Have we found a Best Picture winner with Tom Hooper’s “The King’s Speech?”
According to pundits, we have a certain nominee here. It won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival, which coupled with the movie’s resounding critical reception could make it quite a force for Hollywood’s top prize. If it can enter mainstream consciousness, then it’s going to be pretty hard to beat.
I talked about how “Never Let Me Go” had the perfect Oscar formula three weeks ago, but things have changed now and this has the new best road to success. The Academy has largely begun to ally itself with British tastes, and all signs point to this being the choice movie from our English allies.
“The King’s Speech” follows King George VI (Colin Firth) as he leads his country into World War II. The royal family is always popular with voters; the past 15 years have seen Best Picture nominees “The Queen” and “Elizabeth,” and winner “Shakespeare in Love” with a cameo by Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth I.
But there’s more to the movie than just the royal blood line. There’s also an underdog story as George has no confidence in his ability to lead, mainly because of his stuttering and stammering. The “speech” in the title does not refer to a long oration but rather George’s inability to be eloquent. He hires an Australian speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) to help him with his issue, which becomes more and more pressing as Hitler becomes a bigger threat to the country by the minute. According to a blurb from Cinematical, the movie is “not too heavy, it’s got its funny/kooky moments, and it ends on an inspirational note.”
After the win at Toronto, it’s riding a sort of front-runner status (although “The Social Network” managed to steal some thunder after many rave reviews popped up). The People’s Choice Award certainly correlates more to the Oscars than the Venetian Golden Lion. They have picked three Best Picture winners – “Slumdog Millionaire,” “American Beauty,” and “Chariots of Fire” – and plenty more nominees including “Precious,” “Life is Beautiful,” and “Shine.” The award hasn’t been entirely effective in predicting Academy tastes, but it’s been very close in recent years. ”The King’s Speech” has to be considered a big contender, though, by virtue of winning.
After coming out strong with the of-the-moment ‘Up in the Air’ last season, taking the same Telluride-Toronto crowd-pleasing path, their film slowly boiled down to an also ran and even came up short in the one category it seemed assured going into the Academy Awards … It’s easy to peak early in an Oscar season. It takes tactical endurance to really come out on the other side with something to show for yourself and ‘The King’s Speech’ is burning fuel fast and early.
So there’s a chance that “The King’s Speech” has had its moment in the sun. But there’s certainly nothing wrong with being at the top of the list for the moment, and many have speculated that Best Picture may come down to “old school Academy play versus a Gen-Y instant classic.” I’d say given the fact that it’s a light drama with an acceptable amount of bait, it’s a pretty good bet for Best Picture and thus Best Director.
(No matter what happens, it’s a British period piece, and that guarantees at least Best Costume Design and Best Production Design at the very least.)
The actors are also going to be a big selling point for the movie. Firth is coming straight off his first Oscar nomination last year for “A Single Man,” and people are beginning to take him very seriously as an actor. As I said last year, “he is a likable actor, never demanding much attention, and making missteps in only the quietest of fashions. Firth is the kind of actor the Academy would want to give the golden statue to, and he’s at a prime point in his career to get it.
Geoffrey Rush could easily find himself in the Best Supporting Actor race. With no clear front-runner, he could easily charge to the front despite having won before back in 1996. The fact that he’s already been awarded an Oscar should only be a factor when choosing the winner; the effect should be minimal on his nomination. And Helena Bonham Carter, as George’s wife, should be able to squeeze out a nomination as well. While she’s taken on some kooky roles since her last nomination in 1997 for “The Wings of the Dove,” a return to Academy fare could find her back in their favor once more.
It’s easy to call “The King’s Speech” a leader now as it rides high on the buzz of film festival success. But let’s not forget that it has to ride out a full-scale release and the precursor season before it can climb the stage at the Kodak Theater in February.
BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design
OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing