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Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World: Oscars 2011

You know what? I’m not actually that ticked off with the Academy Awards this year. In fact, as I mentioned in discussing the nominees, I was quite happy with the candidates up for the award. Now, nearly a week after the ceremony, I must concede that I’m generally relatively happy with the way that the awards were divided up on the night. CinemaBlend summed up the ceremony as a “group hug” to movies released in a great year for cinema, and I find it hard to object to that succinct summary.

By all accounts, the hosting was a bit of a drag...

Okay, so I’m still ticked Nolan got snubbed – but I knew that was coming before it happened. I’m still ticked that they moved the honorary awards out of the main ceremony – Eli Wallach deserves to be there as much as any of the modern nominees. I am ticked that expanding the Best Picture category to ten films is an empty gesture – as only the five with Best Director nominations are real candidates, the rest is pandering.

Of course I disagree with some of the individual awards handed out. I wouldn’t be a film nerd if I didn’t have several outraged opinions about who did and didn’t deserve recognition. I would have given the Best Picture Oscar to Inception or The Social Network rather than The King’s Speech. Nolan deserved the Original Screenplay award. Hailee Steinfeld deserved the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, as much as I appreciated the shamelessness of Melissa Leo’s campaign. These aren’t exactly minor differences – they’re big categories and fundamental shifts. So, despite these differences, how can I claim to be happy with the results?

Inception won as many awards as The King's Speech? I must be dreaming...

To put it in strictly negative terms, I am happy it was not a clean sweep for The King’s Speech. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the film and – to be frank – I wouldn’t have been upset if it had won a sweep. However, the film that took the biggest of prizes – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor – took home exactly the same number of awards as two other films. Inception took home four awards (in three technical categories and Best Cinematography, which really should be a major award). The Social Network also took home four awards.

Let’s ignore, for the moment, the argument frequently bandied around that technical awards are somehow less important than the “big eight” prizes. I’d agree with the logic, to a point – there is only one “Best Picture” prize, right? Still, this distribution of prizes is fascinating of itself, and certainly counts as something of a mark of respect. The fact is that, instead of giving twelve prizes to the same film, the Academy divided them up. Sure, The King’s Speech got the glory of the morning press coverage, but it got the exact same number of statues as the former frontrunner (The Social Network) and the token blockbuster (Inception).

Note to self: Increase the use of "Inceptioned" as a verb...

That makes me happy – an acknowledgement that there were films out there that were almost as worthy of awards and recognition as the period piece that has spent the past four or five months marching effortlessly towards the largest of prizes. I won’t pretend that this is a “turning point”, or the moment that the Academy embraces popular culture – but it does make me smile a little. As much as I enjoyed The King’s Speech, it was a movie designed to win Oscars, and I’m glad that the Academy wasn’t as entirely taken by it as it might seem.

More than that, there’s the simple fact that there was no really bad nominee or winner. I am reasonably happy with the quality of all the winners and nominees. There isn’t a movie as bad as The Reader or as deeply flawed as The Blind Side among them. Trawling through the movies released over the course of the year, the Academy managed to find not only five good films, but ten great ones – and I like to take the way that the awards were handed out as proof of that.

Sometimes the Oscars just put me to sleep...

Of course, there’s no way to demonstrate the result wasn’t a fluke or that it wasn’t an exceptional vote – and that things will be back to normal next year. I accept that I am no closer to my dream of a world where my favourite film of a given year will take home the Best Picture award. But, you know what?

Nothing about the awards handed out this year managed to make me angry. In fact, more than a couple made me smile. And that’s a sign that maybe things might be going a little right.

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6 Responses

  1. I still would have liked to have seen Nolan get a nomination.

  2. I don’t know, there was just something so cynical about The King’s Speech – you couldn’t throw together a film better designed to collect Oscars. I liked it, but that turned me off a bit.

    • I accept that, but I think it’s been that way for years now. I don’t think there’s anything more cynical about The King’s Speech than there was about any number of other “Oscar bait” films, but I have enjoyed the discussion about what it is that makes The King’s Speech so special and so powerful. I love the Variety article which pretty much suggests that The King’s Speech is The Karate Kid as Oscar bait.

  3. Even though I’m not the biggest fan of the King’s Speech, it’s a little unfair to call it Oscar Bait simply because it’s a period drama about a person with a disability. The Social Network was also a period drama with a character with a personality disability. Does that make that film Oscar Bait?

    • I suppose you have a point, but I don’t know – something about the film just smacks of Oscar vote manipulation. Perhaps it’s simply the involvement of Harvey Weinstein (who the camera just kept cutting back to during the Best Picture speech). I also accept that the same labels could, as you note, be applied to The Social Network.

      However, I think that the King’s Speech was more comfortably a “period” piece (in that it was set during the Second World War, a period that the Oscar voters have demonstrated a fondness for) and also that King George’s disability made him no less of a sympathetic character (and the Oscars love a “triumph over adversity” tale). In contrast, The Social Network was set five-odd years ago and featured a pretty unsympathetic lead (even if, as you suggest, you read his difficulty interacting as a form of aspergers).

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