This has been one of the most schizophrenic awards seasons in recent memory. It has consisted of two distinct contests: first, the critics awards cycle which had The Social Network in a walk. Now the industry awards which completely reversed that decision, blanking the Facebook movie and honoring the royal dilemma story to the point where everyone involved with The King’s Speech may just want to start getting their own speeches ready for the Kodak Theatre on February 27th. The last of the major Guild contests comes next Saturday at the WGA awards, which is always a bit of an anomaly since that Guild ruled The King’s Speech and some other screenplays ineligible. (Harvey can take that night off.) This is the one Guild contest The Social Network can count on without question. Aaron Sorkin’s adapted screenplay is a lock at WGA – and at the Oscars.
The King’s Speech capture of SAG’s Ensemble award Sunday completes a clean sweep of the three all-important Guild contests so far that also included surprise wins at the Producers Guild last weekend and the Directors Guild Saturday night. Afterwards, a producer for a rival film emailed me a one-word response that says it all: “WOW”. A consultant for another film in the race even went so far as to message me: The Social Network is clearly out. Where do those votes go? Because it ain’t gonna be TKS with no competition.” It’s an interesting question since Oscar races are all about gaining momentum at the right time, and then maximizing it. No one knows this better than Harvey Weinstein. His 1-2-3 wins at the Guilds is, if not a knockout punch, certainly a sobering wake-up call for his rivals as The King’s Speech is grabbing all the dream headlines just as final Oscar ballots are about to mailed on Wednesday. This kind of triumph usually, emphasis on usually, results in the Academy falling right in line with their Guild peers, and since King’s Speech was already enormously popular within the membership, this just gives them comfort in voting for it without looking like they were out of touch. That’s one theory.
Despite The King’s Speech’s win at the PGA, most pundits expected the DGA to go to The Social Network’s David Fincher. It could be argued that the vote for rival Tom Hooper was essentially a Best Picture vote from the 14,000-plus member Directors Guild. Although the DGA and Oscar winner have differed only six times since 1949, it is still possible the Academy could decide to spread the wealth and split their votes for Director and Picture since the voters have two distinctly different categories to work with unlike the DGA which just has one. This last happened in 2002 with, ironically, another Weinstein contender Chicago: Rob Marshall won the DGA prize only to see The Pianists’ Roman Polanski stun on Oscar night and win the Acad’s Best Director award even though Chicago won Best Picture. In 2000, the split was even more pronounced when Ang Lee took the DGA award for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon but the Academy chose Steven Soderbergh as Best Director for Traffic — and then proceeded to give Best Pic to their guilty pleasure, Gladiator. Fincher may want to console himself with that stat.
On the other hand, if Oscar is riding a real industry wave for The King’s Speech as it appears, then it could turn into a tsunami if Acad voters feel they just want to go with a winner and start checking it off for everything. Right now, that’s the smart bet. But these things have a way of turning on a dime. Witness the events of the last ten days. Hooper (a class act whether winning or losing this season) has experienced this before. His HBO miniseries John Adams swept the Emmys two years ago, winning a record 13 – everything except, you guessed it, Best Director. Go figure.
Not imagining the success his film would have at PGA and DGA, SAG was the race Harvey targeted in order to put a dent in The Social Network’s steamrolling momentum, particularly after the Facebook founding drama’s sweep of the Golden Globes. (Were they only just two weeks ago?) Which is why at his Globes afterparty, Weinstein told me rather clairvoyantly now in hindsight, “The race is just beginning. Now the real voters will get their chance”, he said referring to the upcoming Guild contests as opposed to all the critics groups who were friending The Social Network.
As for the SAG results, the four acting prizes to Colin Firth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, and Melissa Leo were all the betting favorites, so no surprises there. But the Ensemble win is often looked at as that Guild’s Best Picture equivalent, even though SAG officially maintains it is just a cast award and more shouldn’t be read into it. Well, more often is read into its importance vis a vis the psychology of Oscar campaigning. The Weinstein Company aggressively went for that prize running countless newspaper and trade ads and TV spots during SAG’s voting period highlighting the “ensemble” nature of the film and emphasizing the SAG nomination. The King’s Speech and The Social Network were the only two films that went out on DVD and iTunes to the entire 100,000-plus SAG membership. Others went just the iTunes route but I heard complaining by some members that those films were a hassle to download.
A longtime Academy member who’s a one-time studio marketing exec made an interesting prediction to me Sunday morning after the DGA results were known but before SAG’s ceremony: “It’s going to be a conservative year for awards, hence The King’s Speech will win Best Pic. Distribs who cater principally to critics while failing to understand the psychology and subtext of voters and address them directly have an uphill battle to win awards”. But another longtime Academy member and former studio head I spoke to last night told me he’s still voting for The Social Network. Harvey, that’s one more vote to start working on.