An Oscar coronation for 'The King's Speech'

Franco flops, while Hathaway puts a happy face on a train wreck at the 'young, hip,' atrophied Oscars

In an Oscar ceremony that raised the bar for boredom, The King’s Speech triumphed as predicted last night, winning  four of its dozen nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay. It was a night of few surprises as Natalie Portman tearfully accepted Best Actress for Black Swan, Christian Bale and Melissa Leo took the supporting categories for The Fighter, Inception dominated the technical awards, and The Social Network‘s Aaron Sorkin gave a dense, intense speech in accepting the prize for Best Adapted Screenplay. For Canada, there was a national sigh of dismay as Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies, a strong contender for Best Foreign Language Film, lost to In A Better World, by Danish director Suzanne Bier.  And True Grit, which tied The Social Network with 10 nominations, didn’t win a single one. The Coen brothers, caught fidgeting in their seats in one lingering cutaway, seemed even more disinterested as losers than they were when they won for No Country For Old Men two years ago.

In the Oscar party I attended—as I sat in a corner, typing—the gang agreed it was most tedious Oscar night  of all time. Much of it unfolded as a surreal tussle between youth and age. Sharing her duties with a wooden James Franco, who looked like he’d rather be anywhere else, a radiant Anne Hathaway made history as the youngest performer ever to host the Academy Awards. (She’s 28.) And David Seidler, 73, the scribe behind The King’s Speech, became the oldest writer ever to win Best Original Screenplay. Hathaway made light of the new “young and hip” Oscars, telling Franco, “You look very appealing to a younger demographic.” But moments later, 94-year-old Kirk Douglas staggered out to present Best Supporting Actress, hamming his way through on a cute-old-geezer show of stroke-slurred lechery as gave the Oscar to Melissa Leo—a sad spectacle played for laughs. It was weird. Night of the Living dead as live television. Despite the youth of the hosts, and a couple of straining-to-be-hip mash-up montages, this ceremony doted on Old Hollywood more than usual, with homages to vintage movies and a hosting cameo by Billy Crystal, who stepped onstage like a last-minute savior, and summoned up a spectral vision of Bob Hope, the ghost host of Oscars Past.

My favorite moment, aside from Colin Firth’s blithely eloquent King’s Speech speech, was when Christian Bale, on the cusp of completely rehabilitating his reputation with an effusive and humble oration, went blank as he thanked his new wife—appearing to forget her name. The other highlight was when a brillo-haired dynamo got up to accept a short film Oscar, saying he should have got a haircut, and then thanked his mom for providing craft services. It was a night of mothers. Hathaway had her mother feed her lines from the audience; Franco used his grandmother. In accepting the directing Oscar for The King’s Speech, Tom Hooper thanked his mother for drawing his attention to Seidler’s original stage play. Fickle Hollywood has ditched God, who didn’t get thanked once, and now Mom is taking all the credit.

Here’s my scrambled blow-by-blow of the night’s proceedings, blogged from Helga Stephenson’s annual Oscar party in Toronto:

The Red Carpet

I’ve had Oscar fatigue for weeks now. So glad the damn thing is finally underway. There seem to be a lot red gowns. Sandra Bullock. Anne Hathaway. Jennifer Hudson. Penelope Cruz. Jennifer Lawrence. Red is the new black, but I’ve already read about that this afternoon in the Sunday New York Times. Justin Timberlake muses philosophically on the red carpet, which covers Hollywood Boulevard, and points out that it’s not really red. It’s fuchsia. . .   Russell Brand shows up on the carpet with his mother, but doesn’t let her speak as he makes jokes about the, uh carpet. . .   Gwyneth Paltrow, who sagely advises against wearing anything avant garde to the Academy Awards, is wrapped a Calvin Klein gown so slinky and metallic someone at our party suggests she’s impersonating an Oscar. . . Nicole Kidman, that other movie star with a rock hubby, discusses the music she and Keith Urban listened to in the car on the way over: “Mellow.” Nicole sounds wonderfully relaxed (knowing she’ll lose to Natalie Portman) and strangely normal. Maybe the Tom Cruise/Scientology thing has finally worn off.

The Big Opening

James Franco and Anne Hathaway, billed as “the naked girl from Love and Other Drugs and the guy from General Hospital” mug their way through a mash-up of the nominated films, designed as a spoof of Inception—they’re invading Alec Baldwin’s dream. Or so it seems until Baldwin shows up and says: “This isn’t my dream. If this were my dream I’d be hosting the Oscars.” Franco and Hathaway get artfully inserted into shots of all 10 movies, and there are some funny moments. Like when Hathaway tells King George, who’s giving a speech in front of that massive microphone at the stadium: “I have good news from the future. Microphones get smaller.”

