This year’s best film, we are told, is The King’s Speech, which took away four of the top five Oscars (Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Original Screenplay) leaving the Award for Best Actress to Natalie Portman. And, for the most part, they seem to have got it about right.
Not that the Academy Awards are to be trusted. As Steven Spielberg aptly pointed out when he presented the Oscar for Best Picture: ‘In a moment one of these ten movies will join a list that includes On the Waterfront, Midnight Cowboy, The Godfather, and The Deer Hunter. The other nine will join a list that includes The Grapes of Wrath, Citizen Kane, The Graduate, and Raging Bull.’ And the list goes on.
There were, as always, some flagrant injustices. Roger Deakin, True Grit‘s director of photography, certainly merits the Award for cinematography (which went instead to Inception‘s Wally Pfister). His spectacular work on True Grit aside, the man regarded as one of the greatest living cinematographers has been nominated nine times in the past, for such monuments as The Shawshank Redemption, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and No Country for Old Men.
There has been some discussion as to whether Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) deserved to win Best Director over David Fincher (The Social Network). The award for Best Director is probably the most difficult and least objective of them all, because the director’s role is to have a say in everyone else’s work and because as a result it is difficult to determine precisely what influence a director has on a film. Pehaps Hooper won because Fincher won the BAFTA and the Golden Globe. Perhaps he won because he started off as the underdog. Who knows?
Of course no awards ceremony can be completely objective and the Oscars are hardly an exception. The Academy Awards are voted for by the 6000-odd members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. These are industry professionals, who join by invitation only and sport an alleged average age of 57. Unsurprisingly, people tend to blame the Academy’s obstinate recalcitrance towards anthing other than a heart-warming drama on its members’ conservatism. Yet the explanation has probably more to do with the image and heritage of the Oscars. If festivals like Sundance and Cannes reward creativity and innovation, the Academy Awards honour mastery of craft. And there is a place for both.
The rest is rather less contentious. Colin Firth was always going to win (the shortest odds in the history of the Awards), as was Natalie Portman. The writers of The Social Network and of The King’s Speech (Aaron Sorkin and David Seidler, respectively) both received well-earned accolades, being conveniently nominated in different categories (Adapted Screenplay and Original Screenplay, respectively).
As for the evening itself, this year’s proceedings were on the whole rather tame. There were no Roberto Benigni-esque antics; none of Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin’s buffooneries; and, truth be told, not much in the way of entertainment at all.
And so, after offering our congratulations to the winners and commiserations to the losers, after indulging in dubious second-guessing trying to explain who won what and badmouthing the presenters, the awards season comes to an end.