The ascendance of the stuttering king and Oscar’s perceived instantaneous regression into the mottled pastures of White Elephant Cinema (how quickly we forget The Reader) has rendered some of our most reliable barometers speechless. Suddenly, the movie no one wanted to pay attention to became the movie all your friends and relatives who see two movies a year have seen and just know is the best picture of the year. What can one say in the face of that? Even dependable crank Armond White, who had been working himself up a pretty good head of anti-Social Network steam leading up to an Ingracious Basterd-worthy final snit as MC of the New York Film Critics Circle awards, has been more or less reticent in the wake of The King’s Speech’s dozen proofs in support of the theory that dusty linens, not bloody tourniquets and certainly not hackers’ grease-stained pizza boxes, are the fabric that holds Oscar together. And why shouldn’t he remain mum? There’s no one this year to disabuse of the notion that Oscars actually matter.
Bitter truth: the ’70s didn’t last in the ’70s, and they certainly couldn’t be expected to last in the new century. And just because Oscar voters remembered how much they loved The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II when they threw their support behind The Departed and No Country for Old Men doesn’t mean they can be expected to suddenly forget how much they also supposedly loved Out of Africa, Forrest Gump, and A Beautiful Mind. And Chariots of Fire. And Gandhi. And My Fair Lady, The English Patient, The Sound of Music, Ben-Hur, Around the World in 80 Days, Cavalcade, Cimarron, and Dances with Wolves.
Dredging up these lamentable titles an umpteenth time may be singing an old song here, but it’s worth doing it again if it makes a point to the Oscar bloggers whining about how Harvey Weinstein is set to steal The Social Network’s rightful Best Picture Oscar. Oscar, like Antonio Salieri, is forever aligned with mediocrities. (So much so that the Oscar-sweeping Amadeus seems pretty lithe and entertaining in comparison.) How can a movie win every single critics’ award, as well as the Golden Globe and the Broadcast Film Critics Award, and still lose the Oscar? Has a movie ever had so much momentum only to have it cut completely dead in the final lap? (Ahem, Brokeback Mountain.)
The misleading thing about citing—make that nitpicking—precedent these last few years is that, even a decade ago, precursor season hadn’t quite reached pandemic proportions. The reason no movie ever won more precursors than The Social Network leading up to the Oscar nominations is that there never were as many precursors as there are now. Patterns are tougher to spot in an echo chamber, but they’re there. So even though the last few years of reasonably pleasant outcomes in the top Oscar category have us less than 100 percent sure we won’t actually hear the Facebook movie’s name read out when the envelope is opened, nothing changes the fact that it’s not the movie that swept the guilds. And your grandmother is not on Facebook. (Grandma Henderson is, though, and she just liked The King’s Speech.)
Will Win: The King’s Speech
Could Win: The Social Network