Hammond Analysis: Oscar After SAG, DGA

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.

    1. The article is talking about the split between who won the DGA voter vs. who won the Oscar not the split between who won Best Director vs. Best Picture at the Oscar ceremony.

  1. Agreed, if there is a split (which at this point I doubt), it will be like 2005. Crash/sentimental bait wins Best Picture and the more deserving film wins Best Director. However, I think The King’s Speech will sweep almost all awards it’s nominated for, save for Best Supporting Actor, Best Editing and maybe Best Supporting Actress.

    Quick question, though: If The King’s Speech was the exact same movie, had the exact same cast and the only difference being that it was shot on video instead of 35mm….if it was on HBO would you know the difference from it and every other historical drama on premium cable? I doubt it.

    1. The King’s Speech is so NOT an HBO movie.

      Yes, it’s historical, and yes it’s a drama but this movie connects with people (regular people who don’t watch HBO movies) in a way that very few films are able do. It just works. It’s hard to put your finger on exactly why it all works so well but it does.

      Go see it. You’ll probably like it, too.

      1. I have seen it and liked it a lot. With that said I did not love the film. It was engaging and well made, but it did not emotionally move me the way it apparently did others. I thought the nominees of The Fighter, 127 Hours, True Grit, Black Swan and even Toy Story 3 were more cathartic. I was not as emotionally invested in Zuckerberg as “Bertie,” but The Social Network impressed me in how perfect it was and what a fascinating viewing it made. When I saw TKS it reminded me a lot of how I felt when I watched John Adams or The Pacific. I later discovered it was directed by the same man who made John Adams. It then it all made sense for me.

        1. There’s one thing that really bothers me about this “perfect movie.” The opening breakup scene between Mark and Erica is regaled by all its fans, but when I saw it, all I could think was why was this girl with him in the first place? There was nothing in the rest of the movie showing anything that resembled boyfriend-like behavior that would have attracted her. I couldn’t see any plausible way that such an intelligent, attractive, sensible and grounded girl like her would even go on a first date with an insulting jerk like him, much less be his girlfriend. She seemed like a plot device to me, rather than a real person. Anyway, that element tainted the movie for me, though obviously not for you and many others.

        2. Trust me, Tom Hooper was the biggest jerk on John Adams. Did anyone notice at the Emmys that Tom Hanks nor his producer even mentioned Hooper when accepting the award for Best Miniseries? And Hooper did not win Best Director for his efforts, probably a reflection on how much the cast and crew loathed him.

  2. Raine, I had the same thoughts. It’s budget is no different than most HBO movies so it probably would have been shot the same way. And there certainly wouldn’t be the language/rating issues that now plague it. But, lucky for Hooper, it went theatrical and now he’s getting the well-deserved accolades. He hit the lotto! Shows you the impact of a project when it works theatrically as opposed to premiering on the small screen.

    1. I enjoyed “The Social Network”, but to be honest, it had the same “HBO Movie” feeling that “The Kings Speech” had.

  3. The Kings speech will sweep at the Oscars. Lets get a grip , its so much better – both in writing & acting than TSN. AS for critics loving it- They aren’t a group that are always right.Most people I know didn’t like TSN . Its boring

    1. I agree. Films like The Kings Speech and True Grit are grand, emotional and captivating. The Social Network was a bore. A nomination is one thing, however it is not worthy of a best picture win.

      1. It’s odd that you say that, because as the lights came up after viewing THE KING’S SPEECH, my first thought was “Huh. I was bored for most of that.” I find its award success somewhat beguiling, because like the earlier commenters, it feels slight to me. (But what do I know? I’d vote TOY STORY 3, BLACK SWAN, and TRUE GRIT, in that order.)

    2. I expect showboater Aaron Sorkin to also lose best adapted
      sc., which gives “King” A SWEEP. If his script had been better
      there’d be one character you like !

      1. Are you kidding me? Let’s get real here, The Social Network had one of the most brilliant scripts in recent memory. While The Kings Speech will probably win Best Pic at this point (Oscar seems to love big sweeping emotional epics), it would be a crime if TSN didn’t win Original Screenplay. That script was Sorkin at his finest.

        1. Just to straighten this out: THE SOCIAL NETWORK and THE KING’S SPEECH can both win Best Screenplay Oscars, as they’re in different categories–TSN in Adapted, TKS in Original.

  4. Even BBC1 would be ashamed to have the King’s Speech as one of its production. It is bland, unoriginal and terribly soulless. Hooper wining the DGA, despite his pedestrian direction, and the SAG ensemble win for a cast that includes some of the most ridiculous performances of the year (Guy Pearce and especially Timothy Spall) are just ludicrous.

  5. Not a peep about the controversy over the historical revisionism in The King’s Speech? Everyone’s simply going to skip over the Nazi appeasement of George VI, conveniently ignored in the film? Yes, he and his family made up for it by hanging tough in London while the buzzbombs flew overhead, but The King’s Speech doesn’t go that far now, does it? It covers the appeasement period, but not the monarch’s meddling in the affairs of state during that period. That speech wasn’t just about rallying the empire to fight the Axis, it was also about a king having to eat some crow. But not in the hagiography that is this movie.

