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Oscar Night: Split Verdicts and King’s Helpers


James Franco and Anne Hathaway host the 83rd Annual Academy Awards on ABC Television. (Photo by: Michael Yada /©A.M.P.A.S)

There’s always something fun about coming home in a tux and writing up a story on deadline. It makes you feel like Joseph Cotten in Citizen Kane. And that particular masterpiece was referenced by Steven Spielberg when prepping everyone for the announcement of this year’s best picture – as an example of a great film that lost.

You could take comfort, he admonished the nominees, whether you win or not.

But by then, it seemed pretty certain which film was going to sweep that ultimate of above-the-line categories, Best Picture, as The King’s Speech had already taken best director, screenplay and actor.

That signaled something of a split in the evening’s above and below-the-line sensibilities, as Inception and The Social Network split most of the below-the-line categories, with even Disney’s Tim Burton-directed Alice in Wonderland taking a surprise duo of awards in the art direction and costume design categories.

Wally Pfister accepts the cinematography Oscar. (Photo by Michael Yada/©A.M.P.A.S.).

The former was somewhat surprising, at least to the show’s scriptwriters, as the opening broadcast segment spent a lot of time emphasizing the connection between production design and cinematography – the evening’s first two categories.

But the winners were split, with production designer Robert Stromberg, and set decorator Karen O’Hara winning for best art direction. Wally Pfister then won the best cinematography statue for his work on Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

Since Alice wasn’t even nominated for that category, but was in visual effects, we asked Stromberg if perhaps the stronger connection now – in such an increasingly “rendered” age – was between production design and VFX?

“I come from visual effects,” he said. “Now… the production designer is involved with effects more heavily, involved more in postproduction, which is actually good because the way it normally works is the production designer will sort of leave after the end of principal photography. Then you’re relying on the visual effects people to fill in those green screens.”

Paul Franklin and his team from Double Negative took the visual effects Oscar for Inception.

The actual visual effects winner was Paul Franklin and his team for Inception, though he’d become the favorite after winning the VES Award in that category. When Pfister won earlier for the same film, he made a point of thanking his “union crew,” a point he expanded on backstage. “I think what’s going on in Wisconsin is kind of madness right now,” he said of the attempts by the new conservative governor to smash the collective bargaining rights of state workers, thereby starting a rollback. “I’ve been a union member for 30 years and what the union has given to me is security for my family; they’ve given me healthcare in a country that otherwise does not provide healthcare. And I think the unions are a very important part of the middle class of America. So I stand strong behind any of the union members in this country and any other country because all we’re trying to do is get a decent wage and have medical care.”

Angus Wall (left) and Kirk Baxter accept the editing Oscar for their work on The Social Network. (Photo by Michael Yada/©A.M.P.A.S.).

It was a frank moment of politics that rarely came up backstage. Natalie Portman was asked about her feelings – as the face of Dior – on that fashion house’s recent contretemps over the suspension of its creative director, John Galliano, over an anti-Semitic tirade. She seemed willing to answer, but the Academy insisted on moving on. Similarly, Colin Firth was asked about whether the current Tory government’s cutting of government film funds in England was a good idea, in light of the fact that under the previous administration those funds provided seed money for this year’s revenue-rich Best Picture winner.

“I don’t really want to get entangled in the political judgment on that,” he said. “I tend to find that my rather insignificant opinions get more attention than they deserve, but I do think that on the face of it, that that was a short sighted decision. I do however think that the fact that the BFI (British Film Institute) seems to have taken up that role is very positive and I think that it was probably a sign that the government has recognized a need for a body like that.”

Trent Rezor (left) and Atticus Ross took the Oscar for best original score for their work on The Social Network.

And after coming round supporting the idea of such funding – which the film’s winning producers did later – he also denounced the idea of a coming PG-13 cut of The King’s Speech omitting much of the forfended “F-words” used by King George VI when overcoming his stuttering in the hands of Geoffrey Rush’s speech therapist. “I think the film has its integrity as it stands. I think that scene belongs where it is. I think it serves a purpose. I’m not someone who is casual about that kind of language… But in the context of this film, it could not be more edifying, more appropriate. It’s not vicious.”

