God Save “the King,” and congrats to Firth et al.

I could go on a tirade here about why I don’t follow the Oscars, and revisit the fiasco of 1998… Actually, I will revisit it, just to this extent:

Why I don’t watch the Oscars.

There was a time when I did, avidly. I love movies, to a degree indicative of really messed-up priorities. As in, a man with priorities so far out of whack doesn’t deserve such a fine automobile. For instance, you’ll hear me quoting movies irrelevantly, seemingly at random. I love to read, have loved reading good fiction all of my life. But I think maybe movies are my very favorite art form. And yes, I know that’s kind of lowbrow, but it’s true. So be it.

Once, I used to go out of my way to at least see all of the movies nominated for Best Picture, and take an inordinate interest in which one won.

No more. My interest came to a crashing end in 1998, when “Shakespeare in Love” won Best Picture. That was the last straw.

I didn’t care that it beat out “Elizabeth” or “The Thin Red Line,” because they were both lame (especially that wretched adaptation of James Jones’ classic novel).

No, what got me was that “Shakespeare” was chosen over “Saving Private Ryan” (which sometimes makes my Top Five best pictures ever, depending on how I feel that day) and the wonderful “Life is Beautiful.”

Not that “Shakespeare” wasn’t fun. It was. As much fun as fluff can be. And that’s what it was. Worse, it was self-referential fluff. That was a movie for and about movie stars, transported to the 16th century. It made actors look cool, and fun, and clever, and way historical, meaning we should take them seriously. They adored it, because it made them feel great about themselves.

Which, come to think of it, is what the Oscars are about. Which is why I don’t watch anymore.

But all of that said, I’d still like to wish Colin Firth, et alia, joy of their triumph last night. Because, even though Mr. Firth was implicated in the fiasco, he certainly deserves this latest award.

And “The King’s Speech,” to my own admittedly limited knowledge, clearly deserved “Best Picture.”

I say “admittedly limited,” because, well, I had only seen four of the nominees. (Of which there appear to have been 10 — didn’t it used to be just 5? This is what happens when you stop following these things…)

Also, one more disclaimer. “The King’s Speech” is probably elevated a bit in my estimation because, well, I saw it in England. On my last night in the country, which happened to be the opening night in that country (oddly, this quintessentially British flick had opened in the States first). We saw it at the Odeon on Magdalen Street in Oxford. J and my granddaughter had had high tea at the Ashmolean, while I ducked over for another quick glimpse of the Pitt Rivers and then grabbed a quick bite at the McDonald’s on Cornmarket (just to prove that not everything I did was all touristy). Odd thing about ketchup in Britain, by the way — it’s much sweeter and less tangy; I don’t know why.

Bottom line, it was the best film I’d seen in the past year, and I suspect better than the nominees I haven’t seen, from what I’ve heard (and frankly, you’d have to pay me to get me to see, for instance, “127 Hours”). Perhaps I should provide a quick comparison to the few I have seen:

  • Inception — Biggest movie disappointment of the year for me. The trailers had done a good job of selling it to me, and it was one of the few that I meant to actually see in the theater, but didn’t make it in time. So I waited anxiously for its appearance on Netflix (and what is it with Netflix’ inability to get movies as soon as they’re available at WalMart, huh?), and then was disappointed. I mean, it was basically a play on the bad plot device of “and then the little boy woke up,” only taken to an exponentially greater point. I’m at the point of really wanting it to be over, and then… what? yet another dream level? gimme a break? It was like watching Twain’s “The Great Dark” translated to film — the years at the end that he skims over in the story.
  • The Kids are All Right — This was pretty good, and it has Julianne Moore naked (I say that not so much because it was significant to me, you understand, but in case lesbians are thinking about seeing it, which they may be), but in the end, I was disappointed. Actually, more specifically, I found the ending disappointing. I hated to see Mark Ruffalo’s character shut out at the end. My wife explained that I wasn’t supposed to feel that way, that he was a ne’er-do-well, etc. (in fact he was, technically and literally, a wanker — that was his importance to the plot), but I was still disappointed for him. Perhaps because he was the only character in the film with whom I could remotely identify. In any case, not the best of the year.
  • The Social Network — Ballyhooed by many as the best film of the year, my own estimation was only slightly higher than that of my younger son, who said “I’d heard it was a movie about inventing Facebook. And that’s what it was.” Yes, I appreciated it as social commentary on the way technology is changing our world and even our brains, but most of that had to be inferred. It was a good flick, just not as awesome as I had been led to expect.

