I have, for the last several years, provided lengthy analyses of why I believe each Best Picture winner has won (The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire, No Country for Old Men, Crash). This year, I think the answer is absurdly simple.
The reason that The King’s Speech won over other odds-on favorite The Social Network is not because the average age of Academy voters is older than the average age of facebook users. And it is not because the Academy has a soft spot for British royalty, or wanted to send a positive message for people with speech impairments.
The reason, as James Carville once said: “It’s the economy, stupid.” The Academy, while older and richer and whiter than the rest of the world, still wants a positive, uplifting story as much as the rest of us. The King’s Speech made us feel good; it made us love humanity. Voting for the King’s Speech gives you the same warm feeling as a big ole hug from a loved one.
While a decade from now The Social Network will probably be more discussed in terms of both filmmaking and capturing the zeitgeist, the spirit of our times, let’s face it — it was a downer movie. It was about people loving money and unfriending each other. The King’s Speech, despite more f-bombs than a Melissa Leo acceptance speech, was something your grandmother would adore. It was about friending: a king and a commoner becoming buddies to give hope to a nation.
The Fighter, 127 Hours, Toy Story 3 and even True Grit, The Kids Are All Right and Winter’s Bone were also uplifting at times. But not in the same way. (Inception was just there as the token blockbuster, even though I personally think better of the film.) Because the Academy voting system penalizes films that are polarizing — it is better to be everyone’s #2 film than to be half #1’s and half #10’s — the King’s Speech had an edge on sheer inoffensiveness. There were no beloved toys headed for hellish destruction, no teens sawing the hands off a parent’s body, no James Franco sawing an arm off his own body — there was just solid drama and positive vibes.
So let’s hear it for the King, director Tom Hooper, actor Colin Firth and especially writer David Seidler. Himself a stutterer and late-bloomer, his script may not have been as eloquent as wunderkind Aaron Sorkin’s, but his acceptance speech was 1,000 times better. (It was like the Gettysburg address vs. a fifth-grader’s book report. What was Sorkin thinkin’? But I digress.)
As I said about Slumdog Millionaire, we all love a good underdog story. And, while being born royalty hardly makes you an underdog, in a way making a movie about a king that’s also an underdog story is perhaps one of the greatest challenges that can be undertaken. And we now know, thanks to last night’s show, it can be, like a pernicious stutter, surmounted.
I have to say, I’m slightly less impressed with The King’s Speech now after watching The Madness of King George, which, if it did not provide a template for the story, certainly could have. Both films involve a British monarch with a disability working to overcome said disability with a specialist of dubious credentials. Both have willful queens who insist on the treatment. Sure, the plots are not as similar as, say, Cars to Doc Hollywood. But it just shows to goad you how much this kind of story is catnip to Academy members.