The king has spoken.
The Weinstein Co.’s “The King’s Speech” dethroned the competition at the 83rd annual Academy Awards on Sunday night, winning four Oscars: for best picture, director for Tom Hooper, actor for Colin Firth and original screenplay for David Seidler.
“To be part of a film that’s touched so many people around the world is a huge privilege,” said “King’s Speech” producer Emile Sherman, accepting with fellow producers Iain Canning and Gareth Unwin. The filmmakers all paid sober tribute to one of the film’s key financiers, the U.K. Film Council, whose impending closure was announced by the British government in July.
Hooper singled out his mother for thanks, noting that she had first encouraged him to direct “Speech” after seeing the film in its initial incarnation as an unproduced, unrehearsed play in Australia. “She came home and rang me up and said, ‘I think I found your next film,’?” Hooper said. “The moral of the story is: Listen to your mother.”
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The 11th British film to win best pic (the most recent being another independent production, 2008’s “Slumdog Millionaire”), “Speech” is also the 17th biographical/fact-based feature to receive the Academy’s top honors, though the same could have been said for “The Social Network,” “The Fighter” or “127 Hours” had they prevailed. Indeed, media pundits and industry watchers had largely framed the best picture race as a battle between two films, “Speech” and “Network,” that portrayed famous real-world figures but differed wildly in tone, style and intent.
Many had anticipated a possible split scenario in which “Speech” could win best pic while David Fincher took helming honors as a consolation prize for Sony’s “The Social Network” — especially after Fincher bested Hooper on the latter’s home turf last weekend at the BAFTAs. The British Academy went with the American director, but Oscar opted for Blighty’s Hooper on an evening that also saw both male acting honors go to Brit thesps: Firth for “Speech” and Christian Bale for “The Fighter.”
Natalie Portman won the actress Oscar for “Black Swan,” while Bale’s “Fighter” co-star, Melissa Leo, took supporting actress honors. All four acting winners had been widely anticipated due to their earlier wins from critics’ groups and the Screen Actors Guild.
While Academy voters preferred Hooper’s rousing British period piece to Fincher’s chilly American chronicle of high-tech ambition, “Speech’s” victory was by no means assured after a dramatic awards season that had been dominated initially by “Network,” which swept the critics’ awards and the Golden Globes. Indeed, the Sony pic’s early good fortune suggested a possible echo of last year’s race, when crix groups, guilds and eventually the Academy all but united in their support of “The Hurt Locker.”
But “Speech” stopped “Network’s” momentum cold in January by drawing 12 Oscar nominations, more than any other film, and scooping top prizes from the producers, directors and actors guilds. One would have to go back to 1995’s “Apollo 13” to find a film that scored the guild trifecta but wound up losing the picture Oscar (and “Apollo,” unlike “Speech,” was handicapped by its lack of a director nomination).
Pic’s victory represents a throwback of sorts to the heyday of “Speech” exec producer Harvey Weinstein, who, despite his legendary reputation as an Oscar ringmaster, hadn’t ushered one of his films into the winner’s circle since 2002’s “Chicago.” Weinstein and “Speech” managed to prevail over two films, “Network” and “True Grit,” produced by his former longtime collaborator, Scott Rudin.
“Speech” is the fourth highest-grossing of the 10 picture nominees (see related story), trailing a pair of blockbusters, Disney-Pixar’s “Toy Story 3” and Warner Bros.’ “Inception,” as well as Paramount’s hit Western “True Grit,” yet comfortably ahead of such strong performers as Fox Searchlight’s “Black Swan,” Sony’s “Social Network” and Par’s “The Fighter,” with indie productions “The Kids Are All Right” (Focus), “127 Hours” (Searchlight”) and “Winter’s Bone” (Roadside Attractions) bringing up the rear.
Though it was shut out of the top categories, “Inception” in some ways made the most unexpectedly impressive showing of any film all evening, tying “Speech’s” overall haul, with four technical wins. And “Social Network” wasn’t far behind, winning three Oscars for film editing, original score and adapted screenplay for Aaron Sorkin. Indeed, while some had predicted a “Speech” sweep, the film was slow to build momentum over the evening — losing all technical/craft races in which it was nominated, including editing and score to “Social Network” — before surging mightily in the home stretch.
Of the other picture nominees, “The Fighter” and “Toy Story 3” came away with two Oscars apiece, while “Black Swan” won one. Despite entering the evening in second-place position with 10 nominations, “True Grit” was shut out, as were “The Kids Are All Right,” “127 Hours” and “Winter’s Bone.”
“I truly, sincerely wish that the prize was to get to work with my fellow nominees. I’m so in awe of you,” Portman said, also singling out Luc Besson, Mike Nichols and “Swan’s” Darren Aronofsky among the helmers she’s worked with. The prominently pregnant actress also thanked her fiance, “Swan” choreographer Benjamin Millepied, “who has now given me the most important role of my life.”
“I have a feeling my career’s just peaked,” Firth said as he took the stage. “I’m afraid I have to warn you that I’m experiencing stirrings, somewhere in the upper abdominals, which are threatening to form themselves into dance moves.” Like Portman, Firth paid tribute to one of his previous collaborators: Tom Ford, who directed him to his first Oscar nomination for 2009’s “A Single Man.”
A visibly shaken Leo asked presenter Kirk Douglas to pinch her as she accepted her supporting actress trophy. “I’m shaking in my boots here,” she said, launching into a quavering, teary-eyed speech in which she was bleeped halfway through for dropping the first-ever F-bomb in an Oscar acceptance — a faux pas that was later referenced in a number of acceptances throughout the evening (see sidebar).
