Film

The Guild-ed Cages of Awards Season

After decades of decided handwringing, Hollywood finally has what it wants: a sense of specialness undeterred by surprise or a sense of wonder.

Sometimes, the communal consciousness of the cinematic community gets it "right". Of course, by 'right' we mean modeling most of the critical consensus that arrives via the various journalistic organizations and collectives providing their positions over the last few months. Awards season is all about a shared coming together, about a year's worth of performances and personality whittled down to a determination of ten, or five -- and then finally one. As trophies come and go, as bottles of champagne are uncorked and gift bags bulge with unnecessary trinkets, the suspense dissipates, each new member of the annual media shouting match removing one more layer of intrigue to the seemingly predetermined list of winners.

Of course, there is always a baby to come along and soil the bathwater, and this year it's the Director's Guild of America. The DGA, almost always a bellwether for who will win the coveted Oscar for filmmaking, is rarely ever wrong. Even when they are -- Stephen Spielberg's snub for The Color Purple, Ang Lee and Rob Marshall's Guild wins vs. Academy loses -- they tend to be on the correct side of the situation. But over the weekend, the DGA pulled one of those unbelievable movie biz boners that will have movie lovers kvetching until the next time they nullify reason. In a decision of deceptive bends, they gave Tom Hooper -- a UK TV name with only four features to his name -- the year's highest honor.

Look, The King's Speech is a very good movie. It's a calculated crowdpleaser that substitutes urbanity and British wit for in-depth psychological explanations or action scenes. It features fantastic performances, a wonderful script, and one of those bigger than real life true stories that skirt specifics to simply "feel" right and authentic. Like The Queen, it remodels English royalty as flawed individuals struggling both inside and outside the manipulated monarchy. It's a funny, familiar film. While it will probably also take home the Academy Award for Best Picture (thanks a lot, Producers Guild of America), it is not 2010's supreme achievement in cinema.

In fact, it's hard to see just what Hooper did to deserve the DGAs love. He didn't mold the amazing acting work of stars Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush, or the rest of the considered cast. He did not write the script -- that was left to playwright David Seidler (who had previously proved the materials merit on stage). While he signed off on each one of them, he did not build the sets, design the costumes, or digitally manipulate the backdrops to recreate pre-War era England. In the end, Hooper was like a general contractor. He subbed out all of the important work and then sat back and made sure the camera was in the right place. Even the question of keeping things in focus was the job of cinematographer Danny Cohen.

While that may seem like downgrading Hooper's efforts, it's actually a matter of fact -- and artistic distinction. Ever since the French founded their famous "auteur" theory, there have directors who made their aesthetic presence known, who placed their outsized vision directly on the screen for everyone to see and sense. Like judges who are accused of rewriting the laws instead of merely interpreting them, these filmmakers inject passion, not passivity, into their designs. Hooper, on the other hand, is more of a technician. He keeps the mise-en-scene in check, continually drives the narrative forward, and sprinkles each scene with just the right amount of magic to make it seem accomplished. You can't pick out what he's doing well, you just know he's not doing anything wrong.

While you contemplate that concept for a moment, let's look back at who he beat. First and foremost, there's Darren Aronofsky, whose work behind the lens in Black Swan showcases a brash, bold artist eager to embrace genre convention as well as spit directly in its formulaic face. Similarly, David Fincher's frontrunner status for the Facebook film The Social Network indicated a rare combination of geek love and genuine appreciation for his inventive, elusive mechanics. Christopher Nolan, a stranger to AMPAS recognition but beloved by the DGA, picked up a third nod for the brilliant Inception, and David O. Russell redeemed his ranting, raving self by showing -- Terry Gilliam like - that he could handle a measured mainstream movie like The Fighter.

Yet among these arguably gifted filmmakers, Hooper was declared the best. Theories run the gamut from infamous Weinstein interferences and campaigning, to the size of the DGA vs. the far smaller sampling of Oscar. Age vs. youth, classicism vs. an avoidance of the new and predominantly post-modern have also been batted about. But the truth is, as with every end of year stampede, The King's Speech picked up steam at the strategically correct time. While The Social Network was taking a stand among almost every critic's group and True Grit was trampling the competition at the box office, the little British biopic that could kept chugging along, working on its endurance in order to make a run for in the prestige playoffs. Everyone else was Lebron James. Hooper and his crew are like the Celtics, or Lakers.

Of course, this doesn't make the win any more satisfactory. One would hope that a decision like this would be based on merit, not timing. Among the five (and feathered out to include The Coens and a couple others), Hooper barely makes this writer's top ten. Indeed, David Poland of Movie City News said it best when he suggested that any one of a dozen or so known names could have made The King's Speech and done as good -- or even better -- a job as Hooper. It's hard to say the same for the other nominees. Yet just like the Screen Actors Guild awards that went by the book on 20 January (Firth and Natalie Portman for Best Actor/Actress, Melissa Leo and Christian Bale of The Fighter for Supporting), there's a weird inevitability to the decision. Just when you think the institutions are catching up with the culture, unpredictable predictability like this steps in and spoils things.

Fincher will survive. So will Aronofsky and Nolan and Russell. Portman's cute little baby bump will look even more fetching come the end of February, and also-rans like Annette Bening and Hailee Steinfeld will have to feel "thankful" for the mere nomination. After decades of decided handwringing, Hollywood finally has what it wants -- a sense of specialness undeterred by surprise or a sense of wonder. A month from now, it will all be over aside from Joan Rivers' rating of the various fashion flubs. Who knows - Hooper may join that elite group of DGA winners with no Oscar to show for it. On the other hand, each guild seems to be follow a script only a stuffed shirt could create. 2010 promised to be something significant. If showcasing sameness is noteworthy, then we're right on course.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.