Don’t get me wrong: The King’s Speech is a handsome, well-shot, well-acted, well-written movie. It’s quite good and Colin Firth deserved his statue. But, it’s also the exact kind of movie the Oscars shouldn’t be nominating in the first place, and proves that the Oscars have never been less relevant than they are now.
Whether or not the Oscars pick the “best” movie is always up for debate, but one thing that isn’t is that the Oscars are increasingly fading into the background of pop culture. This really came to the fore in 2008. The Dark Knight, a movie that had gotten stellar reviews and was a huge hit with audiences; one that had managed to do what Hollywood hadn’t done in a decade, namely create a cultural phenomenon while tapping into a serious issue, namely 9/11; a movie that was nominated in every single Oscar predicting awards show except the Golden Globes… got completely shut out of the major awards in favor of The Reader, which got middling reviews and didn’t rock the box office even after it got the nod.
Opinions vary on what happened: some people thought The Reader‘s Holocaust themes played better with Oscar voters, others think the Academy locked “The Dark Knight” out, still others think it got gamed by the Weinsteins. But it threw into sharp contrast what was wrong with the Oscars: when a film becomes a major cultural event and still can’t get a seat at the table, something was clearly broken.
So the Academy changed the rules: there would now be ten nominees for Best Picture, thus guaranteeing that a wider swath would get nominated. And last year? It worked. The Hurt Locker got Best Picture and a new era of Oscars actually picking movies that weren’t overblown period pictures but actually relevant to a wider swath of the audience seemed among us.
So what wins this year? An overblown period picture.
Sure, The King’s Speech is good, but it’s the art cinema equivalent of a hamburger. It pushes zero boundaries, and doesn’t really demand much of its audience. It’s got no deeper insights. A year from now, it’ll be “Oh, yeah, that movie. It was good. I liked it.” It’s just another period piece aimed squarely at your mom, the very definition of Oscar bait.
And therein, of course, lies the problem. I’m not arguing the biggest hit should automatically win: Inception and Toy Story 3 were great, but they’re not the best movies of the nominees. But they were, at least, movies driven by something other than the desire to make a “well-made film”. It’s kind of offensive that a movie like The King’s Speech won in a year that saw movies like Black Swan and True Grit not only come out, but thrive, and have no chance of winning because Harvey Weinstein is a master of gaming the Oscar system.
It’s especially appalling because every year, the Academy complains about falling ratings and how nobody respects the Oscars anymore. Well, nobody cares because movies the vast majority of your audience doesn’t care about and will never see keep winning. Turn that around, start nominating films based on merit and not ad campaigns, start picking movies based on whether people will actually care about them in a year. We suspect your ratings will improve accordingly.
[Note from the Editor: Not only do I disagree with the "King's Speech argument" but also "The Reader debate" -- the point of expanding the audience is to allow for popular films like Inception and great indies like Animal Kingdom to get recognized and therefore entice more audience members to see the films and watch the Oscars. Just because people didn't see Milk or The Reader (which caused controversial but was still an amazing film) doesn't mean it wasn't a stunning film that deserved its wins.]
What do you think? Have the Oscars changed? Or are the exactly the same as before?