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Tom Hooper's film looks like an Oscar winner

Speech impediments?
By PETER KEOUGH  |  February 25, 2011

SORRY, JESSE The smug arrogance of Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t stand a chance against the anti-elitist King’s Speech.
Given the change in political attitudes after the election of Barack Obama, a reactionary backlash following last year's progressive Oscars - in which Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win Best Director - might be no surprise. But who knew the Academy would get this fuddy-duddy?

After nearly every film critics' group picked David Fincher's The Social Network as the year's best movie, it seemed inevitable that the Academy would follow suit. Then the various guilds - the Producers Guild, the Directors Guild, the Screen Actors Guild - started handing out their awards to Tom Hooper's The King's Speech, indicating that Hollywood was rejecting the hip choice and opting for the stodgy and formulaic.

And they don't get much stodgier and more formulaic than The King's Speech, which from genre to promotional campaign is a textbook on how to win at the Oscars. Period movies and bio-pics are traditionally successful with the Academy, but I think the real key to this film's success lies in its expert balancing of aristocratic allure and salt-of-the-earth integrity. Colin Firth's King George VI might be royalty, but he has a flaw that brings him down to the level of regular folks. And the hero of the story is Geoffrey Rush's speech therapist, who's not only a commoner and a colonial but doesn't even have a degree. Take that, you elitist eggheads!

Against Speech's pandering, proles with the smug arrogance of Jesse Eisenberg's Mark Zuckerberg have no chance. Or, not much. Although Speech won the recent British Association of Film and Television Arts Award for Best Picture, Hooper lost Best Director to Fincher. But that may be just a case of British low self-esteem.

Another scenario involves the weighted voting system for the 10 Best Picture nominees. It's possible that either David O. Russell's The Fighter or the Coen Brothers' True Grit, which have the broad appeal of traditional movies from non-traditional directors, could sneak in as a dark horse (go, Little Blackie!) by being the second choice on both Network- and Speech-topped ballots. But that didn't happen in 2010, when the two leading contenders were The Hurt Locker and Avatar. So in a conservative year, I'll make a conservative prediction: Network will have to content itself with Best Adapted Screenplay. The King's Speech will win Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and most likely Best Original Screenplay among the major awards.

So why not Best Supporting Actress and Actor, for which Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush have been nominated? Here the Academy will reward our own working-class heroes in the underdog-makes-good crowd pleaser The Fighter. True, Christian Bale is British, but he does a better Boston accent than local boy Mark Wahlberg. As for Melissa Leo as the film's daunting matriarch, some argue that she'll split the vote with fellow Fighter nominee Amy Adams, leaving the field open to teenage Hailee Steinfeld, who plays a daunting matriarch in her own right in True Grit. Anything goes in this category, but I'll stick with Leo.

If there's any contest in the Best Actress category, it's between Black Swan's Natalie Portman and The Kids Are All Right's Annette Bening. The former figures to win, since the Academy's idea of women runs closer to a mad dancer punished for her art than a bitter, alcoholic lesbian who squelches the spirit of her wife and children. As terrific as Portman's performance is, it's hard not to see her role as variation on an invidious female stereotype.

But so it goes in a year in which no women have been nominated for Best Director, and in which virtually every nominee in every category is white. The King has spoken, and conservatism rules.

Related: Review: Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness, Hollywood's apes: monkey puzzle or intelligent design?, Review: Straw Dogs, More more >
  Topics: Features , Hollywood, Movies, The King's Speech,  More more >
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