OFF THE CARPET: Game over, man

Posted by · 9:54 am · January 31st, 2011

It’s not really a question anymore, is it?

I submit that, quite possibly, it never was.  Unfortunately, the shrieking in some quarters this year, under cover of “fighting the good fight,” has led to a mocking at the very notion that any film other than the critics’ champion could win the Oscar for Best Picture.  It’s been unnecessarily nasty in that way.

At the end of the day, it really goes beyond critics vs. the Academy, though.  It comes down to micro vs. macro, I think.  The critics organizations are a bunch of tiny groups of people.  Get 5,000, 6,000, 10,000 people together, the odds begin to favor “The King’s Speech.” It’s simply the film that survives the scrutiny of a broader spectrum of opinion.  “Most generally agreeable.”  It always was.

The unfortunate thing now — and if you’re watching, some are already doing an about face on their own positive opinion of Tom Hooper’s film — is that the fallout will be insufferable.  Suddenly “The King’s Speech” will be a blight on Academy history and that talking point will be regurgitated ad nauseam.  It already is.  And that’s just sad, because it’s a very good film that doesn’t deserve to be taken to task in the wake of another film’s failed (and overstated) awards season expectations.

And “The Social Network,” a pristine film that succeeds quite wonderfully at nailing the goals for which it aims, never deserved the burden of having that kind of hyperbole thrust upon it in the first place.  It started with a sexy Peter Travers quote that spawned a talking point bonanza.  But there was never any “there” there.  You can’t just will it to be.  We won’t know what film defined this generation for quite some time, I’m guessing.

But we live in a world where a film can’t just be what it is.  Yes, we cover the awards season here, a time of year that has most certainly yielded that unfortunate state.  But I’ll go back to last week’s column: The Academy is just a group of people with something to say on the matter.  And so are you.

Following wins from the PGA, DGA and SAG (where the film took the ensemble prize last night), “The King’s Speech” is set to run the table.  Some feel like there is still a chance for David Fincher to be rewarded on Oscar night, even if it’s admittedly a much smaller chance than it was 48 hours ago.  But I wonder what logical reasoning there is to that.  This isn’t a case of “Chicago,” I don’t think.  And it’s barely a case of “Traffic.”

At the end of the day, The Weinstein Company could net seven, maybe even eight Oscars for its pony.  More would seem a stretch, but who knows?  And it has played things out perfectly.  There’s a reason the film went wider in theaters this weekend (and did quite well at the box office, yet again).  It’s classic long-play Harvey.  And it all started at that first, wildly successful screening in Telluride.  The film simply continues to be the one that brings audiences to their feet.

Meanwhile, the whole playing field, same as it ever was.  The films that live in your veins as film lovers — the “great” cinema — they aren’t meant for the Oscar race.  They’re meant to be discovered, entirely, on their own merits.  They don’t need the Academy — or, certainly, a group of critics — to tell you they’re great.  They need only be what they are.  And shame on anyone who wants to disrespect and begrudge another film its awards success when none of it really matters in the first place.

That having been said, I’ll submit a shrewd comment from reader Samuel over the weekend:

For a bit of perspective – The King’s Speech is the fourth highest rated film in the Oscar ten on Metacritic. Behind Network, Toy Story 3 and Winter’s Bone. Its 88 is, from memory…a very good score in the scheme of previous [Best Picture] winners. It’s better than “Slumdog,” “The Departed,” “Chicago” and “Million Dollar Baby.”

“The King’s Speech” is no dog.  It’s not “Masterpiece Theater” in some pejorative sense.  It’s not some embarrassing “Around the World in 80 Days” call that makes the Academy look foolish.  And the Academy is not missing the ball by leaning in that direction, not least of all because “The Social Network,” with its classic storytelling, just doesn’t represent the new guard, in my opinion, nor is it an undeniable new classic in the mold of “Raging Bull” or what have you.

I was invited onto Film School Rejects’ weekly podcast yesterday to discuss the Oscar season, and Cole Abaius asked me, “Why do we care so much about the Oscars?  Why do we keep coming back?”  My submission was that it’s the desire for validation.  We want our opinions reflected in what is supposed to be the grand awards exhibition of the year.  And so, some would have AMPAS rise to a certain “standard.”  But that standard is inherently subjective, too.  And I can only imagine that desire for validation is what leads to such passion about these things.

But here’s the point: You don’t need that validation.  You shouldn’t even yearn for it.  Get in on the joke and live to watch another day.

The Contenders section is pretty close to what it was in the wake of the Oscar nominations last week.  There have been some tweaks here and there, but there’s not much to say at this point.