And yes, it’s presumptuous to say I wouldn’t have liked the ones I didn’t see (and I still DO look forward to “True Grit” coming out on DVD — not because I liked the John Wayne one, which I didn’t, but because I continue to hold out hope for the Coen Brothers, in spite of “Burn Before Reading”). But hey, all I can do is go with what I have.

Oh, one last political observation on “The King’s Speech.” On the morning of the day I saw it, I read this review in The Guardian over my traditional English breakfast at the B&B, and uttered a Toryesque “harrumph” over this line: “Not everyone’s going to like this film: some may find it excessively royalist…” (There was also this online “poll” asking, “Is The King’s Speech royalist propaganda?” A slight majority said no.)

One thing I disliked when I ran across it during my brief sojourn in that country was when Brits apologized for anything touching upon their essential British identity. Fortunately, I didn’t run across it nearly as much as I expected. There was a museum exhibit about the  brouhaha over “Britannia” as a symbol on the coinage, and that line. But I still harrumphed.

I mean, if you’re the sort who gets offended by such, don’t see the bleedin’ film. The rest of you, if you haven’t already, see it as soon as you can.

20 thoughts on “God Save “the King,” and congrats to Firth et al.

  1. bud

    I know this is all very subjective but I found Saving Private Ryan to be vastly over-rated. The Academy made a bold, and in my view correct, decision to vote in a movie that was funny and provacative at the same time. Sorry Brad, Ryan was just another war movie with a lame plot line and a whole bunch of gratuitous violence. And the whole shakey, hand-held camera thing was a complete turnoff to me. Interestingly though my brother has pretty much the same opinon of Ryan that you do. Not sure I follow.

  2. bud

    Speaking of military issues this was a sad story I saw in the USA Today this morning. The original artical was in the Martinsburg, WV paper:

    Frank Woodruff Buckles, the last surviving American veteran of World War I, died at the age of 110 in Charles Town, W.Va., the Martinsburg Journal reports.

  3. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    How was Mr. Darcy implicated in the Best Picture vote, other than. perhaps, voting for it?

    One does rather find Mr. Firth awfully dishy.

  4. Brad

    Darcy was IN “Shakespeare In Love,” if you’ll recall. He was Lord Wessex, an unsympathetic character.

    Bud, listen to your brother. I think you’re letting your political attitudes affect your aesthetic sense. (Unless, of course, the handheld camera just is that jangling to your nerves, which is possible — the effect is intentional; it’s about simulating the disorientation of combat.) Private Ryan was fantastic.

    But even it it weren’t, it would have been inexcusable to choose “Shakespeare In Love” over “Life is Beautiful.” The other two nominees that year were awful, but SPR and LIB were great films, and both far more substantial than that silly thing that won…

  5. bud

    I only saw a couple of the nominated movies: Inception and interetingly enough Toy Story 3. I very much liked both of them. Inception was simply spell-binding. The schizophrenic nature of the movie was simply irresistable. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. Toy Story 3 served as a nice wrap-up to the series. Sad to see it go but I believe they handled in well.

    As a general rule I ignore anything regarding the British royal family. I made an exception a couple of years ago and watched The Queen. I got sucked in by all the hype. It wasn’t althogether bad but it just didn’t belong on a best of list.

  6. bud

    Brad, if anything my political views would have made me appreciate Ryan since it has a decidedly “horrors of war” theme to it. This is not to say that Ryan was horrible, just over-rated; a very average war movie.

    I found most of the Vietnam movies far superior in that vein. In particular Apocolypse Now was fantastic.

  7. Brad

    By the way, if you HAVE seen “The King’s Speech,” did you notice who played Myrtle Logue, the wife of Geoffrey Rush’s character?

    Yes! It’s Miss Elizabeth Bennet! (Jennifer Ehle.)

    I totally missed that when I saw the film, and only learned it by accident later…

    I had wondered where she had been all these years. Maybe I’ve seen her in lots of things, and didn’t know it. Maybe she’s that good. But it startles me, because her face, her smile, her persona in “Pride and Prejudice” was so arresting that it’s hard to believe I wouldn’t recognize her…

  8. Brad

    “Apocalypse Now” is a movie you don’t want to miss… but… not in the same category as “Saving Private Ryan.”