Our host couple is spirited from the mock Inception montage onto the Oscar stage, inexplicably, via the De Lorean Back to the Future time machine.

James Franco and Anne Hathaway do the mandatory bit about him being nominated and her not—”It  used to be you get naked, you get nominated,” she says. “Not any more.”

As Hathaway throws to her mother in the audience, and Franco throws to his grandmother, you can feel the air start to go out of the room. These two fine and attractive actors are stuck with a lame script, and learning how to do stand-up comedy in front of a zillion people. It’s not good.

Art Direction

Tom Hanks presents the first Oscar to Alice in Wonderland. The man and woman who accept it appear to be in mortal agony. It’s like a parody of an Oscar speech. As they struggle to the end of it, the man, his hand shaking uncontrollably, tries to put a Mad Hatter hat on his Oscar’s head.


Wally Pfister takes it for Inception. The first minor upset. Most of the smart money at our gathering figured it would Roger Deakins for True Grit. The Pfister guy has his glasses propped up on his forehead, which is a weird look. Maybe cultivated from all those years of putting his eye in front of a lens.

Supporting Actress

They bring out Kirk Douglas. Usually they save the really old people as surprises at the end of the show. Guess it makes sense to bring up them up early, before they start to fade. “You look much better out of the cave,” Kirk mutters to Franco. Then he leers at Franco’s co-host. “I want to thank Miss Hathaway. She’s gorgeous. Where were you when I was making pictures?”

Cut to the five Supporting Actress nominees waiting for Douglas to get through his meandering routine. Douglas cruelly stretches it out.

Melissa Leo wins. Of course. She has been universally touted as the front runner, having won in all the previous awards, but she seems to think her acting duties extend to acting shocked that she’s won. Her acceptance speech is a horrible, stilted, crass performance that goes on forever.  “I know there’s a lot of people who have said a lot of real nice things to me for several months now. But I’m just shakin’ in my boots now. . . I’m speechless. God there are people up there too [staring dumbfounded at the balcony, as if she’s never seen one before]. When I watched Kate a couple of years ago, it looked so fuckin’ easy. . . oops!” [Later we learn the American channels bleeped her; CTV didn’t]. Most of all she wants to thank the Academy of Motion Picture Sciences. “Thank you Academy because it’s about sellin’ motion pictures and respectin’ the work!” Egad. At least get the name right if it means so much to you—it’s the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Animated Feature

The Social Network‘s Justin Timberlake jokes that he’s Banksy, and echoes a bit of Kirk’s schtick, playing for time. Then, with Mila Kunas of Black Swan, he presents the Oscar to Toy Story 3. Duh.


Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem, show up in matching white tuxedos. Bardem looks, well, a little more filled out than usual. One of our crowd cracks: “Javier is clearly putting on pregnancy weight. In his white tux, he looks like a Krispy Kreme.”

They hand Best Adapted Screenplay to Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network. No surprise there. Sorkin, a wordsmith on a mission, says, “It’s impossible to describe what it feels like to be handed the award given to Paddy Chayefsky 35 years ago for another movie with Network in the title.” After praising David Fincher’s “ungodly artfulness,” (a curious phrase), he winds up telling his daughter, “Roxy Sorkin, your father just won the Academy Award. I’m going to have to insist on some respect from your guinea pig.”

As David Seidler accepts for The King’s Speech, he has trouble locating the microphone on the stage. “The writer’s speech!” he says. “This is terrifying. My father always said to me I’d be a late bloomer. I believe I’m the oldest person to win this particular award. I hope that record is broken quickly and often. . . I would like to thank Her Majesty the Queen for not putting me in The Tower of London for using the Melissa Leo F-word”—referring to the profanity that Harvey Weinstein wants to strip from the film so he can put a PG-rated version in theatres.

Anne Hathaway is now in a pony tail and tux, belting out “On My Own.” Hey, the girl can sing.

Franco is a red dress and a Marilyn Monroe wig. “The weird part,” he says, “is I just got a text message from Charlie Sheen.”

Foreign Language Film

To present the subtitled film award, naughty Russell Brand does a bit with Helen Mirren, mistranslating her as she speaks immaculate French, putting words in her mouth like, “My Oscar-winning performance as a queen was much more convincing than Colin Firth’s as a King.”

And then . . . oh no! Our Canadian hopes are crushed as Suzanne Bier wins for In a Better World. I finally saw her movie last night. I don’t think it’s better than Villeneuve’s Incendies. But it’s  good, and I had a sinking feeling it would win. Both it and Incendies, coincidentally, link up lives in the Third World and the West, and both are about trying to break a vicious cycle of violence. But unlike Incendies, which is devastating, In A Better World is endowed with the kind of uplifting, redemptive ending that’s right up Oscar’s alley.

