OK, maybe I should qualify that a bit. This weekend has been a fascinating series of contests, fought by competitors at the top of their respective fields, producing some scintillating viewing and some incredibly close, and unpredictable calls. Then after that, we had the Oscars. Yes, for anyone who loves their sport almost as much as their film, and is as English as The King’s Speech is British (i.e. very), then this has been a great weekend: England earning a hard fought victory over France in the Six Nations rugby, and an even harder fought tie at the World Cup cricket against India. Thrown in Luke Donald’s triumph over Martin Kaymer at the WGC Match Play golf, and the Carling Cup final’s amazing comedy ending between Arsenal and Birmingham, and this weekend of sport has had it all.
The theme throughout all of that is that the best person or team won. In the final case, it came down to an extraordinary piece of bad luck, but live television means that we can see every stage of the competitive process, almost feel the sweat dripping from the pores of the exhausted competitors as they struggle for one last ounce of effort. Of course, justice isn’t always done in sporting contests, but by and large this weekend the right results came out, and watching them was tense, very dramatic and ultimately worthwhile.
It’s been a while since you can say the same about the Oscars, which have now become pretty much the antithesis of a sporting contest. Already the poor reviews for James Franco and Anne Hathaway’s hosting gig are turning up in large numbers; if you’re going to have a three hour awards ceremony, you think you would at least want to make the watching of it in some way enjoyable, but all that’s left is to watch who carries off the awards, and most of them have been entirely predictable. For the second year in a row, Best Actor and Actress have been nailed-on certainties for weeks prior to the awards, and the only acting Oscar where there there was any doubt was Supporting Actress. As it turns out, even a disastrous self-funded ad campaign didn’t dent Melissa Leo’s chances.
But every year, hoping against hope, I still cling to the increasingly naive belief that some sense of justice will be meted out at the awards, and not in a Jeff Bridges going round and offing the poorer nominees while wearing an eye-patch kind of way. The majority of people this year seemed to be predicting a split of the top two nominees, for Best Picture and Director, and that’s what BAFTA had done only a few short weeks ago, giving Director to David Fincher for The Social Network but The King’s Speech picking up Best Picture. It wouldn’t have been the first time Oscar did that, though, with Ang Lee (for Brokeback Mountain) and Steven Spielberg (for Saving Private Ryan) as examples where the seeming favourite picked up the Director statue, only for another, less critically acclaimed film to steal in and take Best Picture (Crash and Shakespeare In Love, in case you’d successfully wiped that horror from your memory).
But no, this year a man who cut his teeth on Byker Grove and who just turned down Iron Man 3 has taken the award, at the same time his film got Best Picture. Given its capturing of the time it was made in so perfectly, it is somewhere between disheartening and heartbreaking that The Social Network’s only real love was for Best Adapted Screenplay, a deserving Aaron Sorkin picking up that one. But the injustice goes deeper than that.
If you look at the Best Director category, and then consider the directorial effort and achievement, separated from the film itself, then it’s a hard job to argue that the best five got the nominations. Within his fellow nominees, I can’t help but feel that both Fincher and Aronofsky were more deserving of the award. When looking at the other five Best Picture nominees who missed out, then Danny Boyle, Debra Granik, Lee Unkrich and especially Christopher Nolan all probably deserved slots more than David O. Russell or the Coen brothers, or even Tom Hooper, but their films weren’t serious contenders for the top award, so they missed out. Others who excelled in direction in overlooked films, such as Mike Leigh or David Michod, also didn’t get a look in.
Unfortunately Fincher, who is now 0 from 2 for nominations, is in good company. (Spare a thought for Christopher Nolan, who’s yet to even get a nomination.) While Mike Nichols, Warren Beatty, Ron Howard and Barry Levinson all have a shiny gold man to put on their mantlepiece, the directing efforts of Quentin Tarantino, Alan Parker and Mike Leigh (2 nominations each), Ridley Scott, David Lynch, James Ivory, Ingmar Bergman (3 each), Peter Weir, Sidney Lumet, Federico Fellini and Stanley Kubrick (4 each) and Robert Altman and Alfred Hitchcock (5 nominations each) have never been directly rewarded by their peers for their efforts in a particular year, although Mr Oscar has occasionally put his hand in his pocket and given out a special award for those who’ve been snubbed a little too often.
And this is why I no longer make the effort to stay up for the Oscars. Despite the fact that it’s in the exact middle of the night for us, thus rendering staying up late or getting up very early as impractical options on their own, and that the accompanying awards show has all the charisma of an elderly dentist with halitosis half the time, it might still be worth it if the awards themselves generally found their way into the hands of the most talented individuals in each case. As long as the Tom Hoopers of this world continue to win, then I’ll be sleeping soundly in my bed come Oscar night.