    SPR is a polished gem of a movie. If there’s anything wrong with it, it’s that it’s too perfect. (One is forced to search for flaws, such as the fact that Tom Hanks was too old to be a captain in an elite infantry unit.)

    “Apocalypse” was brilliant, but uneven. For instance… most of its power comes from the underlying material, Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” And yet the film repeatedly strays from that theme and tone. Take the favorite part of many of its fans — the part with Robert Duvall. That part is engaging and enjoyable (and Duvall’s talent makes it memorable), but it’s also cartoony and goofy — which takes away from the dark story line.

    You want to see an overbearing uber-macho martinet of an Army officer that DOESN’T slide off into low farce? Check out the bit part played by David Morse in “The Hurt Locker” — a scene that may be the best part of the film. Awesome. And realistic, to a scary degree.

    Finally, of COURSE “Ryan” shows the horrors of war — all the best war films do.

  9. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    but Firth, like so many actors in the British repertory company, appears in so many wonderful roles, regardless of the film’s quality. Not his fault that Gwynnie managed to swing the vote….

    Did you know that Ehle and Firth had a fling after P&P–but Mrs. F is quite a stunner, it seems.

  10. Doug Ross


    “do NOT play this game that Jay Barry brought to my attention via Twitter.”

    Challenge accepted.


  11. Brad

    Kathryn, it’s a WordPress anomaly. For some reason, hypertext links that occur too soon in a comment don’t work right.

    So I went in and added the words, “from what I’ve seen” to the comment. So now it works.

    I have to do that a lot when I put links into comments — pad out the beginnings, to make the links work. Fortunately, throat-clearing excess verbiage at the outset is a specialty of mine.

  12. Burl Burlingame

    The Oscars are voted upon by movie professionals, not the public. Comedy is just harder to do (well) than drama.

    “The Kings Speech” is a masterpiece of empathy, which is WAY harder to do than sympathy.

  13. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    I dunno–I keep getting these annoying hyperlinks to Wikipedia articles everywhere. I’ll click, hoping it’s a reference to, say, another NYT article, and get the Wikiarticle on “birds” or sumpin.’


  14. Brad

    Kathryn, do you mean here on the blog you’ve had that problem?

    On another subject — did anyone follow that link I gave you above, the one to David Morse’s bit part in “The Hurt Locker?” I ask for two reasons. First, it took me several minutes to find it. Second, it’s pretty awesome.

    That whole movie, the viewer is made to feel like Jeremy Renner is a dangerously intense, off-the-rails kind of guy you’d really rather not serve with, because maybe he’ll get you killed unnecessarily.

    In those few seconds, Morse manages to establish a character that’s so much MORE scary/intense that Renner’s character looks like he wants to run screaming from HIM. And he does it with tremendous economy of word and gesture. Morse is an incredible actor.

  15. Brad

    By the way, long as I’m rambling… after I saw that someone in “The Town” was nominated for an award, I put it in my Netflix queue. Before that, I had avoided it resolutely, as I had little interest in seeing a Ben Affleck crime drama. And the poster art — the robbers in the nun masks — was so cliched. I’m thinking “Point Break” w/ the ex-presidents masks, or some such.

    But I gave it a watch over the weekend — the night before the Oscars, in fact — and it wasn’t bad at all. Even with Affleck starring. Maybe because he was back in his “Good Will Hunting” comfort zone, playing a working-class Bostonian, I don’t know.

    By the way, the nomination that caused me to watch this was Jeremy Renner’s. And he did fine. But… he was essentially playing the same role he played in “The Hurt Locker” (only without the subtle intonations) so I found it less impressive than I otherwise would have. Fine, if he’s going to be a character actor playing that particular type. But it would have been interesting to see him demonstrate some range.

    One other thing — Jon Hamm as a tough guy? No. He just looked like Don Draper had neglected to shave. And excuse me, but FBI agents generally DO shave every day, right?

  16. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    Sorry– no, I mean throughout teh internets…

    Brad– You ought to listen to All Things Considered–they reviewed The Town, among other worthy films, and gave it high marks.


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