Supporting Actor

Reese Witherspoon does the honours. Christian Bale, as predicted, takes it. Big bushy beard, salt-o-the-earth accent. “Bloody hell. A room full of talented and inspirational people, and what am I doing here?” In thanking Melissa Leo, he says “I’m not going to drop the f-bomb like she did. I’ve dropped enough of those before.” (Reference to his notorious on-set tantrum). And just when he’s doing so well at showing the world that he’s not a dickhead, he’s on the cusp of thanking  “my wonderful wife. . . ” and he goes blank. Blank! He seems to have forgotten his new bride’s name. Either that or he’s so choked up he can’t speak. But it seems more like the former, a husband’s worst nightmare. Bale recovers by reverting to script, calling her “my mast through the storms of life,” and wraps with a heartfelt nod to his daughter, “my little girl who’s taught me so much more than I’ll ever be able to teach her.” But the damage is done. I would love to be a fly on the wall in that car-ride home.


Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman give Best Score to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for The Social Network. “Wow, is this really happening,” says Trent Reznor, “to be standing up here in this company is humbling and flattering beyond words.” They give a model acceptance speech, and this award is a minor landmark—their largely electronic score (aside from those two plangent piano notes) is not the kind of stuff that usually wins.


We’re trying to pay attention to the sound category but we can’t stop talking about presenter Scarlett Johansson’s oh-so-casual hair, which our crowd doesn’t like much, versus her lacy plum gown, which they adore. Both sound editing and sound mixing go to Inception. So far its director, Christopher Nolan, has been mentioned more than anyone. Chris Nolan 4, God 0. But Chris Nolan doesn’t look very happy. It’s as if he and David Fincher are having a contest over who can look the most miserable. Fincher is winning.

In Helga’s living room, the verdicts are coming in on Franco and Hathaway. “He’s got a commitment issue. . . She’s warm and expansive. . . She’s at least large enough for the room. . . He doesn’t have anything to do . . . he looks like a disgruntled maitre’d . . . She looks great in every one of those gowns . . . He’s committed career suicide.” Well, career suicide may be stretching it, but Franco is dying out there. His heart just doesn’t seem to be in it. And his ad libs? Telling the sound guys “Congratulation, nerds” just doesn’t cut it.

Make Up

Another defeat for Canada. Even after a heroic campaign by Robert Lantos, Barney’s Version loses the Make Up Oscar to The Wolfman. Sounds elementary. Making Benicio Del Toro look like a wolf is presumably harder than aging Paul Giamatti and Dustin Hoffman. Well, maybe not. Cate Blanchett gives out this award, and costume design, and she herself is wearing a strange pink gown with a beaded halo surrounding a cameo-shaped Star Fleet circle thingy at he bodice. . . I dunno. I give up. I’m a film critic. Don’t ask me to judge fashion.

Short Films

Jake Gyllenhaal, says “Shorts are the hardest category to pick on your Oscar ballot,” and turns that into an argument for seeing them. Can’t argue with that.

The winner of Best Live Action Short God of Love is a kid with a wild mop of curly hair. He bounds up on the stage with more energy than anyone we’ve seen all night and, speaking at a Social Network clip: “I shoulda got a haircut. Hey everybody! I invite the world to check out these films, you can find them on iTunes.” He thanks everyone including his mother, “who did craft services.” Lovely speech. Remembers wife’s name, first name and last name.


Anne Hathaway really seems to be enjoying herself. Getting into the swing of it. “There are many cool things about this job,” after her umpteenth costume change. “One of them is getting to wear a dress that looks like this,” and  she shimmys so her fronds swing free. Cute. Then she introduces Oprah, who’s a walking rolling coaster of satiny, sequined curves. She presents “the best movie that did not let us escape.” Best documentary justifiably goes to Inside Job.

Its director, Charles Ferguson, finally lends some political substance to an event that has been unusually politics-free. (Are there no lapel ribbons for Libya?) “Forgive me,” he says, “but I must start by pointing out that three years after a financial crisis caused by massive fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail. And that’s wrong. . . .” Then he offers some graceful thanks and says, “let the record show that I’m not wearing jeans.”

Visual Effects & Film Editing

Surprise. Like a jack-in-a-box, out comes Billy Crystal. Standing ovation. “Well, so where was I? . . . ” Crystal, the old master , introduces the older master, a ghostly apparition of former Oscar host Bob Hope: “Bob hosted it 18 times. I hosted it eight and was pooped after two. I never worked with Bob Hope. I never met him. I was hosting and Bob Hope was in the audience. I found myself looking at Bob Hope, right at Bob Hope’s face. He blew me a kiss and a very affectionate little kiss, and as soon as the camera was away he flipped me off.” Then Bob Hope, in living black and white, introduces Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr. who compete voraciously for laughs as they present Visual Effects, which goes to Inception. The team fails to thank Chris Nolan. They’re fired.