Briefly alluding to the recent media brouhaha over her personal awards campaign (ads from which appeared in trade outlets, including Daily Variety), Leo thanked the Academy for choosing her “because it’s about selling motion pictures, and respecting the work.” Ironically, she struck a note similar to that of last year’s supporting actress winner, Mo’Nique, who saluted voters for “showing that it can be about the performance and not the politics.”
Noting that he was not going to use Leo’s choice of expletive (“I’ve done that plenty”), Bale saluted “The Fighter’s” sibling subjects, Dicky Edlund and Micky Ward, who were among those assembled at the Kodak Theater. “He’s had a wonderful story,” Bale said of Edlund, whom he portrayed in the boxing drama. “I can’t wait to see the next chapter.”
“It’s impossible to describe what it feels like to be handed the same award that was given to Paddy Chayefsky 35 years ago for another movie with ‘Network’ in the title,” Sorkin said as he accepted his writing Oscar, thanking Ben Mezrich for writing the source tome. “This movie is going to be a source of pride to me for the rest of my life.”
Sorkin was followed at the mic by “Speech” scribe Seidler. “My father always said to me I would be a late bloomer,” the septuagenarian scribe deadpanned, noting that he believed he was the oldest person to win the original screenplay prize. Tripping over nary a word in his remarks onstage, Seidler concluded, “I accept this on behalf of all the stutterers throughout the world. We have a voice, and we have been heard, thanks to you, the Academy.”
“Inception” dominated the below-the-line categories, scooping cinematography for d.p. Wally Pfister (extending “True Grit” nominee Roger Deakins’ losing streak to zero wins for nine noms); visual effects for Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb; sound mixing for Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo and Ed Novick; and sound editing for Richard King. Christopher Nolan may have been conspicuously absent from the director race, but the British-born helmer was one of the most-thanked individuals all night.
“I owe this 1,000% to Chris Nolan,” King said. “Thank you for making great movies and inviting me along for the ride.”
Perhaps disappointing those who had hoped that graffiti artist Banksy might show himself in the event of a win for “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” the documentary feature Oscar went to Sony Classics’ “Inside Job,” helmer Charles Ferguson’s sobering analysis of the roots of the global economic meltdown. Previously nominated for 2007’s “No End in Sight,” Ferguson (accepting with fellow producer Audrey Marrs) drew applause by striking the sole political note of the evening: “Forgive me, I must start by pointing out that three years after our horrific financial crisis, caused by massive fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail. And that’s wrong.”
Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” proved strong in the technical races, picking up a pair of Oscars: costume design for Colleen Atwood (her third win, after “Chicago” and “Memoirs of a Geisha”) and art direction for production designer Robert Stromberg and set decorator Karen O’Hara. Stromberg picked up his second consecutive Oscar in this category, having also won for “Avatar.”
“The Wolfman” won the Oscar for makeup, marking the seventh win for makeup artist Rick Baker, who shared the prize with Dave Elsey.
“We were happy just to be involved with this film,” said “Social Network” composer Trent Reznor, accepting the score award with fellow composer and Nine Inch Nails frontman Atticus Ross. “Standing up here in this company is humbling and flattering beyond words.”
Accepting with fellow cutter Kirk Baxter, “Social Network” editor Angus Wall thanked the duo’s wives, “who allow us to have incredibly passionate love affairs with our families at work.”
As expected, best-pic nominee “Toy Story 3” drew the Oscar for animated feature — the first such win for the blockbuster franchise, as the toon prize was not initiated until after the first two “Toy Story” movies had been released. Pixar now has a four-year streak in the category, having previously won for “Ratatouille,” “Wall-E” and “Up.”
“I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but thank you to the Academy,” said “Toy Story 3” director Lee Unkrich, who went on to pronounce Pixar “the most awesome place on the planet to make movies.”
The threequel also took original-song laurels for Randy Newman’s “We Belong Together.” Pointing out that this was only his second win (after his tune for 2001’s “Monsters, Inc.”) in 20 nominations, Newman apologized for filling his speech with effusive thanks to Pixar and Unkrich, then gently ribbed the Academy for only nominating four songs: “They couldn’t find a fifth song somewhere? To hell with it. It might have beat me.”
In a bit of an upset, however, Pixar’s “Day & Night” lost the animated-short prize to British-Australian toon “The Lost Thing,” accepted by helmers Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann. Other shorts prizes went to Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon’s “Strangers No More” for documentary and Luke Matheny’s “God of Love” for live-action.
“I actually got a haircut,” Matheny quipped, accepting his prize with an unruly fro that proved as endearing as his speech, in which he found room to thank “the great state of Delaware” as well as his mother for doing craft services on the pic.
Susanne Bier’s “In a Better World” won the foreign-language film Oscar, echoing the Danish drama’s award at the Golden Globes last month. Pic reps Denmark’s third winner in this category and the country’s first since its back-to-back wins for 1987’s “Babette’s Feast” and 1988’s “Pelle the Conqueror.”
Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award winner Francis Ford Coppola and honorary Oscar winners Eli Wallach and Kevin Brownlow were briefly feted onstage, having received their prizes at the separate Governors Awards ceremony on Nov. 13. Fellow honoree Jean-Luc Godard was an expected no-show.
The 83rd annual Academy Awards were broadcast live on ABC from the Kodak Theater in Hollywood. Event was hosted by James Franco (an actor nominee for “127 Hours”) and Anne Hathaway, and produced by Bruce Cohen and Dan Mischer.