The royal historical drama The King’s Speech, starring Colin Firth as England’s Prince Albert, later King George VI, was the biggest winner at the 83rd Academy Awards, winning four of its 12 nominations in an evening with few surprises and a poorly staged ceremony whose primary virtue was its comparative shortness.
Although one of the co-hosts made an early joke about 2010 being “a great year for lesbians” — primarily a reference to the same-sex “marriage” comedy-drama The Kids Are All Right — the Academy voters made it a great evening for marriage, honoring a popular film that, on the one hand, emphasizes the scandal caused by Albert’s egocentric brother Edward’s insistence on marrying his divorced lover in violation of social norms, and on the other hand celebrates the loving, supportive marriages of its protagonists, Albert and his speech therapist Lionel Logue. The Kids Are All Right had four nominations but won no awards.
Winning for picture, director, leading actor (Colin Firth) and original screenplay, The King’s Speech bested all comers but did not outperform other recent Oscar favorites, including last year’s The Hurt Locker (six wins) and the previous year’s Slumdog Millionaire (eight wins). In earlier years, No Country for Old Men and The Departed both won four awards, but The King’s Speech had more nominations than either (12 nominations to No Country’s eight and The Departed’s five), and so The King’s Speech lost in more categories than both.
The King’s Speech was the first winner in recent years to be tied for number of awards: Inception also won four awards in technical categories, including special effects, cinematography and two sound awards. Inception writer-director Christopher Nolan was not nominated for best director, but was repeatedly honored during the evening by colleagues accepting Inception’s four awards.
The year’s second-most nominated film, True Grit, ended the evening empty-handed, possibly because Academy Awards voters felt it was too soon since the Coens’ big year in 2008 with No Country for Old Men. If so, it’s a shame that their old-fashioned, religion-charged Western was undermined by its nihilistic contemporary predecessor. Winter’s Bone, a film with thematic connections to True Grit, also failed to win any of its four nominations.
Pixar, Hollywood’s top producers of family entertainment, had a decent evening, picking up two of five nominations for Toy Story 3, including best animated feature, though their short feature “Day & Night” was bested by an Australian production called “The Lost Thing.” The evening’s other family-film winner was Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, which won for art direction and costume design. How to Train Your Dragon and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 each had two nominations.
The ceremony was hosted by actors Anne Hathaway and James Franco in a transparent bid, acknowledged in an early joke by Hathaway, to appeal to a younger demographic. It was a poor decision; Hathaway showed some charisma but had little to work with, including her wooden co-host Franco, who showed none of the vitality of his nominated performance in 127 Hours.
A limp opening montage inserting the co-hosts into the nominated films set the tone for an evening of lame jokes, which included Franco dressed as Marilyn Monroe and Hathaway singing a gag song slamming past host Hugh Jackman for backing out of a proposed duet — neither remotely funny. The hosts were repeatedly upstaged by walk-ons, including hosting favorite Billy Crystal; 94-year-old presenter Kirk Douglas, projecting charisma and comic wit despite a debilitating stroke; and the late Bob Hope, appearing via archival footage and some dubbing effects.
Franco was even upstaged by his own grandmother, whom he pointed out in the audience early in the show and who got the first decent joke of the evening by chortling, “I just saw Marky Mark!” (i.e., Mark Wahlberg, nominated for The Fighter). Hathaway also pointed out her mother in the audience.
Mothers were acknowledged repeatedly during the evening, most notably by The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper, who reported that his mother had found the screenplay for The King’s Speech for him. “The moral of the story,” Hooper concluded, is “always listen to your mum.”
The King’s Speech marks the sixth consecutive year that the Academy’s top award has gone to an R-rated film — in this case, largely due to a speech-therapy scene in which Lionel makes Albert, who has a bad stammer, use bad language, including the F-word. Anticipating the film’s Oscar wins, the Weinstein Co. has announced a PG-13 version of the film to replace the R-rated version now in theaters. Instead of cutting footage, the new version mutes most of the bad language. Director Hooper and star Firth, among others, were reportedly opposed to editing the film, but the box-office success of the R-rated version combined with Oscar gold has the distributors anticipating even broader appeal with a PG-13 version.
It’s good to see Hollywood acknowledge the superior box-office appeal of the PG-13 rating, though, in my own opinion, the original R-rated language, in context, is neither gratuitous nor offensive. The vagaries of stammering are such that some speech acts, including singing — and cussing — may come more fluidly than others, so there’s a legitimate reason for the scene, which emphasizes Albert’s discomfort with such language. Still, many viewers understandably don’t appreciate such language under any circumstances and will be grateful for a chance to see a PG-13 cut on the big screen.
More inexcusable was an F-bomb dropped by supporting actress winner Melissa Leo (The Fighter) during her acceptance speech. Leo’s showy performance as the mother of Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale beat out competitors, including The Fighter co-star Amy Adams and young Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), but her rambling, awkward speech was among the evening’s worst moments, and by the time she dropped the expletive on global television (bleeped in the United States but broadcast elsewhere), the Academy was probably regretting its choice anyway.
Riffing on the off-color moment, The King’s Speech screenwriter David Seidler — himself a former stutterer and, at 73, the oldest winner of the original screenplay Oscar — cracked, “I would like to thank her Majesty the Queen for not putting me in the Tower for using the Melissa Leo F-word.” Leo reportedly apologized backstage.
Other than the deserving winners and a few well-spoken presenters (notably Jeff Bridges, whose warm tribute to the best actress nominees was among the best moments) and accepters (including screenwriter Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network), almost the only saving grace for the ceremony itself was the comparative brevity. Padding was kept to a minimum, and it was only six minutes past three hours when the last envelope was opened and The King’s Speech became the evening’s top winner. (No Oscar-cast in the last few years has run less than 20 minutes overtime; the 2007 ceremony ran nearly four hours.)
Still, brevity alone won’t make the Oscars watchable. Roger Ebert has observed that no good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough, and the same principle applies to the Oscars.