This Year’s Oscars Race Harkens Back to 1941


Author: Jack Greenbaum

When a movie wins an Academy Award, it sets off a reaction called the “Oscar bump.” Suddenly, the film becomes a must-see on many people’s lists and a must-rewatch for most cinephiles. However, there’s something much more important at stake with the Oscars than fiduciary increase, and that’s the nearly sacred, world-recognized title of “Best Picture,” an honor that should not be bestowed lightly—not because of the effect it has on film now, but on film history.

The Academy Awards is not just an annual Hollywood kudosfest, but a ceremony that announces to history that the winners are worthy of immortality alongside the likes of “The Godfather” and “Casablanca.” To choose “The King’s Speech” would be a foolhardy decision that echoes back to the 1941 Oscars when “How Green Was My Valley” defeated “Citizen Kane.” “Citizen Kane” went on to top the American Film Institute’s 100 Best Movies list, an honor concurred by many critics and scholars, while “How Green Was My Valley” remains a respected, yet unloved picture.

Maybe it’s only fitting then that “The Social Network,” a film that has been described as a “Citizen Kane” for the Internet age by critics and fans alike, lose to the middlebrow pablum that is “The King’s Speech.” As one moves further into Netflix oblivion shelved amongst other neglected period melodramas like “Anna and the King” and “Cleopatra,” the other edges closer to the list of essential films of our culture.

I considered “The King’s Speech” to be an engaging enough story with good performances and a nice Beethoven symphony to round it out. It is certainly not, however, Best Picture material. Aside from its merits is the fact that “The Social Network” is an impeccably brilliant film, a culturally significant work—so anything, including “The King’s Speech,” pales in comparison.

If “The Social Network” wasn’t competing against “The King’s Speech,” I probably wouldn’t be so vehemently opposed to a “King’s Speech” triumph at the Academy Awards.

However, “The Social Network” is an enrapturing Oscar nominee that tells such an intriguing real-life tale and contains such vivid characters and witty banter that it rushes by, leaving you with only a flurry of visceral delight and an intellectual curiosity to understand all the angles of the story. It’s not a matter of how good “The King’s Speech” is, it’s that the film is nowhere near the caliber of “The Social Network,” and the Academy needs to recognize that.

The Oscars are not the last word on the best films, but they are the premier source for which films will be remembered for all time. When people do a cursory assessment of cinema, they look first to the awards a film has garnered, and of all the awards shows, the Academy Awards are undeniably, incomparably the apogee in motion picture recognition. So, on Feb. 27, when the envelope is opened and the Best Picture winner named, I hope the Oscar goes to “The Social Network,” for history’s sake.

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