Sunday, February 27, 2011

The rise of The King’s Speech and defriending of The Social Network

It’s been a month since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced their nominees for the 83rd Academy Awards at the end of January. In that time we’ve seen some interesting developments, the usual dirty campaign tricks, some shoddy journalism and just plain silliness.

The story of the 2011 Oscars goes back even further to the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival when The King's Speech won the Audience Award and immediately became the Oscar frontrunner.

But then The Social Network was released to rave reviews. Then it started winning all the critics' awards starting with the National Board of Review. That was soon followed with victories with the critics in Washington, Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Toronto, Chicago, and on it went all the way up to the Golden Globe Awards. Critics everywhere were virtually unanimous in their coronation of The Social Network as the best film of 2010.

Around the same time that this avalanche started, Scott Feinberg reported on December 5, 2010 that an anonymous "Academy member" emailed him and told him that many presumably Jewish AMPAS members wouldn’t vote for The King’s Speech because its subject King George VI had Nazi sympathies and was anti-Semitic - not true, as screenwriter David Seidler (whose grandparents were killed in the Holocaust) pointed out. This seemed like the kind of dirty negative campaigning for which Harvey Weinstein usually gets all the blame. But The King's Speech was his film, so it most certainly was not from his camp.

Anyhow, it appeared moot since The Social Network was claiming every critics' award in sight and many were feeling that it was an unstoppable force to win Oscar too. But then a funny thing happened.

The industry guilds started handing out their awards, starting with the Producers Guild Awards. The winner for that was The King's Speech. That was a huge shocker. Then the Oscar nominations came out and The King's Speech led the field with twelve nominations, while The Social Network didn’t even come second (that spot went to True Grit) but tied for third with Inception. Next came the Directors Guild Awards. Everyone thought that surely other directors would shower their praise on David Fincher since he is highly respected by his peers. Yet they too chose The King's Speech and awarded their top prize to Tom Hooper. The Screen Actors Guild followed suit, as did other guilds.

The reaction of critics and bloggers was complete horror. Richard Corliss of Time Magazine moaned that "the Oscar race is over" but added "the DGA's choice of Tom Hooper, director of The King's Speech, over The Social Network's David Fincher is indefensible." Others piled on, such as Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere, Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly, and Sasha Stone at Awards Daily. Stone's Twitter rants showed her increasing dismay that The King's Speech was winning out over The Social Network starting after the PGA Awards:
  • OH MY GOD.
  • What a huge insult to Scott Rudin.
  • Sorry but it's an embarrassment to give that film the win in a year of such magnificent cinema. #pga #fail
This continued after the Academy Awards nominations announcement:
  • Basically, it's a shitacular finish to a spectacular year for American cinema.
  • Congratulations to the 8 noms for The Social Network - it won't stop the shit sandwich to come but it's nice. 
  • It's basically a year that will go down as one of the worst. They happen. Hell, their history is lined with them.
  • @filmcave Just grossed out in general that The King's Speech will be 2011's Best Picture. Ugh.
  • The director/DGA stat still beats all by a long, long way. Way more than the most nominated stat.
But then after Tom Hooper beat David Fincher at the DGA Awards:
  • Hooper. MOTHER FUCK.
  • I can't even take comfort in the fact that I predicted Hooper to win. It's been a while since things were this craptacular.
  • For me, though, all of the fun has just been sucked out of the room. I hope it is all over sooner rather than later.
  • The critics DO matter. The best films ever made did not win Best Picture. Most of the time, it has be dumbed down to win.
  • Critics do matter -- and times like this I thank god for them. Seriously. Because can you imagine? At least they all went the right way.
  • It doesn't matter what happens - no one is ever going to look back at 2010 and believe they got it right. It will be a head-scratcher.
Stone had said that she would quit if Tom Hooper won the DGA Award, but it seems she has no intention of keeping her word.

