Monday, October 11, 2010

Devil's Advocate: The King's Speech & The Oscars

I suppose calling myself a "devil's advocate" when discussing The King's Speech's Oscar chances can sound a little dicey at best. After all, the movie isn't even out yet and who am I to judge? I know I have neglected covering this upcoming film that stars Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, but only due to it not really being on my radar in these past months. That's not to say I'm uninterested in this film because I've read all the positive reports on the film and think it could possibly be very good.

My problem with "The King's Speech" is that I feel that the main reason why it's getting the type of Oscar Buzz that it's getting is because it seems like the typical Oscar-friendly film. You have the Oscar-friendly cast starring Colin Firth who is clearly long overdue for the Best Actor Oscar. Barring any upsets, I do believe he's the frontrunner for the Best Actor Oscar. But, to automatically start giving The King's Speech the trophy is just as dumb as giving the trophy to The Social Network or Inception.

We already know why TSN and Inception could have a tough time winning the Oscar. The Social Network is a very well-written, impeccably-crafted film but it has a young cast and its subject matter may go right over the heads of the Academy voters.

Inception is a hugely ambitious, very original action epic that pretty much took ownership of the entire summer blockbuster season. But the Academy don't usually go for Sci-Fi/Action type films and people have complained about its coldness and complex, frustrating ending. Also, the last time the Academy awarded a blockbuster film was 2003's Lord of the Rings Return of the King and that film had the benefit of the previous films in the trilogy being nominated for best picture as well. LOTR sweeping the 2003 Oscars appeared to be the Academy's way of making up for virtually ignoring the other two films. They had to award the third one, but they don't have to award Inception with anything.

So, by the book, looking at The King's Speech which is a historical drama with great performances from a wonderful cast... the fact that it's getting rave reviews could very well mean that it's a lock for a Best Picture win. But, when you think about it, the Oscars lately have been anything but by the book. They have passed over Oscar-friendly films in the recent past and have awarded some of the world's most visionary directors (along with their films): Eastwood, Scorsese, Coen Brothers, Danny Boyle, and Kathryn Bigelow. Tom Hooper, the director of King's Speech is a virtual unknown who could be going up against filmmakers such as Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Danny Boyle, The Coen Brothers, and maybe even Darren Aronofsky. The last time we've had a split for best picture and best director was in 2006 when Crash won Best Picture but Ang Lee won best director for Brokeback Mountain. Has the Academy's tastes changed or has there simply not been a Oscar-friendly enough film that they can all get behind?

Well, you can argue the latter. Avatar had the monster box office success and simple love story that the Academy could get behind but ultimately I feel that the Academy didn't go for it because Avatar's story is ultimately one that's been done many times before. You also had Up in the Air and Precious... but none of those movies are historical epics. Inglourious Basterds was really the only "historical epic" but it was also one that was largely the product of Quentin Tarantino's vision and definitely wasn't by the book or historically accurate (nor was it trying to be).

Films in the past that seem to be more in line with The King's Speech are ones such as Atonement, Frost/Nixon, Good Night and Good Luck, Munich, The Queen... but really, none of those films had strong buzz going into the Oscar season. In fact, Frost/Nixon, Atonement, and Munich were seen as afterthoughts by the time the Oscars came around.

This is why I bring all this up. Films such as Inception, The Social Network, 127 Hours, and True Grit seem more in line with the Academy's taste in recent years. I repeat, in recent years. They are films that are getting strong buzz and you can bet that at least two of them will remain strong enough to still be considered when the Oscars are given out. But the King's Speech is old school Oscar-friendly type stuff and, by all accounts, it appears that it's a wonderful, crowd-pleasing movie. But will the Oscars be into that? Do they want to go back to that but haven't had the chance? Or has their tastes officially evolved?

Those are questions we all must ask ourselves as we get closer to Oscar season. Why is The King's Speech the Oscar frontrunner? Is that due to how the Academy used to vote or how the Academy votes now? If The King's Speech winds up being as good as it promises to be and it's getting strong heat from 127 Hours, The Social Network, and Inception... how the Academy votes can be huge. Back in 2007, it was unheard of to think a film like No Country for Old Men could possibly win Best Picture. Two years later, a small film like The Hurt Locker beat out the juggernaut that was Avatar. Lately, the Academy has voted against the grain more often than not. Is this going to be an ongoing trend or will The King's Speech bring the Academy back to its roots?

No comments: