The King’s Speech

Oscars Countdown: A Guide To What’s Actually The Best Picture

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Well, it’s almost upon us. The 2011 Academy Awards take place around six o’clock on Sunday evening, local time, or stupid o’clock on Monday morning for those watching on these shores, and two dozen of the frankly odd looking (well, they are) gold statues will be handed out to those deemed the most worthy recipients. There will be few people in attendance, though, that have seen every nominated film and can give a genuine view on the respective worthiness of each of the nominees; to be honest, for most people with busy lives seeing all of the nominations for Best Picture is enough of a challenge.

And for all my love of movies, rather shockingly only three times in my life have I managed to see all of the nominated films before tiny gold men were handed out. It gets easier every year, thanks partly to those people who don’t fork out the cash to watch films in the cinema, as piracy has reduced DVD and international release windows, so most of the films in question arrive on these shores either at the same time, or very close to, their debut in America.

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Oscars Countdown: Does Size Matter?

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Just two weeks to go until the annual climax to the Awards season, and we’re up to the BAFTAs this weekend. It’s easy to think of the Oscars as quite literally a marathon; thousands of runners, many of which are there to look stupid or make up the numbers, which are narrowed down as they can’t keep the pace, until there’s either a front-runner out on their own, slogging through the awards season like Paula Radcliffe, or there’s a couple which are competing in a nail biting finish right up to the line. At this point this year we have what has pretty much become a two horse race – it would seem that it’s either going to be The King’s Speech or The Social Network, unless something sneaks in and springs a Crash level of surprise at the last minute, like a charity runner in a comedy outfit beating out the professional athletes. There is one thing that stands out about both of these films, and indeed all but one of the Best Picture nominations this year – they’re all really, really short.

Well, not short in terms of the average film you see these days, but they are a lot shorter than the average Oscar winner of years gone by. Allow me to prove this with the use of a well placed graph.

The blue line indicates how long each Best Picture winner has been since the awards began in 1927. There’s a few where the lengths have varied over the years due to Director’s Cuts, studio interference and the like, but to be honest it doesn’t matter how many versions of Gone With The Wind they make, there’ll never be one short enough to remove the need to wear surgical stockings to avoid getting a DVT while watching it. The black line is the underlying trend, which as you can see got longer in the Fifties and then longer again through the Seventies and Eighties, but has been getting shorter since.

They key point in there has been the two hour mark (120 minutes if your mental arithmetic isn’t as sharp as you’d like). Only three winners of the biggest of the little gold men in the last two decades have been under that mark; they were The Silence Of The Lambs, Chicago and Crash, and on that basis not a suggestion that shorter films are a trend we should welcome. The midpoint average in those two decades is actually over two hours and ten minutes. But this year, we only have one film out of the ten which is over two hours:

To illustrate how short this year’s field are in comparison, looking at the bottom end, there have only ever been two winners shorter than 127 Hours (and they’re Annie Hall and Marty, in case you were wondering). Right, that’s the science bit out of the way, but what does it all mean? (Other than I spend more time coming up with pretty but pointless graphs than I really should, but of course you knew that already.) The key question is, of course, are these films getting shorter, and is it a trend we can expect to continue?

There was a view that Inception this year proved that audiences can cope with more demanding fare and that films don’t need to be dumbed down, but at the end of the year it’s proven to be the exception rather than the rule. What’s missing from many of this films that has characterised winners in the past is the level of sub-plots and secondary characterisation. Often sweeping historical epics will concern themselves with great expanses of the passage of time; although The King’s Speech nominally spans two decades, most of the drama is over two fairly short periods. That’s not to say this year’s films are poorer by any means, but they are somewhat leaner affairs than most winners from the past.

As to what’s driving that, then look no further than the box office. The Hurt Locker, last year’s winner, was the lowest in terms of box office performance for many years; films have largely been shunted into this two month “corridor” around December and January in order to be fresh in voters’ minds, but that means that there’s stern competition for screens, and for the studios to get the return that they perceive award nominations and the shiny statues themselves will bring in terms of extra cash to line their pockets. A film like Inception could play only three or four times a day at the box office due to its length, but the films at the other end of that spectrum above could get five or even six showings a day in, and films like The King’s Speech have been packing out most of their showings. That driver of box office is likely to keep lengths down; while we might get the occasional longer film, three hour epics in awards season will be very much the exception rather than the rule for as long as cinemas are in business.

As to what will win this year? The Social Network is two minutes longer than The King’s Speech, so if historical precedent means anything, it might just give it the edge, but that’s not even enough time to go out and buy extra popcorn, so it probably doesn’t mean very much in terms of choosing a winner from those two. But ultimately, this year’s nominees have proved one thing – it’s not how long it is, it’s what you do with it that counts.

The Friday Encourager: Have You Seen It Yet?

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No, we haven't seen it either.

Hardened film blogger that I now am, I get asked more and more these days by people whether certain films are worth seeing. Admittedly this is because I spend long enough in their company to engineer the conversation round to movies, but the time it takes to do this can normally now be measured in hours rather than days, so I’m making progress. But since Christmas, the vast majority of questions I’ve taken have been about one film. There’s a British film that, last weekend, actually increased its takings week on week, and screenings have been selling out. The lead actor is a strong contender for the Best Actor Oscar, the rest of the cast is stellar and it’s a feel good British movie the likes of which we probably haven’t seen since The Full Monty. (Although thankfully, there’s no chance of seeing Colin Firth’s bum this time.) But it’s not the one that people are asking me about. It’s this one.

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The Half Dozen: 6 Most Interesting Looking Trailers for January 2011

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2011 is upon us. Another year of Oscar hopefuls, followed by random filler and then a summer of bloated blockbusters which this year have caught an almost unprecedented case of sequelitis and look about as exciting as warmed over gruel in a Ryvita sandwich. Still, my almost absurd levels of optimism lead me to believe that we, together, can find at least half a dozen movies a month worth a look. In theory January, falling as it does slap bang in the middle of Oscar season, should be like shooting giant snappy fish in a teeny tiny barrel, but there’s a difference between interesting trailers and interesting movies.

My first duty is to report the sad omission from this list of the bright British blockbuster The King’s Speech. I did contemplate getting this list out before I saw the film yesterday, but upon seeing it my suspicions were proven entirely correct; the trailer gives away almost the entire movie, and if you can’t guess the parts it doesn’t then you don’t deserve to be allowed out of the house, for reasons of your own safety. And to be crystal clear, when I say gives away the entire movie, the trailer is basically a synopsis of the film made by stringing most of the best bits that aren’t heavy swearing together, in order, until the final scene of the trailer which is about five minutes before the credits roll. Sigh.

Anyway, let’s stay optimistic, there’s plenty enough here to be going on with to look forward to this month. Like this lot.

Blue Valentine

In complete contrast to The King’s Speech trailer, first up is a lesson in how it should be done. A single song, with a few clips to indicate the general mood, lifted directly from the film, and the usual title cards to say how great everyone is and why we should love them, but nothing too massive in terms of spoilers. (I’m assuming. Unless this film is eight minutes long.) Ryan Gosling is in the dictionary under “massively-underrated”, and the controversy over the rating in the US has just peaked my interest further.


Then there’s the money shot. The sure fire way to get anyone to remember your film, of course, is to have a single shot that audiences will remember. If you’re Independence Day, then you can throw in a shot of aliens exploding the White House, but if you’re a documentary about corporate evil in America and around the world, then it’s a little trickier. Unless said corporate evil has made your drinking water special. Yikes.

Black Swan

I appreciate the need for dramas to sometimes have some sense of narrative in their trailers, but ideally look to hold back as many moments from the last third or so as you can. This is suitably intriguing and freaky, and Aronofsky has made one for the ages if the awards buzz is to be believed. If I were a giant male chauvinist, then I would of course draw your attention in a big way to the Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis lip-locking scenes, but I’m not, so I won’t. (Phew, dodged a bullet there.)

Ride, Rise, Roar

And now to someone else who’s got girls on his mind, and thinks about them sometimes all the time, at least if his back catalogue is to be believed. Yes, he might be wicked, but judging by the prep going into his stage performances in this new documentary, he most certainly isn’t lazy. Don’t miss this once in a lifetime opportunity to see into the life of a musical legend. (Don’t worry, I am going to stop the David Byrne music references now, before I stop making sense. Oh no, I can’t stop myself! I’m on a road to nowhere!)


Another approach of course, is to fill your trailer with lots of quickly intercut and entirely unrelated clips of the film, keeping up the pacing to a point where people won’t remember what happened in the trailer anyway, but they will hopefully be more encouraged to see the film. Thankfully Tangled seems to be swimming in good material if the trailer is anything to judge by, which of course, being a trailer it probably isn’t. But anyway, it will be interesting to see how a Disney fairytale does in this post-Shrek era we are now living in.


And if all else fails, you can play trailer drinking games. Every time Javier Bardem looks wistfully into the distance, take a sip. Every time he looks wistfully into camera, take another sip. Every time the trailer is incredibly literal (for example, the narrator says “cloud” and a cloud of smoke appears on screen at the same time), take two sips. And given that Javier Bardem has an Oscar to his name, if you can predict the time into the trailer (running time 2:17) at which the card below will appear on screen within ten seconds, then finish your drink. If you’re on vodka, this trailer will have you on the floor in two minutes flat. Good luck.