Post-Oscar nom breakdown 4: Director and Picture
Bill and I break down Best Picture and Best Director, and Bill finds some interesting quirks in Oscars' past:
William C. Altreuter
I’m pretty sure I like the expanded field for Best Picture. When you look over lists of past nominees it is pretty clear that the Academy takes the award seriously—and thinks that this means that the Best Picture should also be serious.
I’m not so sure that’s true. Like the hero of Preston Sturges’s Sullivan’s Travels, the Academy undervalues comedy, and that’s not all it doesn’t seem to fully appreciate when it’s time to hand out statuettes: genre films and animated features are also traditionally overlooked.
You have to go back to 2002 to find a comedy winning Best Picture. (Chicago. I guess that’s a comedy, isn’t it?) Shakespeare in Love won in 1998 and Forrest Gump won in 1994. (Is Gump a comedy? Ugh, I don’t want to think about it.)
But we have to go all the way back to 1977 and Annie Hall before we see funny winning before that. (‘77 was an odd year: Star Wars, The Goodbye Girl, Julia, and The Turning Point were the other nominees. The Goodbye Girl?)
Science fiction and fantasy have started to come into their own over the same period, at least as far as nominations go: Raiders of the Lost Ark in ’81 (lost to Chariots of Fire); E.T. in ’82 (lost to Gandhi, as did Missing, Tootsie, and The Verdict); The Sixth Sense, and The Green Mile in '99 (lost to American Beauty); the Lord of the Rings trilogy in ’01, ’02, and ’03, when The Return of the King took it; and, I suppose, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in 2008. Last year, in addition to Avatar, District 9 was nominated, as was Up, a terrific movie that didn’t deserve to be ghettoized as a cartoon.
Expanding the field should mean that a wider range of movies get considered, but it remains to be seen if Hollywood can overcome its apparent preference for cowboys, boxers, soldiers, and English people in period dress over aliens from space, superheroes, and hobbits.
The other thing that is interesting to consider in the expanded format for Best Picture is the fact that the Best Director category remains limited to five nominations. This year five movies nominated for Best Picture were passed over for Best Director: 127 Hours, Winter's Bone, Toy Story 3, Inception, and The Kids Are All Right. The real curiosity on that list is Inception, which is a director’s movie if I ever saw one, although any of the others would certainly have been deserving.
This peculiar two-tier system is hard to parse, and complicates handicapping. Will the Academy split its vote, or will it adhere to a strict auteur theory methodology? In the past there has been only slight correlation between the two awards, and I’m betting that this will be how it shakes out this time.
Black Swan: Darren Aronofsky’s movie seems to me to be more likely to gather awards in the acting categories, and for things like costume design.
The Fighter: David O. Russell is also an actor’s movie.
The Social Network: David Fincher looked like a lock for this in the spring when the movie was released, didn’t he? I loved the way the story was framed, but that means Best Editing, not necessarily Best Director.
True Grit: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen are genre directors, don’t you think? Or maybe genre commentators is a better description of what they do, but therein lies the problem for them: I think Hollywood may be afraid that it’s being made fun of by the Coens. Fargo wasn’t genre commentary, so it won. I don’t think True Grit is genre commentary as such, and it is a cowboy movie. If I were ranking instead of picking I’d say that Black Swan would be my second choice, and True Grit my third, which means that ...
The King's Speech: Tom Hooper, is, my crystal ball tells me, the likely winner. A conservative choice, and not how I’d vote if I had a vote, but I think English people in period dress trump cowboys this time.
Black Swan (Mike Medavoy, Brian Oliver, and Scott Franklin, producers): I don’t think a version of The Turning Point with crazy is going to win.
The Fighter (David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman, and Mark Wahlberg, producers): Boxers are always an Academy favorite, but does this seem like the best movie of the year? It doesn’t give off that vibe to me, and I really liked it.
Inception (Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan, producers): I liked this, too, but lots of people didn’t. It rewards re-watching, and of the movies nominated not many can make that claim as well. That’s going to be Inception’s award: twenty-five years from now people will still be watching it.
