Welcome to the first installment of this year’s Oscar countdown series. We’re going to try to make an annual tradition of having a series of posts looking back on past Oscar winners in specific categories. To kick this off, this year we are starting with Best Picture winners. Each week between now and the Oscars, we’ll look back on a Best Picture winner and discuss some things we like about it, some things we don’t, and whether, now that time has passed, the film has really held up as the best of the year it was released.
Alex is feeling a little under the weather this week, so I’ll be writing solo for this review of Tom Hooper’s 2010 drama The King’s Speech. Starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter, the film tells the story of how the future King George V (Firth) overcame a stammer with the help of a speech and language therapist named Lionel Logue (Rush). In addition to Best Picture, The King’s Speech took home Oscars for Best Director, Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay. It was also nominated in an additional eight categories. It tied Inception for the most Oscar wins of the year. Christopher Nolan was snubbed out of a Best Director nomination, but he did get to watch his mind-bending masterpiece take awards for Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing and Best Visual Effects.
Ten years later, greatest strength of The King’s Speech is the acting. Firth’s performance is still a career best, and it’s a shame he hasn’t really been in anything great (or at least anything where he stood out) since. The opening scene at Wembley Stadium is enough proof on its own that this was one of the best performances of the decade and certainly the best lead performance of 2010. The chemistry between Firth and Rush is also a highlight. The two are given some excellent dialogue to work with and watching the back and forth between therapist and patient will give you lots of feels, many of them surprisingly funny.
This is the point where I have to talk about Tom Hooper. Even ignoring the ongoing Cat-astrohpie that now mars his resume, Hooper has never been one of my favorite directors. He has helmed many good projects, ranging from the HBO miniseries John Adams to 2015’s The Danish Girl, as well as some musicals that ranged from meh (Les Miserables) to god awful nightmares.
Even some of his better works are marred by questionable stylistic choices. I love John Adams, but so much of it is filmed with canted angles that I every time I watch it I expect Paul Giamatti to say something like “Holy American Revolution Batman!” I also just don’t need to see every hair and pore on characters faces, something we all had to get used to with close up shots of Hugh Jackman in Les Miserables. There may be viewers who disagree with my complaints. Maybe Hooper’s stylistic choices generally work for them. They annoy me, but thankfully, The King’s Speech is one of Hooper’s more restrained works. He utilizes a lot of wide shots, and they are sometimes effective when trying to convey how boxed in or isolated King George V, or “Bertie” as he is referred to in most of the film’s dialogue, feels in his surroundings. In many of these wide shots, characters are not placed in the center of the screen as you would typically do, but off to the side, occupying as little as a quarter or a fifth of the frame. It’s noticeable, and only sporadically effective, but at least not distracting.
Where The King’s Speech falls short for me is that, by comparison, it is one of the least surprising and fresh films of 2010, and seems even less so looking back. There’s nothing wrong with a straightforward inspirational drama. This is a solid film and one I like, but one that also rests outside of my personal top five of 2010. The Social Network, Inception, The Fighter, Toy Story 3 and The Town all left a bigger impression on me and were more well-rounded cinematic experiences. That said, it’s arguably the best acted film of 2010, and that remains quite an achievement.