[Photos: Columbia Pictures, The Weinstein Company]

→ 175 Comments Tags: , , , , , , | Filed in: Off the Carpet

175 responses so far

  • 1 2-01-2011 at 1:12 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Robert: It doesn’t have the gravitas of a film like The Hurt Locker or No Country for Old Men. I think most would agree with that. So when it’s set up to be something it’s really not, it’s bound to misfire for them.

    Just a suspicion.

  • 2 2-01-2011 at 1:14 pm

    Kicksotic said...


    I touched on this in my original post. The people behind, to take your example, No Country for Old Men handled their critical darling status much differently than the TSN people. You saw a much more humble, grateful attitude with that one than what you’re seeing with this one, an attitude which amounts to an earlier arrogance now bordering on a four-week long Hail Mary mea culpa.

    At the end of the day, this is a very small town and the film making community is fairly tight knit. I truly believe the early arrogance we saw from the TSN folks coupled with the overtly ecstatic reviews and over-eager blog support worked against it. Add to that the surprising lack of grace shown in the face of Award Season losses and it all kind of adds up.

    And to briefly address an earlier comment that preceded yours, Robert, I don’t believe “age” has anything to do with the lack of support you’re seeing. Many of my friends — most from families in the Academy or, at the very least, filmmaking — are in their 20s and 30s (I’m 40, if you must know) and those Academy Members I know in their 60s, 70s and 80s are WAY more on-the-ball than you can possibly imagine. Navigating these treacherous waters decade after decade keeps you sharp, believe me.

    They just don’t feel the need to support a movie they found “just okay” even if they’ve been told by critics and bloggers to love it. Has nothing to do with those strange, exotic animals called — wait, what’s that again? oh yes — hoodies and code.

  • 3 2-01-2011 at 1:22 pm

    Kicksotic said...

    Yes, good point, Kristopher. It was set up to be a Great Film and ended up being just a good film. Nothing wrong with that. But if it’s supposed to be a Great Film — notice the caps — and it’s just good, you leave the screening decidedly underwhelmed and confused. ‘Wasn’t it supposed to be Great?’ you ask yourself. ‘Huh, I thought it was good. You know, just good. Oh, you too? Interesting.’

    I had this conversation over and over again with people in their early 20s to their early 80s.

    And then add to that the strut and smugness of those who made this alleged Great Film and it just rubbed people the wrong way. What’s so bad about making a good film? you wanted to ask. Or even a Really Good Film? Why does it have to be Great?

    But no. It was a Masterpiece, a Work of Art, the Movie of a Generation, and how very sad for you if you couldn’t see that.

    Again, rubbed the wrong way.

    So, in the end, it ended up in the minds of those at the screenings who’ll be facing a ballot very soon — and have mailed off ballots in the last several weeks for awards already decided — a good film.

    Just a good film, no caps needed.

  • 4 2-01-2011 at 1:40 pm

    DarkLayers said...

    Paula, some would disagree. But even if it was a weak year here, I’m not sure these critics organizations chose the same movie because it was a weak year. They did that in 1993, which is widely considered a pretty strong year.

    Kicksotic, just a quick logistical question before content: Are your relatives in AMPAS also members of WGA and SAG?

    Interesting points, for sure. Steve Pond and Guy Lodge had some exchanges on Twitter concerning critical reception and its impact on the industry (e.g. Guilds, AMPAS). Scott Rudin told “Entertainment Weekly” and bloggers who were thinking TSN earlier brought up the social importance/salience as a consideration that could give “Social Network” the edge. But some (Fincher himself, James Franco, Joseph Gordon-Levitt) havc questioned the extent to which TSN is a zeitgeist movie. Some say that it’s more about friendship, ambition, and betrayal. How did this issue play out among the people you know? Were people you encountered mixed or negative towards the idea that it says a lot about our time or had social importance? Or did they see it, but feel like the weaknesses of the movie, arrogance from people associated with it, and the affection for “King’s Speech” outweigh that?

  • 5 2-01-2011 at 1:50 pm

    KNSat said...

    Relating to Afrika’s #70 comment, I have 5 questions for TSN fans:

    1. Could you explain to me why you thought Erica was a plausible character? In other words, in what universe would this fictional Zuckerberg have snagged a girl like her?

    2. Did you believe that a guy like Zuckerberg cared that much about joining a final club? Was it believable when Saverin immediately blamed his own final club invitation for his betrayal by the company?

    3. If girls and status were so central to this fictional Zuckerberg (and the story), why did he never go after more girls and status symbols after he became famous and rich?

    4. Was the Sean Parker character a worthy fictionalization of the real Sean Parker? In other words, is the real Sean Parker an asshole and deserve to be portrayed as one?