Editing goes, less predictably, to The Social Network.

Franco: “I’m a little offended by some of the movie titles this year. Winter’s Bone. Rabbit Hole. How to Train Your Dragon. That’s disgusting.” His line is an inferior version of the same joke Ricky Gervais did at the Golden Globes.

We are trying to figure out what’s wrong with Franco. There’s some debate about whether or not he’s stoned. Maybe he’s just sad about his script.

Original Song

Gwyneth Paltrow is introduced as “country music’s newest star.” Huh?

She stands there in a flesh-coloured dress, a vision in beige, and sings like a failing contestant on American Idol. Off-key. The pained expression on her face at the ends suggests she knows it.

Randy Newman takes the award, pointing out he’s been nominated 20 times and this is his second win. At the nominess lunch, he says, he was told not to pull a list out of my pocket. “It’s bad television.” Then he says, “I’ve been on this show any number of times and I’ve slowed it down every time.”

He’s may be old but he’s a breath of fresh air. “There’s only four songs?” he carps. “Why? They can’t find a fifth song?”

Celine sings ‘Smile’ for the montage of Dead People, and the one question we’re all asking in Helga’s living room is: Where the hell is Maury Chaykin?? Shameful.

It’s 11 pm and the crowd is getting restless. We’re reduced to critiquing James Franco’s tux and reminiscing about the wonderful moment when the short film guy said he should have got a haircut.


We’re loving the fashion show of Anne Hathaway’s dresses, as she steps out in Number 7, something slinky in indigo. She introduces Hilary Swank, female Oscar groundbreaker, who introduces Kathryn Bigelow, another female Oscar groundbreaker, who gives the directing Oscar to Tom Hooper.

Add another mum to the tributes. Hooper says his mother saw a play called The King’s Speech and said, “Tom, I think I’ve found your next film. So with this, I honour you, and the moral of this story is: listen to your mother.”


Last year’s winner, and a nominee for True Grit, Jeff Bridges is the presenter. Natalie Portman, pregnant in purple, mounts the stairs, on the arm of her choreographer husband, who extends a dancer’s hand then lets it go with a flourish. “This is insane,” she says, “I truly sincerely wish the prize tonight was to get to work with my fellow nominees. I’m so in awe of you. I want to thank my parents who are right there for giving me my life and giving me the opportunity to work and showing me how to be a good human being by example. . . my friends who are everything to me no matter what’s going on in my career, and everyone who’s ever hired me, Mike Nichols who’s been my hero and my champion for the last decade. And Darren Aronofsky. . . and Benjamin, who choreographed the film and has now given me the most important role of life.” And on it goes . . .  She’s giving the entire credits to the film.


Sandra Bullock presents. She marches onstage in a lipstick-red dress gift-wrapped with a bow at her butt. And now the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Colin Firth’s King’s Speech speech. Which has to be good.

“I have a feeling my career’s just peaked.” he says.  Nice one. “I’m afraid I have to warn you that I’m experiencing stirrings somewhere in the upper adominals which are threatening to form dance moves, so I’m going to do my best do be brief.” And off he flies with an elegant string of thank-yous, to “David Seidler whose own struggles have given so many people the benefit of his very beautiful voice. . . Harvey Weinstein who first took me on 20 years ago when I was a mere child sensation, and all the people who have been rooting for me back home. And my very fortunate friendship with Tom Ford to whom I owe a very big piece of this. . . The Anglo-Italian-American-Canadian access that makes up my family . . . . Now if you’ll excuse me I have some impulses I have to attend to back stage.”

Colin, we all agree, is the toppermost of the poppermost. The ultimate class act. A royal triumph of virtuosic self-deprecation. Must be the Canadian in him.


Steven Spielberg presents. Adding a little sobering perspective, he salutes the nine Best Picture nominees that are not going to win tonight, thus joining the ranks of Citizen Kane, The Graduate and Raging Bull.

As a visual drumroll leading up to the presentation, the actual King’s Speech, the climactic radio oration that ends the movie, runs under a montage of all 10 best picture nominees. It’s a smart bit of editing, framing all 10 nominees in the context of war and conflict and triumphant resistance. But it’s all is a bit creepy, giving such prominence to the movie that is favoured to win, especially at the final point where King George VI says: “We shall prevail!” It’s enough to make you think that whoever prepared the montage was gambling that The King’s Speech would win. That’s just not cricket.

The whole Kingly gang gets onstage to bask in the glory. One of the producers thanks “my parents and my boyfriend Ben.” That’s a new one. Then a kids’ choir in tee-shirts invades the stage to sing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. One last desperate attempt to square the circle between the young and hold.

As for me, I would like to thank God—that it’s over.

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