Politics was also directed at the below-the-line winners, particularly those from The Social Network – in those categories it won for two teams: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ soundtrack and Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter’s editing. The latter were asked (as was writer Aaron Sorkin later) about Facebook’s potential role in the recent putative “social network”-fueled upheavals in the middle east, with Wall responding he never thought of “any historic significance we faced because we were trying to help tell a story that David Fincher was presenting. So we were reacting to material he gave. So it wasn’t a sort of role digging in research or worrying if we were treading on someone’s toes.”

Tom Hooper’s The Kings Speech took best picture, best original screenplay, best actor and best director. (Photo by Richard Harbaugh/©A.M.P.A.S.).

Winning director Tom Hooper didn’t refer to toes, but rather shoulders, when we asked about the evening’s award patterns, with his film winning the above-the-line categories, but shut out in the craft categories. Would he care to say anything about his BTL collaborators?

“I’m pleased you asked that. I’m standing here on the shoulders of an extraordinary team and some of whom are long-term collaborators, like Danny Cohen, my director of photography, who did John Adams and Longford (with me). The way he photographed this movie, I thought, was integral to turning something that could have been a series of talking heads, into something that was acknowledged as cinematic. (Production designer) Eve Stewart, I mean the wall in the consulting room has now become famous. The very first day of preproduction, she said, I am going to take you to Logue‘s consulting room. I’m in London, and I recognize London inside out.

“I had no idea this place existed. She led me to this real house and showed me this room, and I knew we had the movie when I saw that room. So her contributions have been immense. Tariq Anwar, my brilliant editor, cut American Beauty and The Madness of King George, among many other great films. It was his idea to choose Beethoven’s Seventh (on the soundtrack). All the classical musical choices are his, and I think this film is so much about the way it’s edited. It’s understated, but it’s very clean. And Jenny Beavan, costumes, and Frances Hannon on makeup, and you know, I think I was very blessed with an extraordinary team and I am very aware that this award is really an honor to them.”

His comments helped round out the honors for the nominated below the liners, in a year where no major “line-spanning” sweep signaled strong work in all categories.

And now that it’s March, it’s on to next year.

The winners of the 83rd annual Academy Awards are:

Art Direction
Alice in Wonderland (Walt Disney), Robert Stromberg (Production Design), Karen O’Hara (Set Decoration)

Inception (Warner Bros.) Wally Pfister

Actress in a Supporting Role
Melissa Leo in The Fighter (Paramount)

Animated Short Film
The Lost Thing (Nick Batzias for Madman Entertainment) A Passion Pictures Australia Production, Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann

Animated Feature Film
Toy Story 3 (Walt Disney) Lee Unkrich

Adapted Screenplay
The Social Network (Sony Pictures Releasing), Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin

Original Screenplay
The King’s Speech (The Weinstein Company), Screenplay by David Seidler

Foreign Language Film
In a Better World, Denmark

Actor in a Supporting Role
Christian Bale in The Fighter (Paramount)

Music (Original Score)
The Social Network (Sony Pictures Releasing) Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Sound Mixing
Inception (Warner Bros.) Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo and Ed Novick

Sound Editing
Inception (Warner Bros.) Richard King

The Wolfman (Universal) Rick Baker and Dave Elsey

Costume Design
Alice in Wonderland (Walt Disney) Colleen Atwood

Documentary (Short Subject)
Strangers No More Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon, A Simon & Goodman Picture Company Production

Short Film (Live Action)
God of Love A Luke Matheny Production, Luke Matheny

Documentary (Feature)
Inside Job (Sony Pictures Classics) Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs A Representational Pictures Production

Visual Effects
Inception (Warner Bros.) Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb

Film Editing
The Social Network (Sony Pictures Releasing) Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter

Music (Original Song)
“We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3 (Walt Disney) Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

The King’s Speech (The Weinstein Company), Tom Hooper

Actress in a Leading Role
Natalie Portman in Black Swan (Fox Searchlight)

Actor in a Leading Role
Colin Firth in The King’s Speech (The Weinstein Company)

Best Picture
The King’s Speech (The Weinstein Company) A See-Saw Films and Bedlam Production
Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin, Producers

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