    5. On a lesser note, were the wearing of bras by the girls in the coke-snorting scene merely a concession to the PG-13 rating? Couldn’t the director have worked around this in a more artful, less obvious way?

    Anyway, these are questions that bugged me about the movie and maybe the people who didn’t vote for it, too.

  • 6 2-01-2011 at 2:16 pm

    Kicksotic said...

    My father is (or maybe was? not sure anymore) PGA and is certainly AMPAS. My mother, my sister and I are all SAG and my older brother has been WGA for years. (My younger brother is happily out of the biz and a Senior Google-geek in Zurich) I also have an aunt, on my mother’s side, who’s AMPAS and has been for quite some time. I might be missing some uncles, aunts and cousins who are probably PGA, SAG, AFTRA or WGA and others who are behind the scenes, but this is off the top of my head.

    I think, in response to your more lengthy question, whatever message TSN was trying to convey about friendship, ambition, betrayal, what-have-you was lost in the Great Movie din. What it was was buried in the expectation of what it was supposed to be. And it’s unfortunate because it’s a good movie. Without the burden (as Kristopher so wisely put it) of its accolades it might have avoided the Is This All There Is? backlash and subsequent last minute TKS juggernaut.

    As for whether or not we were negative about what it says about our time, etc and so on, in all honesty we really didn’t discuss the film in that way. Not a good sign. The discussion we did have was centered more around what we had anticipated (based on what we had heard) and what the reality was … and TSN fell far short.

    Again, had it just been allowed to be a really good film, the response might have been different and we might have had that discussion. But we didn’t and we haven’t. TSN is kind of yesterday’s news with little to no momentum (‘cept for Sorkin).

  • 7 2-01-2011 at 2:33 pm

    The Wandering Chicken said...

    I appreciated The Social Network and enjoyed it, but failed to see how it was in any way era-defining. I agree with the author that this was an unfair burden for the film – that a backlash was almost inevitable. Time will decide, and the film should be judged on its merits.

    My only problem with TSN – and one of the reasons I preferred True Grit and The King’s Speech – is that I found the motivations Fincher and Sorkin chose to give the Zuckerberg character were profoundly boring and, to me, undermined an otherwise excellently crafted film. Spurned by a lover and by elite social cliques? I’ll show them! I just found this to be dramatically uninteresting, obvious even. It would have been fine and easily overlooked had the film not made a point to re-emphasize the point so blatantly at the end.

  • 8 2-01-2011 at 2:39 pm

    DeNiro Face said...

    Hey Kris just want to say thanks for writing the article. I’ll be honest I was defintely a little riled up about The King’s Speech sudden jump to frontrunner status. (Good call on that by the way.) While The Social Network may not have been my absolute favorite of this year, I still feel like it would be a more interesting and deserving winner.

    Either way this article helped calm me down and realize, in the end, that Oscars help celebrate movies and the art of cinema, and that even if the “best movie” in my mind doesn’t win, that shouldn’t bother me. The very fact that we can all have a lively debate and argue about one gold trophy either going to one producer or another shows that the power of film is undeniable.

  • 9 2-01-2011 at 2:44 pm

    The Wandering Chicken said...

    I’m also among the camp that thinks Shakespeare in Love is unfairly maligned for doing us all the disservice of being picked for Best Picture over Saving Private Ryan (and The Thin Red Line). I found the film wildly entertaining, endlessly clever, romantic and fun. And certainly worthy of acclaim.

    If Saving Private Ryan had ended after the Normandy beach scene, it would have earned my vote, but it went on to tell a pretty pedestrian – and unbelievable – story. And its bookending was a pretty lame device and didn’t make much sense given that the entire movie is told through Hanks’ character. As judged as complete movies, in my opinion, Shakespeare in Love is a story better told.

    I appreciated The Thin Red Line best of all, but movies like that rarely – maybe never – win. It was never in the running, so again, you can’t hold that against Shakespeare in Love.

  • 10 2-01-2011 at 3:04 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    Thanks for the insights, Kicksotic. I have virtually no pulse on the “inside chatter” of the Academy, so what you’re telling me is very illuminating.

    @ Kris: Fair enough, though I have to add that I find it hilarious that you tell me about the burdens of hyperbole of which it couldn’t possibly meet….and at the same time there’s an ad for TSN on your site with the blurb, “Sorkin and Fincher have created a work of art that says volumes about our culture.” Speak of the devil, right?

  • 11 2-01-2011 at 3:44 pm

    JJ1 said...

    TSN has shown me that it simply does not matter what critics awards a frontrunner wins, or what their RT score is (99% in this case) …… the film with heart wins with the Academy. And that’s fine with me; given that most films I enjoy and WANT to see again have heart.

