The Oscars can ruin modest work.
Little films like Little Miss Sunshine and Juno feel elevated into larger conversations with their best original screenplay wins which are bad enough. But if one of these films should win the top prize, it’s devastating. The Artist was a lovely bit of cotton candy that suddenly had to answer for a status it didn’t need. Ordinary People is generally considered one of the best films of the 1980s, but because it won Best Picture over Raging Bull, it will forever have an asterisk. And the less said about the wonderful Shakespeare in Love the better because it will never escape this shadow.
That’s the fate that befell The King’s Speech. When I mentioned to a friend that I was writing on it, they immediately assumed I was going to tear into it. After all, it beat films including audience favorites Toy Story 3 and Inception, critical favorites like Black Swan and Winter’s Bone, and most unforgivably the audience and critical smash The Social Network. No matter what I say about this film, I have to argue that film.
I can’t of course. The Social Network absolutely should have won best picture. It was timely in 2010 and it’s somehow more timely now. It’s a meticulously crafted film with justly Oscar winning work from Aaron Sorkin and the scoring debut of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. David Fincher absolutely deserved best director. It wasn’t my favorite of the nominees–I prefer 127 Hours, Inception, and Winter’s Bone–but it’s an all time great in an absolutely ridiculous year.
The thing is that doesn’t mean The King’s Speech isn’t a great film too. It’s not on the same tier as those but I don’t think it was meant as that. It’s a warm fuzzy holiday movie about nice people that’s frequently laugh out loud funny. And approached on that level? It’s one of the filmds I keep in constant rotation.
The most obvious thing I have to note is that I approach this film from the perspective of someone with a neurological disorder. I’m autistic–reminder of what site you’re on–so I relate to stuttering. I understand the hell of not expressing yourself clearly. And David Seidler wrote this film from a first person perspective as a stutterer. The film is as much autobiography as it is biography with the scene that got the film an R rating taken from his life. The authenticity the film brings to this struggle in a way so many films don’t sets it apart.
It’s a deeply human film too. Are the characters sanded down? Yes. But I also can’t separate the fact that like Albert in this, I’m the father to at least one girl. I love that the film depicts fatherhood as the highest good. Albert and Lionel are both devoted fathers who reflect non toxic masculinity . Albert is also depicted as a deeply loving husband, a fact it pleases me to note is apparently very hard fact. I did look it up and the way their marriage is portrayed is indeed highly accurate.
The film is a marvel of craft too. Which means I have to discuss Tom Hooper. I feel like we misunderstand Hooper. He isn’t bad at directing. He’s not good at directing large films though. He thrives on intimacy. This movie is basically a stage play and he has a gift at finding the music in the scenes. Hooper needs more of this because this is his gift.
And now I come to the indisputable Oscar this won. Colin Firth’s win is brushed off as a make good for A Single Man. Nah. This is a thoroughly worthy win. Firth is an immensely potent force in this film and he’s matched by two equally fantastic supporting turns. Geoffrey Rush has never been better than he is here. Sure, he’s not straining as an Australian actor. But he’s so likable and funny he’s on fire. And I can’t say enough good about Helena Bonham Carter here. She’d gotten lost in the years of playing weird, dark roles and it’s easy to forget she started as an English rose. She’s the definition of a strong woman here, which again was her actual character. Also credit to Guy Pearce who is so slimy here. He’s great. Though yes the film needed to be much harder on his character.
Now here’s the thing. I’ve made a good case for this as a crowd pleaser. And the film did decent box office. But I still heard it discussed as homework. SNL had a joke about one of its sketches being the movie so now you’ve seen it. By which point I’d seen it twice in theaters. It was treated bizarrely as too stuffy for the mainstream and not good enough for high art. Which is true?
I think the film is a lovely film for a wide audience. And it’s come for me to symbolize how the Oscars force the conversation I began with, This is a minor film, the kind you watch on TNT. But it’s the kind of film you always stop to watch when it’s on TNT. It’s of a piece with The Shawshank Redemption. It shouldn’t have to carry the weight of the best film of an all time great year.
The Oscars really do ruin how we discuss films by putting extremes on them. When there isn’t a choose only one. Do I want only Inception, Best Worst Movie, or Winter’s Bone from 2010, to name three films I saw in a week? No. I’m better for seeing all. I’m better for seeing The Social Network. I’m better for seeing 127 Hours. I’m better for seeing True Grit. I’m better for seeing Scott Pilgrim vs the World. And yes, I’m better for seeing The King’s Speech.
Don’t watch it for high art. But watch it to get a well made piece of art.