What do the Academy Awards and March Madness have in common? Both are singular events that everybody can gamble on. Who doesn’t like an event in which everybody you know can fill out a pool sheet or bracket, go to a party and stand amongst everyone in the room with their fists up to their mouths as they agonize over the results? Like March Madness, the Oscars are great because you don’t need to be an expert on all movies to win. In fact, you don’t even have to have seen many of the films. If you stay plugged in, chances are you’ve heard all about all the buzzworthy titles, and can and are immediately competitive by simply sticking to the names you know. (As an aside, I once won an office pool in Portland for March Madness despite not having watched a single minute of college basketball that season. What did I do? I went on Yahoo! and read markups on all 64 teams and their expert’s opinions on who would advance based on their attributes. There you go.)
With the Oscars in particular, there are certain rules which usually apply year-by-year in determining which films win which categories (for example, for Best Animated Feature: is Pixar involved? They’re winning unless Toy Story is involved; you don’t even have to be a fan). This is important to note because no matter how you cut the nominations for this year’s Oscar race for Best Picture, the only thing you need to know is that there are only two horses that matter: The King’s Speech and The Social Network. The good news for you is that I love to bet on the Oscars, and I have gracefully declined my annual predictions column in favor to break down what may be the most significant award in many years (and if you think this eerily comes on the heels of my blowup over the Grammy committee’s continued and deliberate refusal to pay respects to certain artists who are clearly deserving to win but can’t, well, you’re spot on).
We’ll tackle The King’s Speech first. Why should it win? For starters, everything about this film was impeccably done, from the direction to the cinematography (breathtaking isn’t grand enough praise), the art direction, the acting . . . Geoffrey Rush in particular proves time and time again why he’s not only one of our lifetime’s great underrated actors (he’s supremely respected and somehow still underrated), but also by merely having him on the roster ensures that the film won’t suck. He’s the kind of actor who pulls great performances out of the people around him, because nobody wants to suck in the presence of greatness.
As a historical drama, the film manages to capture an illustration of the place and time despite never placing too much emphasis on the place and time. That is to say, we are in England before the Second World War, in a fragile and gloomy state of crisis over Europe, but what ultimately matters to us is a man and his unconquerable speech impediment. The fact that he becomes king and must deliver the speech of his life on the eve of Britain’s decision to enter the war is really secondary to how he gets there. Of course, everyone who’s seen the film knows that. But in awardspeak what this translates to is the perfect story. This is not to say that the historical accounting is completely without holes, just that the presentation of all of the elements together are exemplary. Exemplary wins Oscars (sorry, Grammys). And if you’re a betting person and you like the idea of recurring themes for winners, consider these nuggets: Rush and co-star Colin Firth were together for another Best Picture winner, Shakespeare in Love, and Firth also had a supporting role in The English Patient. These are two actors who certainly know how to pick ‘em. Also, don’t ever sleep on period pieces—the Academy loves pictures in which there are castles and English countrysides and everyone is mocked up as if they came out of Madonna’s “Vogue” video. And then there's this: Of the past 15 Best Picture winners, 8 of them were period films. That’s better than 50%. If Speech loses this year, we’d still break even on the historical winners. In conclusion, you’d be an idiot to think that this film won’t win.
So where does this leave us with The Social Network? Granted, Speech has it’s number (arguably) in round-by-round comparisons. The latter is better acted, more visually stunning, and it favorably depicts the people it studies. Let’s be honest, everyone loves a triumph story over a d-bag who screws his best friend for gloy. But The Social Network managed to do something that very few films ever could.
Facebook is such an integral part of not only our lives, but the business world, the music industry and now even Hollywood, pop-cultured and bottled up with everything that Twitter and YouTube can't touch, and this film took that integral thing and broke down its founder, reinvented him and made everyone in the theatres feel that much cooler because they were a part of something by using Facebook too. Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers wasn’t exaggerating when he called it an American landmark; and really, that’s what this film boils down to: it has taken something uniquely American and made is king of all beasts. Have we not had a film like that since Rocky? Superman? Do you realize how far back you need to go to get to those films? The Social Network took Mark Zuckerberg, then just a cooler-than normal billionaire in NorCal's Bay Area, and shot him into the stratosphere of billionaires who mean something, past Bill Gates, and to the average person who doesn’t ‘know’ things, Warren Buffet. Does Time Magazine name Zuckerberg it’s Person of the Year without this film? Does Oprah invite him on her show to give away half his money for the benefit of mankind? Would you know who Jesse Eisenberg was by name alone and without looking at his IMDB page? (Sure, you say, I loved The Squid and the Whale. But did you know his name?) You know what the Academy loves better than a masterful period film? A masterful AMERICAN film.
(Sing it with me, guys! Amerrrrica . . . oh, never mind.)
No Country for Old Men
Million Dollar Baby
A Beautiful Mind
Since 2001, only three foreign-made films have been able to infiltrate the Best Picture statue (I’m not counting Hurt Locker because Warner Bros. was heavy-handed in it).
So while it may be a bit asinine to state here that the Facebook movie is on the same patriotic level as Rocky, I gleefully stand by this assessment. For everything this film implies about being an a-hole as the American Way, it makes sense why the Hollywood elite showered The Social Network with enough praises that made you have to love it too. There’s a little Zuckerberg in all of us—which is exactly why my money is on Speech this year (alert: underhanded Grammy slap approaching): old people in the Academy just don’t understand. That’s why they’re old.