    As for the argument that the film’s really only about a man overcoming a handicap, and Seidler’s heartwarming story of finding a hero in his own struggles, I’m totally with him on the latter. Bravo. As for the former, if that were truly the case, this would be a Lifetime movie. And if you’re using the handicap as a justification for hagiography – as at least one historian who consulted on the film implied – you’re not doing the handicapped any favors. Stuttering is not exactly the kind of handicap that affects your political acumen.

  6. And anybody that seriously thinks that Hooper won the DGA because of his talent should consult. The only reason he won, over 4 other directors all incredibly more talented than him, is because the majority of the DGA members are jobless TV directors and only wish they could make it like Hooper did after John Adams. It just gives them some hope than even when you are a mild and talentless director you can still make it in Hollywood. It’s all about identification, not honouring the best.

  7. And the only reason why Hooper won the DGA is because he comes from TV and the majority of DGA members (TV directors for most of them) identified with him and his success. Nothing about talent here. All the other 4 directors nominated are incredibly more gifted than him.

  8. My goodness, Jeremie. As a member of the DGA, I voted for Tom Hooper and voted for him because I thought he did an outstanding job. If you are a director, I shudder at the thought of what it must be like to work on set with you. You seem all-knowing, incredibly judgmental and self-righteous. Qualities that don’t always lend themselves to positive outcomes when working with others. As for Hammond’s thorough pre-Oscar analysis (they seem to come on a daily basis…perhaps a bit of overkill), Fincher seemed stunned at his loss. I truly felt bad for the guy.

  9. As much as I enjoyed The King’s Speech, I’m surprised to see its recent run at the various Guilds. The quality of this year’s competing films strikes me as too evenly matched for there to be such an overwhelming frontrunner. I do think it richly deserved its SAG Ensemble Award, however.

    I also think The King’s Speech is a better rendered film overall than The Social Network. I think The Social Network’s problem right now is that its marketing campaign is proving to be much more ambitious than the movie itself. For all the hype about The Social Network being the film that Facebook didn’t want its users to see, there was little in the movie to back that up. So what if the idea wasn’t original to Zuckerberg and he (allegedly) implemented out of revenge/a desire for social status? The film is missing what would have been a timely consideration of issues like our evolving attitudes toward privacy and what friendship means in this Facebook age. Although I understand if those were sacrificed for tautness of storytelling, I think the film would have been far more interesting if it had done more to look at the evolution of Facebook and the lives of its early builders as a prism through which to explore issues like privacy and friendship. It would have made for more three-dimensional characters and a more important movie if it had.

    One thing I do find interesting is the way the industry seems to be rejecting the critics’ overwhelming choice. In both movies and music, there has been an increased trend whereby the critics collectively latch onto one or two fashionable choices, because it is suddenly important for their respective journalistic institutions to be seen as having granted their imprimatur to the product in question. Maybe it’s because the world of blogging has reduced the value of any one critic’s voice (a trend stronger in music than in film criticism, I think), meaning that relevance depends on numbers? I think the film industry is ahead of the music industry in its ability to flout the would-be conventional wisdom.

  10. If you compare The King’s Speech with 2007’s The Queen, it becomes obvious that TKS was a solid, very good, linear film. Yes, worthy of awards, but not a brilliant Best Picture worthy one. I don’t agree with the TSN bashers here. It was a thought-provoking and ironic examination of how the rules have changed in our tech-crazy world, with brilliant, layered, characters. And the craftsmanship in taking what could easily have been a 60 minutes segment and creating something so compelling – wow. I really can’t understand how anyone could say it was boring. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. Finally, that soundtrack…so fresh and epic. This movie looks forward, not back. And if not TSN, Black Swan should take it.

    1. The lack of character development is actually one of the strongest criticisms I would make of The Social Network, and I don’t think it was thought provoking enough. I think The Social Network started off with that high minded goal (that it would become “this generation’s Wall Street” was the oft-repeated line, I think). But it turns out that Facebook is merely a setting for the devolution of a friendship, and the only larger issue that really gets explored is that of intellectual property. Frankly they didn’t even go as far with that issue as they could have, given the Napster tie in. It’s too bad. It could have been a defining movie of our time.

      That said, The King’s Speech is also merely a well executed movie without being a great one. The cast is a delight to watch on the screen and the film is crisply presented. It may win simply because it is more likable and because it doesn’t fail at achieving higher goals the way The Social Network does.

      Neither of these films are 2010’s best and neither deserves the sweep (whether of critical hosannas or Academy/Guild hosannas) that each has achieved so far. I’m hoping for an Academy night in which the awards are spread out over the multiple films that deserve recognition.

