‘King’s Speech’ is Now Frontrunner — a Risky Place to Be

Did we really think that Harvey Weinstein wouldn’t know how to play the hand he got with “The King’s Speech” this Award season?

Last Updated: February 11, 2011 @ 6:34 AM

So in the end, the race has nothing to do with the film that captures the zeitgeist, nothing to do with the critics, nothing to do with trailblazing directors who are due.

It's come down to one thing: This year, there's one film in the awards race that voters like best. 

Colin Firth and Geoffrey RushIt's "The King's Speech," an exemplary piece of mainstream filmmaking distinguished by some remarkable performances from the likes of Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush (left). And if it feels a touch old-fashioned to some critics and bloggers and pundits, that has been proven irrelevant over the last nine days.

Voters in the Producers Guild, the Directors Guild and the Screen Actors Guild like it best. And it is almost unfathomable, at this point, that voters in the Academy won't concur.

Isn’t it?

Four weeks is a long time yet to go, and frontrunner is a risky position to sustain. As Henry IV said some 500 years before George VI (at least according to Shakespeare), "uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."

The danger signs, such as they are: David Fincher remains a formidable rival to Hooper in the Best Director race. Attacks on the film's subject, Britain's King George VI, have stepped up in recent days. The sense that "The Social Network" is somehow more significant could strengthen Sony and Scott Rudin's resolve to keep pushing and keep spending; the underdog might be a more hospitable role for them than the frontrunner.  

And if you look to history, there is precedent: "Apollo 13" won the PGA, the DGA and SAG Ensemble, but lost the Oscar for Best Picture to "Braveheart."

On the other hand, Ron Howard wasn't even nominated for an Oscar for directing "Apollo 13," so Hooper's nom gives him a plush security blanket that earlier film didn't have.

Let's get real: at this point, it's very good to be "King."

"It was a pretty good weekend," said Hooper with a grin on Monday afternoon, at a Jerry Bruckheimer-hosted Beverly Hills luncheon in honor of Geoffrey Rush, with a guest list that included Angela Lansbury, Mickey Rooney, Peter Coyote, Brenda Vaccaro, Peter Gallagher, Jane Seymour, Sharon Stone, Patrick Stewart and many others.

The lunch was also attended by Rush's co-stars Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter — all of whom were heading to Santa Barbara afterwards for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival's Monday night tribute to the cast of the film.

"I didn't even realize how important the SAG ensemble award was," Hooper told TheWrap, "until I started reading about it this morning." 

In "The King's Speech," you have a great narrative; two personable and likeable spokespeople in a director and screenwriter willing and eager to articulate the ways in which the historical is actually personal; a charismatic leading man who's due; an impeccable supporting cast; and a film that moves almost everybody who sees it.

Did we really think for a second that Harvey Weinstein and crew wouldn't know how to play that  hand?

To switch metaphors from cards to boxing, "The King's Speech" used Micky Ward's strategy from "The Fighter": let your opponent punch himself out in the early rounds, then move in for the knockout when it counts.

So "The Social Network" landed punch after punch courtesy of the critics groups and the Golden Globes … and then, when "The King's Speech" appeared to be on the ropes, the people who really count started voting.

And that changed everything.

Last year, a unanimous front from the critics pushed "The Hurt Locker" to the top of Academy members' screening piles, and forced them to watch a movie that they ended up embracing. This year, perhaps emboldened by their perceived clout last year, the critics were even more unanimous – but "The Social Network" was already  a must-see by Academy voters.

This time around, all those plaudits and raves didn't bring the film to the Academy's attention so much as make it a target for those who didn't love it as much as the critics did.

It's certainly true that the season isn't over, as much as we might wish it were.

"The Social Network" will win at the Writers Guild Awards on Saturday and "The King's Speech" won't, but the latter film won't lose, either – it's not eligible, which will mute the damage a victory by somebody else in the Original Screenplay category might otherwise do.

And a week later, at the BAFTA Awards, Hooper's film will almost certainly be the big winner, getting a late shot of momentum at a time when it probably won't need it.

The possibility still exists that an "anything but 'King's Speech'" movement could take hold in some corners of AMPAS, among voters who'll try to game the preferential count to prevent the film from amassing the consensus it'll need to win.

Ultimately, though, that stuff probably won't amount to much. In the Best Picture race, you just don't win the PGA, the DGA and SAG without heading to the Academy's Governors Ball toting fistfuls of gold.

No matter what "Apollo 13" did, and no matter what the critics say.