The critics and bloggers had believed themselves responsible for the win for The Hurt Locker last year, and thought that this year their near unanimous support for The Social Network would have a similar influence. Unfortunately for them, it turns out that they did have similar influence – there was really none last year and none again this year.

People like what they like. Filmmakers and people in the biz generally liked The Hurt Locker last year and generally they liked The King’s Speech this year. Guild members are not necessarily Academy members, but they work in the industry. Thus they provide a stronger indication of how the Academy will vote and it became clear that the Academy will certainly favour the more multi-faceted film The King's Speech. It wasn't just actors who liked the acting, but it worked on just about every level including technical aspects and that's why it got so many nominations. People who actually make films find a lot more to enjoy with The King's Speech.

Many of the critics, however, acted like kids having a tantrum. They took to attacking The King's Speech at every opportunity and shilling for The Social Network. Puff pieces for The Social Network showed up everywhere, including major articles in industry papers like The Hollywood Reporter and in pieces for major publications like The New York Times (especially by Melena Ryzik, a.k.a. "The Carpetbagger").

Meanwhile, Christopher Hitchens attacked the film for its "gross falsifications" and his piece was widely discussed while The Social Network's greater falsifications were given a pass. The studio released the four-part making-of video of the film to show them all working hard. They reinterpreted the movie starting with the Aaron Sorkin's Golden Globes speech to suggest that Zuckerberg wasn't a tragic loser, but rather a great altruistic hero. They even credited Facebook with the uprisings in the Middle East, as if Zuckerberg himself were responsible and rallied the people the way King George rallied the Brits.

The narrative they kept putting out was: "you are old and out-of-touch if you liked The King's Speech. The Social Network is the smart, hip and relevant film that you should vote for if you don't want to embarrass yourselves."

None of this is true, of course. The guilds have different membership from the Academy with thousands of young members at the start their career, yet they still preferred The King's Speech. I don't mind stating upfront that I found The King's Speech to be far more interesting on every level than The Social Network. But the real story that they missed was that The Social Network was a $40 million studio film that didn't make $100 million domestically, even with a second release after all the awards (It stalled at $96.6 million). On the other hand, The King's Speech was the true underdog, a little $15 million indie film that broke the $100 million barrier last weekend along with another little indie film Black Swan.

The King's Speech has started playing in smaller markets and is surprising everyone with how well it is received. It isn't just filmmakers and film festival audiences that like it, it's everyone. Everyone except the critics, that is.

True, some people who are seeing it now are coming away disappointed. I've written about how hype can kill a movie. And now many are going to see it almost wanting to hate it. Some people feel that they have to take sides, that if they like one movie then they can't like the other. So you're either on Team Everyman King or Team Asshole Billionaire.

Tonight, we'll finally get to see how things pan out. It's a certainty that The King's Speech will win Best Picture and Best Actor. It'll likely take several others as well. Then you'll start hearing the griping by critics all over again that the Academy got it all wrong and that years from now, folks will look back and laugh at them.

Maybe. But I think a more likely scenario will be that people will look back in amazement and wonder why the critics went all apeshit over two hours of verbal diarrhea about millionaires and billionaires suing each other.


  1. Just reading this month's after the event. I used to look at the Awards Daily site and it sickened me the way people carried on, on that site. I rarely look there now, but the couple of times I have looked recently, they still can't forget it, and have a go at TKS where they can TSN died a death even after all their efforts.

  2. Be sure to check out the follow-up articles too:

  3. Thank you for posting those links, I hadn't seen them before. I am a great Colin Firth fan, and I hated it so much that the first real chance he had of winning and Oscar (I know he was nominated the previous year, but it was clear where the award was going that time), but being belittled. I found some things that those critics said were unbelieveable. Everyone doesn't like the same films, fair enough, but you can disgree politely. Some of the things that were being said were downright disgusting (at least by commenters on AD). I actually got banned from that site because I dared to disagree with what they were saying!