in the end, supplying a steady stream of cinematic excellence which almost made up for the fact that someone keeps giving Adam Sandler and Martin Lawrence a job. From Grit to Winter’s Bone, even the final ballot seemed to suggest the possibilities.
But then the whole King’s Speech bandwagon began, the things started to stink. It’s the stifling, stale smell of goodness triumphing—debatably—over greatness. From Facebook friends who dismissed the historic biopic as yet another Best Picture winner that will be forgotten five years from now to those who gloated over the Academy recognizing the real excellent of 2010, winners are always a matter of compromise.
If 51 people vote for Firth as Best Actor, 49 could be voting for someone else. Yet the entire Oscar dynamic is set up to appear like the name on the envelope IS indeed the year’s greatest achievement in film. It’s a false facade that fans have been seeing through for years. Indeed, part of the continued rejection of the whole Kodak Theater crock is that, without results, an unanimous victory is just as valuable as a one vote squeaker. Yet both are played and praised as the same.
Complaining is also part of the problem. Instead of accepting the fact that no single awards ceremony can be everything to everyone, the new social media soapbox allows the delivery of a divergence of opinions - too many perhaps. With the death of print and the rise of a middling Messageboard Nation, any and all choices are given a faux validity.
Somewhere, in the bowels of such a veiled sense of critical democracy, someone actually believes that The Kids Are All Right was robbed—and with an easy template channel for their disappointment, a different kind of consensus builds, one that believes that the Oscars are out of touch. In decades past, it was a conversation reserved for a casual dinner party or a respected journalist’s wrap-up column. Today, it will be tweeted about until every last ounce of wasted vitriol is voiced.
Like a cynical snowball rolling downhill, building up speed and smothering any real sense of accomplishment, the Oscars continue to generate such a response. With its four wins, The King’s Speech can declare itself the big winner simply because the categories it dominated are ‘better’ than the ones championed by something like Inception, which collected the same number. Oddly enough, one of the greatest films of all time, the media savvy send-up Network won four trophies as well - but unlike the genial dissection of one royal’s significant stammer, it failed to cop one for director or picture. Does this make the telling TV rant a lesser offering than The King’s Speech. Hardly - and yet this will be the meandering measuring stick many use in the next few days to determine quality and caring.
When your favorite sports team wins, the feeling of success (and superiority) makes it hard not to gloat, to feel like a fair fight was had and everyone had an equal chance on an even playing field. On the other hand, the loser often feels betrayed by everything—the conditions, the level of competition, the various calls made, the various mistakes made on each side. They suggest conspiracies and cabals.
The truth about 2010 will always be that, in a year where nearly 90% of the journalist groups voting on film’s picked The Social Network and David Fincher as the year’s best film and director, neither went home with the Academy’s highest accolade. It’s a disconnect that’s almost frightening in is suggested symbolism. Will The King’s Speech be remembered as the Chariots of Fire of the new millennium, or the unworthy party Crash-er? Perhaps. If so, it won’t be a surprise if the rest of the also-rans feel that way… just like there were no surprises when the ceremony was all said and done.