The film industry’s big night out began with a fresh layer of snow over the Hollywood Hills and a hasty email from Oscar organisers apologising for the fact that they would be unable to provide the scantily-clad guests tiptoeing up their football pitch of a red carpet with a fully-functional outdoor heating system.
It ended with a great British victory, to match the Anglified weather, as The King’s Speech, a historical drama about the stammering King George VI’s relationship with his speech therapist, justified heavy favouritism to carry off four of this year’s Academy Awards, including the top prize of Best Picture.
The result wasn’t quite a royal flush for the well-made film, since it had been short-listed in a total of a dozen categories. But given its domination of major categories, you could certainly liken it to a coronation: Tom Hooper won for Best Director, David Seidler bagged Best Original Screenplay, and Colin Firth was named Best Actor for his performance in the title role.
“I’ve a feeling my career may have just peaked,” was how Firth put it, as he accepted the trophy he has spent the last three months campaigning for. The former Mr Darcy’s bank balance has also probably peaked: despite being made for the comparatively-paltry budget of £9 million, The King’s Speech’s success has already helped it return £150m at the box office.
On an evening when the vast majority of statuettes went to heavy favourites, Natalie Portman was earlier named Best Actress for her role in Black Swan, a thriller set in the world of ballet, while Melissa Leo and an uncharacteristically-bonhomious Christian Bale won in the Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress categories for their work in the boxing biopic The Fighter.
A movie about the founding of Facebook, The Social Network, had been billed as the biggest rival to The King’s Speech. But in the event, it had to make do with three awards, the most prominent of which went to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. The other big winners were the summer blockbuster Inception, which won four technical gongs, Toy Story 3, which won two Oscars including Best Animated feature.
Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland meanwhile won both costume categories. The director’s wife Helena Bonham Carter, who stared in both that film and The King’s Speech (where she played the Queen Mother) duly pitched-up one of the event’s most eccentric outfits: a black velvet corseted dress, teamed with a shin-sized gaiter constructed from a Union Jack flag.
Though almost all of 2011’s most important Oscars went to strong odds-on favourites, the night was not without its moments of unpredictability.
A faintly surreal atmosphere pervaded on the red carpet, thanks to the failure of celebrity designers to compensate for a cold snap which brought some of LA’s coldest temperatures on record. Hailee Steinfeld, the 14-year-old Best Supporting Actress nominee frmo True Grit was barely able to talk as she entered the Kodak Theatre, thanks to her chattering teeth.
The ceremony’s first brush with history came roughly 15 minutes in, when a delighted Melissa Leo waltzed on stage to collect her award, and in her excitement became the first person in the event’s 83-years to utter the four-letter word known across Middle America as the “f-bomb.”
Since the ceremony is broadcast on time delay, the expltive was bleeped out before it reached the nation’s living rooms. Later, backstage, she nonetheless issued a grovelling apology. “There’s a great deal of the English language that’s in my vernacular,” he said. “[But] it was a very inappropriate place to use that word in particular.”
Leo had collected the trophy from 94-year-old Kirk Douglas. He managed to be remarkably chipper, given his advancing years, but there were those who questioned the wisdom of his appearance. It had been arranged after last year’s Oscar winners Christophe Waltz and Mo’Nique declined invitations to present this year’s awards.
A further talking-point revolved around the gown chosen by the night’s leading lady, Natalie Portman. She is paid a small fortune to be the “face” of couture house Dior, but decided instead to turn up in a purple outfit from rival house Rodarte.
The decision was widely interpreted as a snub to Dior designer John Galliano, who was arrested last week after allegedly making anti-Semitic remarks during a bar-room brawl. When Portman, who is Jewish, was asked about the matter afterwards, a PR representative intervened to say that she “won’t be discussing” it. The entire exchange was later edited-out from official transcripts of her backstage press conference.
More soul-searching revolved around Inside Job, a damning investigation into the 2008 financial crisis, which won Best Documentary. Its creator Charles Ferguson used his victory speech to note that: “three years after a horrific financial crisis caused by massive fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that’s wrong.”
Success for The King’s Speech meanwhile promised to send at least a minor ripple through British politics. The film was made thanks to a £1m grant organised by the UK Film Council (which now stands to make a profit of at least £10m on that investment). But thanks to David Cameron’s recent spending cuts, that organisation is about to be abolished.
When The Independent asked Colin Firth what his Oscar success said regarding the wisdom of Mr Cameron’s policy, he replied: “I don’t really want to get entangled in political judgment on that… But I do think that, on the face of things, it was a short sighted decision.”
It seems churlish to dwell on the failures of British cinema, however, given the breath of success for home-grown talent. Dave Elsey won his second Oscar for Best Make-Up for his work on The Wolfman. And Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb, of the London-based firm Double Negative, won Visual Effects award for the blockbuster Inception.
One of the night’s great fairytales meanwhile revolved around a virtually-unknown UK producer called Andrew Ruhemann. He won the Best Animated Short award, for his work on The Lost Thing, and afterwards informed reporters that he hoped the victory would lead to him being interviewed on Radio Four’s Today programme – a sentiment in keeping with the spirit of what felt like a very British affair.
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