The hullabaloo surrounding Best Picture nominee The King’s Speech is understandable. It is a poignant and true story of King George VI who overcame a stammer on his way to the throne, allowing him to make a key speech to his nation at the outset of World War II. Leading man Colin Firth has quietly turned in quality performances even before his role in The English Patient in 1996 and is perfectly suited for the role. The cinematography too has been lauded by critics, beautifully shot on location in London.
And as if it could not be more English, director Tom Hooper was born in London and studied at the vaunted Westminster School. Her Majesty herself, Queen Elizabeth II was touched by the portrayal of her father in the movie and gave it her stamp of approval.
It all dovetails so nicely and it appears at this point to be a foregone conclusion. Nevertheless, there are some bumps on the way to a golden boy, those bumps being the remaining Best Picture contenders.
If Best Picture was a popularity contest, the choice would be easy. Toy Story III completely dominated the box office in 2010 surpassing the $1 billion mark in worldwide receipts (see Austin Powers). But the Oscar for Best Picture is far from a popularity contest, and an animated film marketed for children complete with toys at fast food restaurants doesn’t stand a chance.
Another stellar performer was Inception. The computer generated visual used in Inception is state of the art. The story is a reality bending whirlwind leaving viewers unsure of what they just saw. Leonardo DiCaprio turns in another solid performance, but Inception is odds on favorite for effects, not Best Picture.
Jeff Bridges did it again in True Grit. He was deservedly nominated for Best Actor a second year in a row. And if Academy voters put on their blinders, he could very well pull a Tom Hanks and win back to back Oscars (Tom Hanks won best actor for Philedelphia in 1993 and Forrest Gump in 1994). But True Grit is still an also-ran. The memory of John Wayne looms large and will keep this fine film out of the running.
Social Network exemplifies a new generation. It is an intriguing story and a behind the scenes look at Mark Zuckerberg and the creation of Facebook. But when placed next to The King’s Speech, the subject matter is decidedly low brow. It may not be fair, but the Oscars are not fair. They are a determination by the filming community as to what constitutes art and a contribution to culture. In the end, a movie about the creation of a website probably won’t make the grade.
The most serious contender is The Fighter. It is also a true story with a leading man who has been quietly honing his craft over the years (Mark Wahlberg). It too was filmed on location (Massachusetts) and it also depicts the story of a man who has to fight against the people surrounding him. Mark Wahlberg plays Mickey Ward, a struggling boxer who fights to rise above his status a second rate welterweight. Finally, both movies have performed equally well at the box office.
Where do they diverge? The Fighter is quintessentially American and The King’s Speech is quintessentially English. One dwells in the world of the struggling working class while the other plays out in the world of the upper crust.
Appropriately, The Fighter is the underdog and its fate rests in the hands of Hollywood royalty.