The Kids Are All Right (Gary Gilbert, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, and Celine Rattray, producers): A strong contender, I think mainly on the strength of the strong ensemble. Does that make this the Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner of 2010? Maybe.
127 Hours (Christian Colson, Danny Boyle, and John Smithson, producers): Great stuff, but a stunt. Stunts don’t win the big prize.
The Social Network (Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca, and Ceán Chaffin, producers): When neither Justin Timberlake (who was a revelation in this) nor Armie Hammer got Supporting Actor nods I reckoned the Best Picture shot was over. It also seems to me that although The Social Network understood the internet as a media form better than any other movie I’ve ever seen, most of the Academy probably don’t understand it as well, or perhaps even feel threatened by it.
Toy Story 3 (Darla K. Anderson, producer): Cartoons aren’t going to win this prize, even if they should. I hate this movie for being so great at what it does, and I think it had interesting and important things to say. Its reward will be to beat How to Train Your Dragon for Best Animated Feature.
Winter's Bone (Anne Rosellini and Alix Madigan-Yorkin, producers): Too small a film for this group I’m afraid.
The King's Speech (Iain Canning, Emile Sherman, and Gareth Unwin, producers): Cowboys or Englishmen?
True Grit: Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen, and Joel Coen, producers): Englishmen or cowboys? I went back thirty-five years to see how often this matchup has occurred, and who has won when it has. It is less common than I would have thought. In 1992, Unforgiven beat both The Crying Game (probably the wrong sort of Englishmen) and Howard’s End. In 1996, The English Patient beat Fargo. In 2007, No Country For Old Men beat Atonement. That’s not a lot to go on, but I’m giving the edge to the cowboys this time.
Instead of breaking it down by category—Bill, you did an absolutely fantastic job of that—I’m going to get right to it: David Fincher will win Best Director and The King’s Speech will win Best Picture.
It’s funny how, several weeks ago, the Best Picture race was considered no race at all: The Social Network had it in the bag. What has changed? Three movies that have become more widely seen: The King’s Speech, The Fighter, and True Grit.
Since then, there have been some “shocking” victories for The King’s Speech, specifically from the Directors Guild of America, for Tom Hooper, and from the Producers Guild. This tells us two things. One, for Speech to lose Best Picture would be unlikely, no matter the Social Network hip factor. Two, Hooper could be seen as the fave for Director.
But I stand by Fincher. We’ve seen a film win Director and lose Picture several times—Soderbergh with Traffic, Spielberg with Saving Private Ryan—and Fincher’s direction is far “showier” than Hooper’s. He’s directed financial and critical successes, he’s seemingly well-liked, and he’s cool. Never underestimate the desire to honor someone cool.
It’s also a way of acknowledging the film without the Mighty Prize; Bill, you are so right — I’m sure many feel extremely threatened by the film, and its success. But either way, they will respect what Fincher pulled off here, and he (and Sorkin) will win.
But The King’s Speech is Oscar in excelcis: stirring, pretty to look at, well acted by a who’s-who of Brit greats, emotional, often funny, and, above all, positive. It might someday be looked at as one of the great Oscar mistakes, but the admittedly very good film is a Harvey Weinstein special that seems unlikely to fall.
Yet I still can’t shake the feeling that either True Grit or The Fighter could pull a shocker, and take it. Like Speech, they are crowd-pleasing to the nth degree. Too bad they don’t have Brit accents.
As for misses, by the way there are several I have mentioned in previous emails that would have made my Oscar cut: Blue Valentine, I Am Love, Never Let Me Go, even The Ghost Writer and Shutter Island. But I agree, Bill, not including Nolan as a Best Director nominee is the most confounding, by far.
My hope? At least one OMG-level upset. (Black Swan for pic? Aronofsky for director? Anyone?) But I’m holding out less hope than Jesse Eisenberg.
Photography: Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in The King's Speech; photo by Laurie Sparham/The Weinstein Company.