    2. Could not agree with you more. TSN is brilliant and people will remember it and watch it many years later, but TKS, just as any other film of that calibre, will soon be forgotten… It’s sad really that the Guild and Academy voters are still so conventional.

  11. Could not agree with you more. In 10 years, The Social Network will be the film everyone looks back on as the ultimate statement for our times. It’s about how we communicate, all told masterfully through the eyes of a young man who was paralyzed in how HE communicated. Jesse Eisenberg was fantastic. Nuanced, layered… perfect. This is the ‘Best Picture’ of the year. By far.

  12. OK…so now I’m starting to think TSN’s chances are still not over. Why? Because thats what everyone else is thinking now that TKS has sweep the guilds.

    I have a sneaking feeling that TKS will win many (probably the majority) of the awards its nominated for, but that ultimately TSN will still win Best Picture. I’m thinking The Social Network will win Screenplay, Score and Best Picture. The King’s Speech will win Directing, Screenplay, Actor, Supp Actor and/or Actress and then a lot of their techs. Think The Godfather vs. Cabaret.

    Either way, I’m kind of glad that there is a showdown. Makes the Oscars more fun to watch. The last exciting race for Best Picture was Chicago vs. The Pianist (and that was just developed as the ceremony progressed).

    1. @AMCFan, your comment made me sad because while both TSN and TKS are smart, well-done films neither one is in the same league as The Godfather or Cabaret (or even the league under that). They’re fine films and one will win the Oscar, but if you look at the films that were made in the 70s and the films that have been made in the last 10 years, unless you only care about special effects, you can’t help but cry a river.

    1. are you being sarcastic? this is the most non-nailbiting season in recent memory. the only thing i’m looking forward to is james franco and anne hathaway as hosts.

  13. This is the reason the oscars should be in March — to allow more time for voters to rethink, rewatch and really be able to see all the nominated pictures and make the decision they think is best. When the pianist won actor, director and chicago won best pic — it was because the oscars were in March. Voters and audiences need to see all ten films and by the oscars rushing the ceremony to late february, even thinking of making it earlier — doesn’t allow everyone to see the films and vote.

  14. I suspect that what most of the people commenting here are forgetting is the critical element of the average age of Acad voters. I saw the film with my parents, both of whom remembered the events and the speeches (the king’s, Churchill’s, etc.) vividly, even though they were only children at the time. I enjoyed the film, but it moved them profoundly.

  15. Why hasn’t anybody figured out that SAG likes to vote for films that they get screeners of (i.e., Crash). TKS sent the screener and lots of ads. No ads from anybody else and just a screener from TSN. The iTunes downloads were a pain in the ass (about 3-4 hours per film) and you can’t really see what the actor is doing on your pc or iPhone. So studios learn what Harvey did years ago — send screeners to SAG and you are more lilely to get votes from SAG.

    1. The same is true for WGA voters which at around one tenth the size of SAG get many more screeners. They make a huge difference in making it easy to see the movie and a number of my wirter friends will only vote for movies that have sent screeners on principle (The principle of free loot).

  16. Yes, the academy will go for the feel good movie also because it has all the momentum. It’s a lock. Social Network peaked too soon.

  17. I am really dissapointed in the recent DGA and SAG results. I find TKS very ordinary and would’ve loved to see TSN get it all… I really don’t get the people who are saying that it was boring… It was a brilliant, exiting, clever film. And it deserves to take home the gold. That looks like it wont be so.. I did not hate TKS don’t get me wrong, but I really didn’t love it at all. It is just like any other British royalty film. And moreover, I found Colin Firth’s performance irritating and absurd. He made Bertie seem mentally retarded really. His performance last year on the other hand in the Single Man was astounding, so I don’t mind him getting the Oscar with that in mind. I really think that the reason a great film like TSN is being overlooked by the guilds is because a vast portion of the voters are British and they will vote for anything that’s British… So any semi-decent British film has a huge advantage… Something needs to change!

  18. This awards season has become very interesting indeed. Thanks to Pete Hammond for keeping us in the loop with whats happening on the ground.

    Personally I’m not a fan of TKS sweeping all of the guild awards and gaining critical momentum heading into the Ocsars. While I thought it was a very well made movie and I enjoyed it, it did not have a lasting affect on me. It didn’t provoke, it didn’t make me think, if anything it slightly inspired, but that’s about all. It reminded me very much of The Queen. Great movie, quite watchable, but one the whole a bit…plain. TSN on the other hand seemed current, fresh and thought-provoking. I thought it was a brilliant portrayal of the now and I must say that the script was utterly fantastic. I think it’s downfall in the eyes with many guild voters is that it views a bit devoid of emotion. The word that I am hearing a lot of people use when referring to it is “cold”.

    I just hope that Scott Rudin and Sony really take heed to what has transpired with the guild awards and really start trying to rally voters around this picture. Take a page out of Harvey’s book and literally beat voters over the head with your film until they vote for it. Worked for Shakespere in Love…why not TSN?

Comments are closed.