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Well, you can finally start taking me seriously when I talk about this year's Oscar race-- I have seen The King's Speech, the movie that was stamped a Best Picture frontrunner the moment it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival back in September, and which had been taunting me weekly with all the predictions that Colin Firth had Best Actor in the bag, that it could beat The Social Network for Best Picture, that it featured Helena Bonham Carter playing an actual human being again, etc. etc.
You'd think a movie with all that hype surrounding it could only falter once it actually unspools, but The King's Speech is one of those classy, impeccably acted, very British films that is neither boring nor stuffy nor overly familiar. It's just a damn good movie, never getting too flashy or taking itself too seriously, but also never settling for posh accents and well-appointed scenery as a stand-in for actual good storytelling. The centerpiece is clearly the acting--Colin Firth is totally captivating as the stammering and anxious King George VI, while Geoffrey Rush as his unorthodox speech therapist and Bonham Carter as the Queen are perfect in their supporting roles-- but the movie is remarkably well-shot, with clear and sometimes unusual cinematography that uses close-ups to put you right inside the King's frenzied, tongue-tied state.
I walked out the screening this morning totally understanding the fuss, seeing this as the real contender against The Social Network for Best Picture (at least, based on where things stand right now) and feeling pretty confident that, if the Academy wants to make the easier choice this year, they could vote for this one over the story about the punk computer kid with a pretty clear conscience. It's a decision I'll rail hard against-- The King's Speech is good, maybe even great movie, but nothing compared to the masterpiece of The Social Network-- but we've learned pretty well by now that the Academy often makes easy picks over the more difficult options.
Or do they? As pointed out to me by a friend after the screening, the last 10 years or so of Best Picture winners suggest that the "Oscar-type movie" doesn't exist anymore. Movies like Seabiscuit, Frost/Nixon, Atonement, Capote and Finding Neverland get nominated all the time, but not since A Beautiful Mind has the obvious prestige pick been the actual Best Picture winner. The Oscar choices have been refreshingly unorthodox over the last few years, whether it's because the dark Western about the serial killer and the movie about the Indian kid were the ones dominating the conversation, or because Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese made great but very dark movies, and it was finally time to reward them. Nobody ever correctly predicted the Oscars by counting on surprises, but at the same time, the surest best isn't always the guaranteed winner.
Either way, I now feel confident that if The King's Speech is the "safest" option for a Best Picture win (and when compared to The Social Network, 127 Hours, Inception, Toy Story 3 or The Kids Are All Right, it certainly is) we won't have anything to be ashamed about. The question now, of course, is when the hell will we finally see True Grit, and how will it change things? The King's Speech, opening November 26, will have a few weeks to be crowned as the Best Picture frontrunner before the Coens possibly show up and topple the race entirely. As someone already a little sick of the Zuckerberg vs. King George VI assumption, I kind of can't wait for it.
Now on to the charts, where my having finally seen The King's Speech is reflected, along with a little other tweaking with an eye on what the next few weeks might bring. Take a look below.
Yes, The King's Speech is bumped up to Mortal Lock, both for the air of inevitability around it and the fact that it really does have what it takes. I'm honestly relieved-- it would have been such a bummer to see the movie and not get the fuss and try to counter that with what I actually expect to happen in the race. The movie is the real deal, and fits in comfortably alongside the three other Mortal Locks. I've done some pruning in the Outside Chance category-- sorry, Nowhere Boy-- but otherwise the rest looks the same.
I was also thrilled with how well-directed The King's Speech is, and how Tom Hooper makes unconventional choices in placing his camera and actors in relation to each other, making the film feel a lot more intimate and modern without losing any polish. It's excellent work that I'd expect a nomination for, but with so many other more established names in the mix, I don't feel comfortable making him a Mortal Lock just yet. It's entirely possible for The King's Speech to win Best Picture without Hooper even getting a nomination, so who knows when this will clear up.
This is the only category up top that The King's Speech is not a part of, so instead let's talk about Natalie Portman. Black Swan is screening fairly widely for critics now, and I'm curious about how the conversation will start up again around Portman, and whether the fears that the movie is too weird will be overcome by the amazing strength of her performance. I still see her as a Lock, but if there are real doubts to consider, they'll start surfacing in earnest in the next week weeks. Stay tuned.
Though he goes toe to toe with Firth in terms of acting might, Geoffrey Rush isn't the same kind of lock for a win in The King's Speech, primarily because he's won before--in 1996 for Shine-- and also because his character doesn't go through nearly the same emotional arc in the film. Still, he's very much a contender, and absent solid campaigns for his main competition Mark Ruffalo and (probably) Christian Bale-- and hey, maybe Matt Damon in that movie nobody has seen yet!-- he could coast to a win simply by being Geoffrey Rush. It wouldn't be such a bad thing, but kind of a waste of a category with a lot of other interesting performances to consider
I'm sticking with all of my For Colored Girls ladies here, because it's still hard to tell where the movie will land, and it's impossible to know which actress might emerge from the pack. Helena Bonham-Carter has been moved up to her deserving spot as a Mortal Lock, not necessarily because her performance is extraordinary (it's very good, at least), but because the movie is bound to be so beloved she'll make it in. As the competition settles in around her, though, it could get really fierce, and really interesting, in this category.
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