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In some ways the Oscars are about singling out a single person in a group of nominees and naming them "best." But tonight's ceremony was more like a group hug, honoring the nominees with montages and speeches from Jeff Bridges about their merits, even Steven Spielberg taking the stage to present Best Picture and mention history's great films-- like Citizen Kane or To Kill a Mockingbird-- that were nominated for the prize and lost. The show's producers seemed aware that they had an excellent crop of nominees this year, and there was no sense squandering all that potential by focusing on such an inconsequential details as to who won.
The great thing is that the actual tally of winners followed suit, spreading the love around several of the year's best-loved films in a way that shocked even a lot of Oscar predicting experts. Though King's Speech went into the ceremony as the odds-on favorite and won four major awards-- Picture, Director, Actor and Original Screenplay--it lost several others, including Best Original Score to rival The Social Network and two more (Art Direction and Costume) to Alice in Wonderland, of all things. In its total number of wins The King's Speech tied with Inception, the underappreciated blockbuster that couldn't even swing a Best Director nod for Christopher Nolan, but won Best Cinematography, both sound categories, and Visual Effects.
That lack of consensus, rallying behind a single winner the way the Oscars have done many times in the last few years, can be read as a slight against The King's Speech, a winner by default. But I choose to see it as the only logical result in a year that was crammed with great movies, all of them worthwhile for their own reasons and all of them deserving of their moment. Even films that didn't take home a single prize-- True Grit, Winter's Bone, 127 Hours-- felt well-honored by tonight's ceremony, whether in the montages of Best Picture-nominated films that opened and closed the ceremony or the presence of their actors as nominees in other categories. And when the entire crowd of winners took the stage at the end, everyone from Tom Hooper and Colin Firth to that mop-headed kid who directed Best Short Film winner God of Love, it felt like exactly the beginning of a celebration it probably was for everyone already halfway to the after party.
As for the actual winners, the notion of The King's Speech being named the best of a year that included Black Swan, Exit Through the Gift Shop, How To Train Your Dragon etc…. it's all about what Spielberg said, something Oscar obsessives remind themselves often when the race doesn't seem to be going their way. In the long arc of history that line between "I'd like to thank the Academy" and "It's an honor just to be nominated" gets even blurrier; the films that will stand the test of time will do so with or without a statue, and not even the mighty Harvey Weinstein marketing machine can change that. The King's Speech will probably be best remembered as the movie that finally got Colin Firth his Oscar, and the beginning of what looks like a long, successful career for Tom Hooper, who happened to kick things off with an Oscar. Which films of the year will be remembered better remains to be seen-- I'm not certain it's The Social Network, for the record-- but they'll make themselves known. They always do.
Tomorrow I'll talk more about the ceremony itself, what worked and what didn't, what on earth James Franco was thinking and all the rest. For now I'm going to bed knowing a very good film beat out a number of other very good films to win Best Picture-- a result that, no matter what your preferences are, is hard to argue with.