McGinnis: Oscar reaction — again, the wrong film wonWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
“The King’s Speech” is a thoroughly engaging and wonderful piece of entertainment. What I am about to write should in no way be seen as an attack against that film. I write instead to calm the fire in my soul that comes after the Academy announced it was the Best Picture of 2010, something I believe it clearly was not.
Yes, quality of film is a matter of opinion, and mine means no more or less than anyone else’s. But in a year where one film was so powerful, so great, so transformative, so amazing that it towers over all others so vividly in my memory , I feel I must speak up in its defense now, before these Oscars fade like so many others into the ranks of distant memory and useless trivia.
The best film of 2010 was “The Social Network.” I believed that as soon as I left the theater, I wrote that in my first review, I reiterated it in my year-end column, and I state it again here. If my fandom for the film seems overbearing, that is because it is in proportion to the passion the movie has generated in me.
There were many, many quality films in 2010, several of which were spoken for among the Academy’s ten nominees. But none of them were as vital, as current and as alive as “Network.” It is a film with genuine daring at its soul.
The movie told a tale of an angry man who looked at the world with both contempt and longing. He was alienated from practically everyone by his demeanor and condescension, and before the film’s end he would drive away the remaining few he was close to. He had achieved all the success one man could ever imagine, but was still miserable and alone because of who he was.
“Network” gave us a thoroughly contemptible lead character and did not ask us to find a heart of gold, but instead to understand him for who he was, and why he was. At the end, as the billionaire Mark Zuckerberg sits at his computer, waiting for a friend approval that will probably never arrive, he is everything and nothing all at once.
“The King’s Speech,” on the other hand, is practically the opposite of daring. It tells of two men, their friendship, and how one helps the other to rise to challenges that seem greater than him. As basic stories go, this is not exactly the most blindingly original in movie history. The movie overcomes that by crafting genuinely interesting and likeable characters, which helps to invest the audience in their struggles and problems.
But on the whole, the film does feel very…standard. It is ready-made Oscar bait, the kind that the Weinsteins specialize in. It’s a well-made, well-acted, well-produced period film with pretty sets and costumes, and to Oscar voters it gets bonus points because it’s about historical figures.
But it lacks the spark of originality and vitality that would make it one of the lasting pieces of great entertainment. As I said in my original review, strip away its setting and historical figures, and you essentially have an underdog sports movie, with the misfit eventually rising to win the championship, or the crown. On the subject of the monarchy, more daring ground was trod just a few years ago with Stephen Frears’ funny and involving portrait “The Queen.” (That didn’t win Best Picture, either.)
The members of the Academy are a traditional lot. They tend to honor films which aspire to inspire and move an audience emotionally. There is nothing wrong with those goals. But sometimes, one must acknowledge that the most powerful of films can inspire through caution, rather than idolatry. Audiences would much rather see themselves as King Bertie than Mark Zuckerberg, no doubt. But I thought more about myself, and who I was, after watching the Zuckerberg film.
The Academy has shown a welcome trend toward the adventurous in the past few years. That movies like “No Country for Old Men” and “The Hurt Locker” were rightly honored gave me hope that perhaps the voters were growing the confidence to honor braver films that were not standard Oscar fare. I guess what saddens me most is that the results of Sunday’s awards feel like a step back from that trend. Will more great films of the future will be sacrificed so we can continue to toss laurels at the safe and familiar? Only time will tell.
Email Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com