The King's Speech Is Only A Frontrunner Because It's Manufactured Oscar Bait

By Eric Eisenberg 2011-02-21 19:07:28discussion comments
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[note: Our ongoing series of Oscar Rants continues with Eric's take on Best Pic nominee The King’s Speech. Watch for more Oscar Rants coming soon. Here's Eric…]

This weekend a movie called Drive Angry 3D will arrive in theaters. In the film, Nicolas Cage plays a man who comes back from hell to avenge the death of his daughter and rescue his granddaughter from an evil cult leader. The movie – even in its advertising – is fully aware that it will not receive any sort of award consideration come next February, but exists for the sole purpose of having huge explosions and getting Cage spit out one-liners while holding a massive gun. There are plenty of movies like this that come out every year, but there’s also a flipside.

I speak of the films casually referred to as “Oscar Bait.” These are typically heavy-handed dramas that exist solely to make voters in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences openly weep as they hand the filmmakers dozens of Oscars. These are also occasionally known as “Prestige Pictures,” which makes me imagine studio heads who feel so incredibly guilty about the trash they pump into theaters during the rest of the year that the need a way to save face. There is a version of the Oscar Bait film every year, and in 2010 that film is The King’s Speech.

It’s somewhat incredible how many Academy-centric stereotypes Tom Hooper’s movie shares with previous Best Picture noms of the same ilk. First there’s the lead suffering from a disability, a la Rain Man, Forrest Gump and My Left Foot. Then there’s the fact it’s a British-set period piece similar to Shakespeare in Love, Atonement, and Howards End. There’s a heavy focus on the crown and royalty, much like The Queen, Elizabeth and The Last Emperor (all of which also incorporate biographical elements, which the members of the Academy wet themselves over). Hell, the damn thing is even set during World War II not unlike The English Patient, Gandhi and Schindler’s List. Is every film mentioned here an example of great cinema? Absolutely. But when you combine all of the elements it makes The King’s Speech look like it was contrived in a Best Picture processing plant.

Not making things any easier is that this year's Best Picture category is riddled with unconventional and new films that are absolutely guaranteed to scare off voters. Why give the highest praise in cinema to a film that defines the new generation of adults through rejection and hollow success when you can reward yet another story about a man overcoming a handicap? Why bestow the prize on a movie that beautifully captures our unending passion for life and survival when it’s simple to give trophies to the one about politicians talking about Nazis? Fuck those guys who are trying to put an original, cerebral spin on the heist genre, there aren’t enough British accents and it’s not set in the 1930s.

With less than a week left before James Franco and Anne Hathaway take the stage as the hosts of the 83rd Academy Awards, The King’s Speech is the heavy favorite to win Best Picture. This is a fact only made sadder by the realization that the Oscars have actually managed to ward off the likes of the temptress known as the annual Oscar Bait for the last few years. The Departed managed to take down The Queen in 2006; No Country For Old Men trounced Atonement in 2007; Slumdog Millionaire beat out both Frost/Nixon and The Reader in 2009; and The Hurt Locker succeeded over The Blind Side. Hooper’s film at the head of the pack is reminiscent of a five-year sober alcoholic eyeing a sweet, green bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey.

Last year the Academy Awards expanded its Best Picture category to have ten nominees instead of five, something not done since 1943. This move made it possible for films with more populist appeal to get nominated in the biggest category without degrading the standards of the ceremony. But why was the move necessary? Because ratings were dropping due to the same kinds of films being nominated year after year. It’s never been about money – Titanic, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Forrest Gump, and Gladiator all made more than $600 million at the worldwide box office and won Best Picture – but rather about content. There’s no denying that The King’s Speech is one of the year’s best movies, but it’s so manufactured that the idea of it winning the top prize is just wrong. You should never fall in love with a prostitute.

[Read more Cinema Blend Oscar Rants right here and watch for more coming later this week.]
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