    This is why the likes of A Beautiful Mind, MDB, Crash, and Slumdog won. And I believe that if Benjamin Button had more heart, that would have been Fincher’s win(s).

  • 12 2-01-2011 at 4:04 pm

    DarkLayers said...

    I second Robert Hamer –thanks very much for your insights. It’s valuable to know what is going on in these folks heads!

    And wow, a lot of your family are in show business.

    (I was wondering about something regarding SAG and asked another member who posts here: How do you all conceptualize the ensemble prize? Many discuss it as a ‘Best Picture’ prize, but some commenters say they’re voting for the best cast. The member here doesn’t see it as Best Pic or regard it in terms of the chemistry of the cast. He considers the individuals performances, and if there are really good performances across the board. How do you and your family members look at it?

    I’m just a lay person–I have to say that I agree with the point that Rush and Firth did quite well, but the rest of the cast was notably weaker. In any case, people could tell how thespians on Screen felt about the movie, including some likely AMPAS members from the cheering in the audience. They really, really liked it!

  • 13 2-01-2011 at 4:17 pm

    Speaking English said...

    ***…… the film with heart wins with the Academy.***

    Huh? Then how do you reason with winners “The Departed,” “No Country for Old Men,” “The Hurt Locker?”

    And stop it with the ‘defining a generation’ thing. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. But it has as much to say about the current generation as era-defining classics “The Graduate” or “Rebel without a Cause,” that I’m sure of.

  • 14 2-01-2011 at 4:59 pm

    JJ1 said...

    ^ I meant with respect to other films that were deemed “better” or expected to win – and then ABM, MDB, Crash, etc. swooped in.

    I feel that The Departed won because of the Scorsese factor & Dreamgirls failed to connect. No Country was simply dominating and there was no big “heart” film (what, Juno?). And Hurt Locker – it’s main competitor was Avatar, a spectacle.

  • 15 2-01-2011 at 6:18 pm

    Tone said...

    I like both TKS and TSN but I would just like to point out the irony that the tagline which went something like “You can’t make 500 million friends without making a few enemies” kind of fits with the way the race seems to be going. Replace “friends” with “critic organizations” and there you go. Anyway I did get that sense that the amount of pre-mature “classic masterpiece” thrown in TSN’s direction didn’t really do it any favors. I mean even Citizen Kane didn’t get the “greatest film of its time” statements until, what over twenty years after its release?

  • 16 2-01-2011 at 8:13 pm

    DylanS said...

    Kris @151: How do you define “gravitas”? because I consider winning every critics award on the face of the earth pretty indictive of gravitas.

  • 17 2-02-2011 at 7:02 am

    Sawyer said...

    Could someone please give some insight as to the historical accuracy of The King’s Speech? I need to know that everything went down exactly as it’s shown in the movie before I decide whether or not it’s a good film.

  • 18 2-02-2011 at 7:45 am

    The Wandering Chicken said...

    @Sawyer (167) Ha. Well put. I don’t understand the issue many seem to have with the inaccuracies in The Social Network. Like any narrative film based on a true story, it takes poetic license to tell a dramatic story. It’s an unfair criticism, and worse, does nothing to address the merits of the film itself. The thing about it that frustrates me is that, in my opinion, there are plenty of criticisms to be made that stem directly from these supposed inaccuracies – not because they’re “untrue” but because of the dramatic choices the filmmakers made.

    As I mentioned above, I found the motivations that were given to Zuckerberg to be uninteresting dramatically speaking. I don’t care if they’re not based in fact; I care that they feel “untrue.” No one is likely to know Zuckerberg’s actual motivations but my guess is that his lack of success with the ladies and in breaking into elite social circles are the least interesting among them.

    On the flip side, it’s very possible that the Winklevoss twins are every bit as stereotypical “Hahvahd Men” as portrayed in the film, but I found them so stock as to take me out of the film whenever they were on screen.

    I know Sorkin earns wide praise for his clever, rapid fire dialogue (and deservedly so), but I also think, in the case of TSN, he uses some pretty easy shorthand that doesn’t necessarily serve his greater intentions.

  • 19 2-02-2011 at 10:34 am

    Ripley said...

    Kris you give the best balanced coverage of the Oscars, great analysis. JW and SS are outshined on a daily basis.

  • 20 2-03-2011 at 6:13 am

    marshjjnyc said...

    the king’s speech is ok. not boring, not great.
    multiple nods are not a big surprise. Academy members think that The Greatest Show on Earth, Around the World in 80 Days, Shakespeare in love, Rocky, Chariots of fire or Driving Miss Daisy are masterpieces. And Hitchock never won. Academy sucks.