Friday, February 04, 2011

The Social Network's Oscar chances go Up in the Air?

On the surface, The Social Network and Up in the Air would seem to have little in common. But Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly notices some striking similarities that give me pause.

Like The Social Network, Up in the Air won a lot of Oscar precursors, but then gradually lost its momentum as Avatar and finally The Hurt Locker outpaced it.

Cue the current race. The Social Network was winning every award under the sun - at least until a few weeks ago, when The King's Speech started winning every other award under the sun.

Similarly, a lot of critics liked Up in the Air, (including me - it topped my 10 best list in 2009) but it gave way to films that were 1) A cultural phenomenon and 2) A scrappy, hard-hitting little indie directed by a woman who just happened to be the ex of the guy who made the cultural phenomenon.  It became a great David and Goliath story. Ultimately, I think Oscar voters thought "James Cameron has had his glory, let's give the upstarts theirs and make our own milestone in the bargain."

This year's story is a little different, though. The Social Network is clearly this year's critical darling. Save for maybe Toy Story 3, no film was better reviewed in 2010. So of course it would win with all kinds of critics' socieities.

Then came the Golden Globes, and The Social Network won there. That was a bit of a surprise, to me at least. I thought The King's Speech, with its very European story, would appeal heavily to the Hollywood FOREIGN press. It probably did. Nevertheless, the Facebook movie prevailed.

Then along came the Producers Guild, who turned the tide in favor of The King's Speech. Then it went on to win the SAG and DGA prizes as well. So many critics' jaws' dropped that oral surgery bills must be skyrocketing.

And yet, I wasn't SO shocked. One could argue the producers' went for it because it took years to make, with the filmmakers respecting the Queen Mother's wishes to wait until she passed on. The SAG awards went for TKS because it had a fairly large ensemble, which always helps. And I think the fact that the film was directed by Tom Hooper helped the regal story both at SAG and at DGA, because Hopper had a lot of goodwill directing the highly acclaimed HBO miniseries John Adams. Unlike the Oscars, the guilds have a heavy membership in the TV categories.

But  in his blog post, Gleiberman asks a good question. He points out that both Up in the Air and The Social Network suffered backlashes. They both fell victim to the general sentiment of "Yeah, it was good, but not as good as a lot of those highfalutin critics said it was."

So that makes me and Owen wonder  - just what IS an Oscar film supposed to be?  I think a lot of folks - Academy voters and Joe Schmoes alike - think Oscar = BIG, either in feeling or in spectacle. An Oscar winner can be a large-scale epic like Lawrence of Arabia, or a heart-tugger like Casablanca. Or both, like Titanic. An Oscar winner has to have a WOW factor. For a lot of viewers, both Up in the Air and The Social Network lacked that. Both films, especially The Social Network, try to SAY SOMETHING, but a statement never has as much pull as a handkerchief.

There are always exceptions  but in the end, it comes down to the age-old difference between the favorite film and the best film. For some, The Social Network may be the "best" movie. But for many others, The King's Speech will be the favorite. That's why I think the latter will win.

And as I wrote earlier this week, there is no shame in that.

1 comment:

efice32 said...

I like your point about Hooper getting respect for his HBO work from some of the guild members that work in TV. That's something I hadn't considered and I can absolutely see that being a factor.